Sam & Ann Charters
I can't write it any better of this full life than Wikipedia can provide with many of the proper contact points and cross reference dimensions — further below, take the Charters biography on a whirl.
Sam Charters is International and Americana in the best sense of both words. His quiet and enduring achievements in music, history, poetry and the multi-facets of the Beat Generation are legendary to anyone who has stayed abreast of each field, even if the subject himself often takes a back seat and allows the light to bask elsewhere.
In some ways nothing could be more perfect than having him write a portrait in his 80s with his wife, the Beat historian Ann Charters, on the unknown relationship to many, between John Clellon Holmes and Jack Kerouac. The true two dudes who wrote the first true Beat novels Go by Holmes and On the Road by Kerouac.
Brothers Souls by the Charters along with Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe, coinciding with the actual Beat literature, may become in time, for the arm-chair traveler, the road to take.
University Press of Mississippi
Samuel Charters, born Samuel Barclay Charters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, August 1, 1929 (his name also appears as Sam Charters), is an American music historian, writer, record producer, musician, and poet. He is a noted and widely published author on the subjects of blues and jazz music, as well as a writer of fiction.
Charters was born and spent his childhood in Pittsburgh. He first became enamored of blues music in 1937, after hearing Bessie Smith's version of Jimmy Cox's song, "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" (Charters 2004). He moved with his family to Sacramento, California at the age of 15. He attended high schools in Pittsburgh and California and attended Sacramento City College, graduating in 1949. After being kicked out of Harvard for political activism, he received a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1956.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Charters purchased numerous old recordings of American blues musicians, eventually amassing a huge and valuable collection. In 1951, at the age of 21, he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he absorbed the history and culture he had previously only read about; he lived there for most of the 1950s. He served for two years in the United States Army (1951-53) and began to study jazz clarinet with George Lewis, but soon acquired an interest in rural blues. In 1954, he and his wife began conducting field recordings (initially for Folkways Records throughout the United States, and then in the Bahamas in 1958). Their 1959 recordings of the Texas bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins proved instrumental to Hopkins' rediscovery.
Charters began his writing career in 1959 with The Country Blues, regarded as the first-book length work on the subject, as well as compiling the companion album to accompany it. Since that time, his writings have been influential, bringing to light aspects of African American music and culture that had previously been largely unknown to the general public. His writings include numerous books on the subjects of blues, jazz, African music, and Bahamian music, as well as liner notes for numerous sound recordings.
From approximately 1966 to 1970 he worked as a producer for the anti-war band Country Joe and the Fish. He became thoroughly disenchanted with American politics during the Vietnam War and moved with his family to Sweden, establishing a new life there despite not being able to speak the language at first. He divides his time between Sweden (where he has a residence permit to live, though maintaining his U.S. citizenship) and Connecticut. He has translated into English the works of the Swedish writer Tomas Tranströmer and helped produce the music of various Swedish musical groups.
Charters is married to the writer, editor, Beat generation scholar, photographer, and pianist Ann Charters (b. 1936), whom he met at the University of California, Berkeley during the 1954-55 academic year in a music class; she is a professor of English and American literature at the University of Connecticut. The two have collaborated together on many projects, particularly their extensive field recording work.
Charters is a Grammy Award winner and his book The Country Blues was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1991 as one of the "Classics of Blues Literature." In 2000, Charters and his wife donated the 'Samuel & Ann Charters Archive of Blues and Vernacular African American Musical Culture' to the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. The archive contains materials collected during the couple's decades of work documenting and preserving African American music throughout the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa. The archive's materials include more than 2,500 sound recordings, as well as video recordings, photographs, monographs, sheet music, field notes, correspondence, musicians' contracts, and correspondence.
Charters' most recent book, A Trumpet Around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz, was released in April 2008.
Books by Samuel Charters
- 1959 - The Country Blues. New York: Rinehart. Reprinted by Da Capo Press, with a new introduction by the author, in 1975.
- 1962 - Jazz: A History of the New York Scene. Garden City, New York: Doubleday (with Leonard Kunstadt).
- 1963 - The Poetry of the Blues. With photos by Ann Charters. New York: Oak Publications.
- 1963 - Jazz New Orleans (1885-1963): An Index to the Negro Musicians of New Orleans. New York: Oak Publications
- 1967 - The Bluesmen. New York: Oak Publications
- 1975 - The Legacy of the Blues: A Glimpse Into the Art and the Lives of Twelve Great Bluesmen: An Informal Study. London: Calder & Boyars.
- 1977 - Sweet As the Showers of Rain. New York: Oak Publications
- 1981 - The Roots of the Blues: An African Search. Boston: M. Boyars.
- 1984 - Jelly Roll Morton's Last Night at the Jungle Inn: An Imaginary Memoir. New York: M. Boyars.
- 1986 - Louisiana Black: A Novel. New York: M. Boyars.
- 1991 - The Blues Makers. (Incorporates The Bluesmen and Sweet As the Showers of Rain) Da Capo.
- 1999 - The Day is So Long and the Wages So Small: Music on a Summer Island. New York: Marion Boyars.
- 2004 - Walking a Blues Road: A Selection of Blues Writing, 1956-2004. New York: Marion Boyars.
- 2006 - New Orleans: Playing a Jazz Chorus. Marion Boyars.
- 2009 - A Trumpet Around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz. Jackson: The University Press of Mississippi.
Why the continuing interest in the Beats? The Beats constitute the single most important literary movement in America in the last fifty years. It isn't the drugs, the sex, the jazz, the tone of feverish apocalypse that accounts for this. It's the urgency with which they view the artist's aesthetic and social function. It's not their supposed irresponsibility which compels the critics to go on re-assessing their work (even in superficial terms); it's precisely the opposite. It's the fact that they were so responsible to the big questions, the big facts. Their almost maniacal efforts to find new modes, new forms, new styles to go with their material, their new vision, has kept their work not only relevant, but consequential. Oddly enough, the Beats are the direct heirs of the solidest tradition in American literature, what Matthiessen called "the American Renaissance" of the mid-19th Century. History will sort it out.Perspective is the last turn of the wheel.
— JOHN CLELLON HOLMES, Interior Geographies
photo: University of Connecticut at Storrs