Blind Joe Taggart and the Gospel Industry
This fascinating article (by Goldminemag.com’s Mike Greenblatt) on a rare Blind Joe Taggart gospel record probes the use of “blind” in promoting gospel music in the 1920s. Taggart’s wildly rare “14th Street Blues” recording was released under the name Blind Percy And His Blind Band. The unmistakable vocals of the blues icon raises the question of not only why Taggart took on a pseudonym (to avoid religious condemnation for making the devil’s music?) and if indeed the band accompanying him was blind. The article The owner of the only copy of “14th Street Blues”, John Tefteller suggests something more nefarious and indicative of a cruel era for African-American performers:
“The labels knew they could sell more records by putting the word ‘Blind’ before the artist’s name,” Tefteller explains, “Or ‘Cripple’ in the case of Clarence Lofton. Remember the state of race relations back then. Black people were considered inferior. It was awful. They were being recorded, almost exclusively, by white producers. I don’t know if these singers really wanted to call themselves ‘Blind’ or not. Probably not.
“There are gospel records, in fact, by most of the major figures in blues,” he continues. “Most of them, while they did lead the blues lifestyle, so to speak, had a religious background, so they were pre-disposed to that kind of music from the beginning. And some of them actually did sing it, not only in church, but at their performances where they would be required to sing it. Sometimes they would sing in a juke joint where they would do strictly blues music and no gospel. Sometimes, at picnics, where white landowners would hire black singers for entertainment, they’d even throw in the popular songs of the day, so you’d have a Robert Johnson or Charley Patton singing something like ‘My Blue Heaven.’”
Blind Joe Taggart vanished in 1934, but his plaintive singing style and raw plucking lives on today.