Civil Liberties

Underground Music in the Age of Jim Crow


Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Eddie Dean reviews Preston Lauterbach's new book The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'n' Roll, the story of "a network of venues where black performers played one-night stands during segregation." As Dean explains, it's an underappeciated chapter of American history, full of great music and unsung entrepreneurial innovation:

In the first definitive study of the chitlin' circuit, Mr. Lauterbach uncovers a story as sensational as any day-glo circuit-show poster, featuring "the numbers racket, hair straighteners, multiple murders, human catastrophe, commercial sex, bootlegging, international scandal, female impersonation, and a real female who could screw a light bulb into herself—and turn it on." Despite such distractions, Mr. Lauterbach stays focused on how a synergy of street-corner commerce and ghetto culture forged a musical legacy that still resonates today. The main players are a cadre of black businessmen who used "innovative economies," including graft and bribery, to build an empire.

Read the rest here.