This page will update weekly to include a new question for the books that we are currently reading. Once the book is done, the questions will be archived and this page will start anew with the next reading.
Blues All Around Me, The Autobiography of B.B. King by B.B. King with David Ritz
Book Club Questions
Throughout this book, B.B. King will talk about what the blues are about or for. In the second chapter, he covers what his great-grandmother told him the blues were for: “My great-grandmother, who’d also been a slave, talked about the old days. She’d talk about the beginnings of the blues. She said that, sure, singing helped the day go by. Singing about your sadness unburdens your soul. But the blues hollerers shouted about more than being sad. They were also delivering messages in musical code. If the master was coming, you might sing a hidden warning to the other field hands. Maybe you’d want to get out of his way or hide. That was important for the women because the master could have anything he wanted. If he liked a woman, he could take her sexually. And the woman had only two choices: Do what the master demands or kill herself. There was no in-between. The blues could warn you what was coming. I could see the blues was about survival” (8-9). Why is it important that we remember such other meanings behind the blues? How can we, as modern listeners, respect and remember this history as we listen and dance to the blues?
Sept 3 – Sept 9 Question
How do you see gospel music and blues music as interrelated?
Sept 10 – Sept 16 Question
In chapter 5 of B.B. King’s autobiography, he describes watching a man lynched in front of the courthouse. He says, “The black body is a dead body” (51), and discusses his anger and overwhelming emotions that he couldn’t, and never could, express, but had to keep secret. What kept him from hating whites, he said, was his mother. “Blind hatred, my mother had taught me, poisons the soul. I kept hearing her say, ‘If you’re kind to people, they’ll be kind to you'” (52). How do we fully process what B.B. King is saying in such an understated manner? How do we see this situation as related to the regularity of cops shooting blacks or otherwise murdering them and walking away with no consequences? And finally, how can we integrate King’s wish to be kind to people and receive kindness in return and initiate societal change?
Sept 17 – Sept 23 Question
B.B. King states that he was “brainwashed by a segregated system” (91) as a kid, and even after segregation formally ended, the principles he was brainwashed with stayed with him for life. Where do those principles of segregation still stand, if not formally, then in our minds today, and how does it hurt us? How does it inherently change how we deal with interracial relations? How does it change how we view blues music?
Sept 24 – Sept 30 Question
When B.B. King first went to Memphis, he didn’t play the blues; he listened to it: “I wasn’t about to play; all I could do was listen and learn. I listened for hours and, even though my guitar was under my arm, I never struck a note. All my confidence from all those Saturdays playing all those little Delta towns vanished—just like that. Before Beale Street, I thought I was pretty hot stuff. After Beale Street, I knew I stunk. The cats could play rings around me” (99). Why is listening so important? Where in your interaction with blues music and dance has listening been important to your blues experience?
Oct 1 – Oct 7 Question
B.B. King was very concerned with the image of the blues artist: “Being a bluesman carried a stigma, both from blacks and whites. I fear that’s true even today. A bluesman is supposed to be some guy falling off his head, his overalls ripped and smelly, a jug of corn liquor by his side. He talks lousy English and can’t carry on a conversation without cussin’ every other word. Ask him about his love life and he’ll tell you he just beat up his old lady. Give him a dollar and he’ll sing something dirty. He’s a combination clown and fool. No one respects him or pays him no mind. I resented that. Still do. That’s why looking to role-model musicians was so important. They told the public—and ambitious entertainers like me—that blues-rooted music could be presented with the same class as grand opera” (126-7). Has the image of the blues musician improved? Is there anything we can do as blues listeners to get rid of the stigma and poor image surrounding the musicians?
Oct 8 – Oct 14 Question
B.B. King said of the blues, “The older I got, the more I could see the majesty of the blues. The blues reminds me of the Pepticon I used to advertise, a tonic good for whatever ails you. The blues is the source. I still get irritated when I hear folks call the blues gloomy. The fact is that the blues contains all the basic feelings of human beings: pain, happiness, fear, courage, confusion, desire . . . everything. Complicated feelings told in simple stories. That’s the genius of blues” (160-1). What, for you, is the majesty and genius of the blues? What stories does it tell for you?