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Join us in person on Thursday, February 16 at 7 PM as Mrs. Annye Anderson talks about her book, Brother Robert: Growing Up with Robert Johnson. She will be joined in conversation by Timothy Eriksen.
Rolling Stone-Kirkus Best Music Book of 2020
“[Brother Robert} book does much to pull the blues master out of the fog of myth.”—Rolling Stone
An intimate memoir by blues legend Robert Johnson's stepsister, including new details about his family, music, influences, tragic death, and musical afterlife
Though Robert Johnson was only twenty-seven years young and relatively unknown at the time of his tragic death in 1938, his enduring recordings have solidified his status as a progenitor of the Delta blues style. And yet, while his music has retained the steadfast devotion of modern listeners, much remains unknown about the man who penned and played these timeless tunes. Few people alive today actually remember what Johnson was really like, and those who do have largely upheld their silence-until now.
In Brother Robert, nonagenarian Annye C. Anderson sheds new light on a real-life figure largely obscured by his own legend: her kind and incredibly talented stepbrother, Robert Johnson. This book chronicles Johnson's unconventional path to stardom, from the harrowing story behind his illegitimate birth, to his first strum of the guitar on Anderson's father's knee, to the genre-defining recordings that would one day secure his legacy. Along the way, readers are gifted not only with Anderson's personal anecdotes, but with colorful recollections passed down to Anderson by members of their family-the people who knew Johnson best. Readers also learn about the contours of his working life in Memphis, never-before-disclosed details about his romantic history, and all of Johnson's favorite things, from foods and entertainers to brands of tobacco and pomade. Together, these stories don't just bring the mythologized Johnson back down to earth; they preserve both his memory and his integrity.
For decades, Anderson and her family have ignored the tall tales of Johnson "selling his soul to the devil" and the speculative to fictionalized accounts of his life that passed for biography. Brother Robert is here to set the record straight. Featuring a foreword by Elijah Wald and a Q&A with Anderson, Wald, Preston Lauterbach, and Peter Guralnick, this book paints a vivid portrait of an elusive figure who forever changed the musical landscape as we know it.
Mrs. Anderson’s connections to Amherst include her late husband’s work with noted Amherst College graduate Dr. Charles Drew, and her own work in the area as an organic farmer, educator, small business owner and, most recently, author. As Brother Robert was released at what was unfortunately the height of the pandemic lockdown, Mrs. Anderson has only recent begun to make appearances in person to talk about the book, her nearly 97 years of life and memories of growing up with someone who would become a global musical icon, but who she knew as a beloved older brother.
Tim Eriksen is musician and songwriter working in genres ranging from hardcore punk to traditional “shapenote” music whose songs have been covered by musicians including Joan Baez and Alison Krauss. He is known for his contributions to movies including Cold Mountain, and his writing on a senior citizens’ musical revolution and antislavery in 19th century New England has appeared in The Massachusetts Review and the journal Ethnomusicology. Eriksen holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University and will be teaching at Dartmouth College in 2023-24.