The Search For Blues Songstresses Geeshie Wiley And Elvie Thomas, AKA, The Best Piece Of Music Journalism You’ll Read This Year

In what is a major triumph for Pre-War Blues afficiandos, John Jeremiah Sullivan has filled in some blanks in the heretofore unknown saga of Geeshie, or Geetchie, Wiley and Elvie, or L.V., Thomas. Having recorded only a handful of songs, originally available on 78’s and later, only slightly more widely, disseminated on a few compilations, this duo has been shrouded in mystery. The minimal information available on them was that they were from Mississippi and recorded two sessions a year apart. Sullivan’s investigations proved both of these ideas false. They were, in fact, from Texas and laid down only one session.

That the fastidious and thorough research of avid blues scholars previously produced only this much information, and misinformation at that, speaks volumes of the difficulties of verifying facts from this period. In fact, Sullivan was only able to begin his quest by poaching files from ethnomusicologist, and foremost expert on Robert Johnson (whose cloudy history is an even larger example of these difficulties), Robert McCormick. McCormick provided Sullivan with some background on these women but hinted at much more buried within his labyrinthian archives. When McCormick’s reluctance to locate these notes became all to apparent, fate intervened in the form of one Caitlin Rose Love.

Love was a 21 year old student who took a break from institutional academia, to help McCormick make sense of his cluttered collection. When the two did not see eye to eye on how best to procede, Love was unceremoniously relieved of her duties. Fortunately for Sullivan, she had photographed the papers in a folder labelled L.V. Thomas. That information led Love on an exhaustive search of public records where new blossoms of knowledge arose. Thus begins the new historical picture of Geeshie and Elvie.

Follow the link and read the story. It’s everything that one loves of blues lore.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/13/magazine/blues.html?_r=0

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