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FATTENING WALL STREET — Mike Whitney reports on the rapid metamorphosis of new Fed Chair Janet Yallin into a lackey for the bankers, bond traders and brokers. The New Religious Wars Over the Environment: Joyce Nelson charts the looming confrontation between the Catholic Church and fundamentalists over climate change, extinction and GMOs; A People’s History of Mexican Constitutions: Andrew Smolski on the 200 year-long struggle of Mexico’s peasants, indigenous people and workers to secure legal rights and liberties; Spying on Black Writers: Ron Jacobs uncovers the FBI’s 50 year-long obsession with black poets, novelists and essayists; O Elephant! JoAnn Wypijewski on the grim history of circus elephants; PLUS: Jeffrey St. Clair on birds and climate change; Chris Floyd on the US as nuclear bully; Seth Sandronsky on Van Jones’s blind spot; Lee Ballinger on musicians and the State Department; and Kim Nicolini on the films of JC Chandor.
The singer is Big Maybelle; the man in the sparkly suit, Rufus Thomas. The place: a jook joint somewhere around Memphis. The photographer: Ernest C. Withers. Big Maybelle had a hit with “Gabbin Blues” in 1953, around when this picture was made. Thomas was a DJ on the all-black WDIA radio station in Memphis and […]

The Memphis Blues Again

by Daniel Wolff

The singer is Big Maybelle; the man in the sparkly suit, Rufus Thomas. The place: a jook joint somewhere around Memphis. The photographer: Ernest C. Withers. Big Maybelle had a hit with “Gabbin Blues” in 1953, around when this picture was made. Thomas was a DJ on the all-black WDIA radio station in Memphis and was cutting “Bear Cat” over at Sun Records with Sam Phillips. He’d go on to do “The Funky Chicken” at Stax.

Withers was (and still is) a commercial photographer on Beale Street who covered segregated Memphis. He took pictures of all the r&b stars from a young Aretha Franklin cozying up to Sam Cooke to Muddy Water congratulating a local Little League team to Marvin Gaye hiding behind security.

Withers’ music photographs have just come out in a new book: The Memphis Blues Again: Six Decades of Memphis Music Photographs. Selected, identified, and with an introduction by Daniel Wolff.

“I am a photographer, and when you’re a photographer, you make a shining light of an image.” Ernest C. Withers