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Last Kind Words: Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley Unearthed via New York Times, "Motherless Child Blues" Revived

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Apr 16, 2014 04:41 PM EDT

The effect of African-American music on the expansion of music and social equality is virtually immeasurable. The predecessors, the forefathers (er, mothers), the pioneers date back well before physical media.

And fortunately, an ultra-rare duo, captured on three obscure vinyl pucks between 1930 and '31, still echo today. The pair, Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley may be hard to come by, but the ingredients of, as the New York Times puts it, "greatness and lostness" still shroud the musicians in enigma.

In the spring of 1930, in a damp and dimly lit studio, on a Wisconsin village off Lake Michigan, Thomas and Wiley recorded a session of songs that for over half a century had been named masterpieces of pre-war Americana.

"Motherless Child Blues" as sung bye Elvie and "Last Kind Words Blues" sung by Geeshie have made the chorale of musical masterworks, inspiring essays, novels, films, cover versions and more

But, still, after more than 50 years of researchers' efforts to unearth the women's history, to even drop a pin on where they came from, the truth eludes them.

As John Jeremiah Sullivan puts it:

I have been fascinated by this music since first experiencing it, like a lot of other people in my generation, in Terry Zwigoff's 1994 documentary "Crumb," on the life of the artist Robert Crumb, which used "Last Kind Words" for a particularly vivid montage sequence. And I have closely followed the search for them over the years; drawn along in part by the sheer History Channel mysteriousness of it, but mainly - the reason it never got boring - by their music.

This wonderful essay in the Times grants a unique look into the discovery of the pair and the threads pulled to unravel tales of great ingenuity and depth.

Make your way over and keep the record spinning (you'll see what I mean).

To wit, here's Elvie and "Motherless Child Blues."

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TagsThe New York Times, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Geeshie Wiley, Elvie Thomas, Last Kind Words Blues, Motherless Child Blues

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