This is the touching, first-hand account of the family life of Delta blues legend Robert Johnson from the perspective of Annye Anderson, his half-sister. Johnson died when she was 12, but with the help of a steel-trap memory and documents, Anderson shows us a side we haven’t much seen of the talented musician. She may not know what he did on the road, but she helps us meet the man he was with the people who mattered the most.
This intimate memoir by blues legend Robert Johnson's stepsister includes new details about his family, music, influences, tragic death, and musical afterlife.
Though only twenty-seven years young and relatively unknown at the time of his tragic death in 1938, Robert Johnson's 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 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, Anderson not only shares personal anecdotes, but also colorful recollections of Johnson passed down by members of their family -- the people who knew him best. She also outlines the contours of Johnson's working life in Memphis, never-before-disclosed details about his romantic history, and all of his 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, Lauterbach, Wald, and Peter Guralnick, this book paints a vivid portrait of an elusive figure who forever changed the musical landscape as we know it.
About the Author
Annye C. Anderson is a retired educator and administrator of the Boston Public Schools in Massachusetts.
Preston Lauterbach is the author of Bluff City, Beale Street Dynasty, and The Chitlin Circuit. He lives near Charlottesville, VA.
Publishers Weekly, "Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2020"
"Anderson offers vivid, personal glimpses of her stepbrother ... providing a colorful picture .... [An] earnest and enlightening memoir."—Publishers Weekly
"An illuminating portrait of an artist lost in the mists of history and
Anderson's lush, vivid memories from Robert Johnson's home base give the
bluesman a personal dimension like never before. How he walked, the pomade in
his hair, his protection of his guitar. The aura of mystery remains, but with Brother
Robert, Johnson gains character and context, and becomes more of a person
than we've ever known this specter to be."—Robert Gordon, author of Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters and It Came From Memphis
"Cutting through the mythos that has long surrounded this iconic artist,
this is an intriguing addition to the history of 20th-century blues."—Library Journal
"Although it's been more than 80 years since Anderson last saw Johnson,
her memories are vivid and personal, as she recalls a well-loved older sibling
who entertained his family and community with his guitar and vast repertoire of
songs. [...] Anderson's account debunks myths about Johnson: he had a loving
family; he was exposed to all kinds of popular music; he was not illiterate;
and he did not go to the crossroads and sell his soul to the devil. Consider
Anderson's heartfelt chronicle an earnest attempt to set the record straight."—Booklist
"Anderson's a charming storyteller, and her stories
provide a fresh perspective."—No Depression
"A breathtaking look into the provenance of one of the 20th century's
great musical minds, the social warp and woof of Black Memphis in the 1920s and
'30s, and, in spite of racial violence that continues to this day, the
persistence of family and the power of music."—Memphis Flyer
"[This book reveals] "new details about everything from Johnson's birth to his romantic
history to his life at home with family - even his favourite foods and brands
of tobacco and pomade. The book also arrives with a new photograph of Johnson -
just the third confirmed image in the world."—CBC
"Mrs. Anderson summons up poignant memories of the young man she so admired... If Johnson has become an idealised figure, Anderson's book helps us to see him as a flesh-and-blood individual, an entertainer rather than some tortured mystic."—The Times (UK)
"A remarkable book,
one which so richly complements those that came before it documenting Robert
Johnson's life and legacy."—Under the Radar Magazine