Samuel Charters Obituary (1929-2015)

Garth Carthwright remembers the life of writer, record producer, poet and novelist Samuel Charters.

samuel_charters_middle_7004Samuel Charters, who has died at the age of 86, was an American writer, record producer, poet and novelist. He is best known for his 1959 book The Country Blues – the first book on blues and one that would inspire generations of music lovers. Charters also championed pioneering New Orleans jazz musicians, produced San Francisco hippy mavericks Country Joe & the Fish, did extensive field recordings in rural Louisiana (producing Cajun and zydeco) and in West Africa and helped bring Caribbean folk music to the fore, especially the Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence.

Charters not only helped many gain an appreciation for early jazz and blues, he recorded three albums of contemporary Chicago blues (Chicago: The Blues Today!) in the early 60s that were equally influential. Rather than just focusing on African American culture in the US, Charters looked both to Africa and at the African slave diaspora throughout the Americas and Caribbean. His 1981 book The Roots of the Blues was one of the first to discuss how West African griot culture had preceded blues and jazz. His 2009 book A Language of Song: Journeys in the Musical World of the African Diaspora featured essays on the evolution of music in the Caribbean, South Georgia Islands and Brazil.

Long based in Sweden (due to his disaffection with US politics), Charters produced many exceptional albums for the Sonet label, relaunched Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés’ career and appeared as a guest on Charlie Gillett’s BBC radio show in 2003.

Samuel Charters: born Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1 August 1929; died Stockholm, Sweden 18 March 2015.