Loading…
avatar for Elizabeth Ann Lindau

Elizabeth Ann Lindau

Elizabeth Ann Lindau is Assistant Professor of Musicology at California State University, Long Beach. She has held visiting appointments at Gettysburg College, Wesleyan University, and Earlham College. Liz’s writing on popular music has appeared in Women and Music, the Journal of the Society for American Music, and the edited volumes Tomorrow is the Question: New Directions in Experimental Music Studies (University of Michigan Press, 2014) and Brian Eno: Oblique Music (Bloomsbury, 2016).

"Blues Travelers and Wayward Girls: Transient Women in the Recordings of Lottie Kimbrough"
Blues lore and blues lyrics are populated by ramblers, rounders, vagrants, and drifters. The itinerant musician archetype is as old as W.C. Handy’s origin story of “discovering” the musical genre from a railway station vagabond. In the popular imagination, as in Handy’s recollection, these unencumbered travelers are almost invariably male. St. Louis Bluesman Peetie Wheatstraw summed this up in “C&A Blues,” his 1931 ode to the Chicago & Alton railroad line: “When a woman takes the blues, she will hang her head and cry / When a man takes the blues, he will catch him a train and ride.” In Wheatstraw’s lyric, a man is free to search for better fortune should the Blues afflict him, while a woman must resign herself to melancholy. But the careers of 1910s-1920s blues entertainers show that women could be far more mobile. (Harrison, 1988; Davis, 1998; McGinley, 2014) The C&A would have carried Wheatstraw to Kansas City, home of the Blues singer and songwriter Lottie Kimbrough. Billed as the “Kansas City Butterball,” Kimbrough’s recording career took her throughout the Midwest. Under various pseudonyms, she recorded at Paramount’s Chicago studio, in Kansas City at the black-owned and operated label Meritt Records, and at Gennett in Richmond, Indiana. Kimbrough’s lyrics anticipate and challenge Wheatstraw’s depiction of female immobility in the face of heartache: in “Going Away Blues,” she resolves to “take a train and ride.” This presentation will analyze recurring themes of migration and rootlessness in Kimbrough’s songwriting using sides from an August 1928 session: “Wayward Girl Blues,” “Going Away Blues,” and “Rolling Log Blues.” Kimbrough adopts vagabond personae, articulating them in the country blues style more commonly associated with male performers. Collectively, Kimbrough’s songs depict a cycle in which transience is at once flight from, and the cause of the blues as melancholy.