On July 6, 2022, Ben Wynne presented “A Lot in Common: Charley Patton, Jimmie Rodgers, Maverick Stanzas, and Floating Verses” as part of the History Is Lunch series.
Jimmie Rodgers and Charley Patton personified early country and blues music, so much so that Rodgers is referred to as the father of country music and Patton as the father of the Delta Blues. The two Mississippians were part of the first wave of American recording artists of the 1920s and 1930s, and their work influenced generations of musicians.
“On the surface country music and blues music may seem to occupy different racial spheres, but from their earliest incarnations they have actually had a lot in common,” said Wynne, author of the book In Tune: Charley Patton, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Roots of American Music. “When you examine the song lyrics of Patton, Rodgers, and others, you find that they share many words and phrases.”
Those common lyrics in blues and country indicated that while musicians in the South plied their trade in a legally segregated environment, the songs they produced could not be restrained along racial lines, Wynne said. Traveling medicine shows and carnivals occasionally brought new music in from the outside world, and improvements to recording technology made after World War I made possible even wider dissemination of different types of music.
“While artists created some new songs from scratch, they reshaped many others from existing tunes—an old verse here, a new verse there,” Wynne said. “The result was a musical melting pot that never stopped percolating.”
Florence native Ben Wynne earned his undergraduate degree at Millsaps College, a master’s degree in history at Mississippi College, and a doctorate in history from the University of Mississippi. He is professor of history at the University of North Georgia. Wynne’s other books include Something in the Water: A History of Music in Macon, Georgia; The Man Who Punched Jefferson Davis: The Political Life of Henry Stuart Foote, Southern Unionist; Mississippi’s Civil War: A Narrative History; and A Hard Trip: A History of the 15th Mississippi Infantry, CSA.
History Is Lunch is sponsored by the John and Lucy Shackelford Charitable Fund of the Community Foundation for Mississippi.