The Blues Muse: Race, Gender, and Musical Celebrity in American Poetry focuses on five key blues musicians and singers—Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Robert Johnson, and Lead Belly—and traces the ways in which these artists and their personas have been invoked and developed throughout American poetry. This study spans nearly one hundred years of literary and musical history, from the New Negro Renaissance to the present.
Emily Ruth Rutter not only examines blues musicians as literary touchstones or poetic devices, but also investigates the relationship between poetic constructions of blues icons and shifting discourses of race and gender. Rutter’s nuanced analysis is clear, compelling, and rich in critical assessments of these writers’ portraits of the musical artists, attending to their strategies and oversights.
Introduction: The Blues Muse Tradition
1. “Don’t Like My Ocean, Don’t Fish in My Sea”: Blues Muses, Racial Uplift, and Queer Camaraderie
2. “Never Was a White Man Had the Blues”: Blues Icons and Black Power
3. “I Ain’t Gonna Marry, Ain’t Gonna Settle Down”: Blues Women and Intersectionality
4. “Blues Falling Down Like Hail”: Blues Men and the Second-Wave Blues Revival
5. “It’s Gonna Carry Me through This World”: The Post-Soul Blues Muse
Coda. Repetition with a Difference: Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Muse