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Thanks to Sears, the musicians who gave America the blues had an ax to grind



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Sears is currently singing the bankrupt blues – but it is a little-known fact that the retail giant has also helped promote the genre of music created in the deep south. 1

9659005] Because this typical American form of music was created and distributed by Delta Blues musicians with steel string guitars from the Sears catalog – which according to music experts paved the shopping environment for black people in the Jim Crow era –

  Vintage Sears and Roebuck Catalog
This is a vintage catalog of Sears and Roebuck catalogs circa 1897. AP file

"There was a fusion of a number of things that led to the development of blues and acoustic guitars Certainly, buying a Sears catalog was one of them, "said Michael Roberts, who teaches a history of blues teaching at DePaul University in Chicago. "It was cheap enough that the Blues artists could save the money they made as part – timers for this purchase.

Dr. Michael Stryker, director of the Jazz Studies program at the University of Illinois in Chicago, said the catalog was probably a mecca for musicians in the Mississippi delta.

"It makes perfect sense given the spread of the Sears catalog," he said. "This catalog went all over the country and people would order all kinds of goods."

The role that Sears and her famous catalog played in revolutionizing American music is but one of the threads of the much larger story of how the company got the blacks on Jim Crow South to discriminate in local businesses overcome.

The discussion comes one day after Sears Holdings was threatened with bankruptcy – and beyond – in the face of a massive debt burden Louis Hyman, an Associate History Professor at Cornell University, weighed the catalog in a Twitter thread that shared more than 16,000 copies and attracted the attention of the Washington Post and other news organizations.

"The Sears catalog played a radical role in combating the Jim Crow laws," Hyman told NBC News , "Whether it was a guitar or a gun or a nice suit, it allowed African-Americans to buy what the whites bought, and at prices that were cheaper than at the local store."

Most African Americans were rural then. "The only place to shop was the local shop, which was often owned by the man who rented the land," Hyman said.

While these stores were one of the few places where blacks and whites could mix freely, African-Americans had to endure humiliation as if they were last served or denied loans.

"So the Sears catalog was an opportunity to buy at city prices and preserve some dignity," he said.

The local white shopkeepers They were resistant, Hyman said, "and not only because they lost business."

"The Sears catalog helped blacks counter white supremacy and Jim Crow capitalism," Hyman said.

  Image: Muddy Waters
American blues singer and guitarist Muddy Waters performs at the American Folk Blues Festival in London, 1963. Tony Evans / Timelapse Library Ltd. About Getty Images

Guitars debuted in the Sears catalog in 1894, six years after the company began publishing them. The costs? Four dollars and fifty cents, or about $ 112 in today's dollars, wrote Chris Kjorness, a Michigan-based musician, in Reason Magazine.

"Throughout the 1910s, Delta Blacks routinely ordered a wide range of Sears, Roebuck merchandise, including the instrument that would define them," he wrote. "There was no delta blues before there were cheap, readily available steel string guitars."

Sears began selling them for $ 1.89 in 1908.

"Soon after, co-tenants throughout the Delta ordered guitars from Sears hoping to supplement this income over the weekend," wrote Kjorness. "The catalog is frequently mentioned in the biographies of Delta Bluesmen."

One of them was Muddy Waters, often referred to as the "father of modern Chicago blues," who bought a second-hand Sears "Stella" guitar in 1930 and embarked on a legendary career that took him to the Rock & # 39; ; Roll Hall of Fame landed.


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