Brother Robert: Growing Up with Robert Johnson | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Annye C. Anderson with Preston Lauterbach

Brother Robert: Growing Up with Robert Johnson

Published by Hachette

Aug 14, 2020 Bookmark and Share

Annye C. Anderson is identified as step sister to the blues legend Robert Johnson. This is not technically correct. Her father, Charles Dodds Spencer, was Robert Johnson’s stepfather. His first marriage was to Johnson’s mother. Anderson was a child of Dodds Spencer’s third marriage. But while Anderson and Johnson were not related by blood, they grew up together until Johnson’s death at 27 years old. Anderson, now in her 90s, was 12 when Johnson died. With Brother Robert, the name by which she endearingly referred to Johnson growing up, she finally tells her story.

Since she was so young when Johnson passed, Anderson’s memoir is not rich with the detail of traditional Johnson biography. However, her recollections shed light on Johnson as a family-oriented young adult. She paints an engaging portrait of their family life in the ‘20s and ‘30s. She remembers much about the music her Brother Robert would play. She recalls his travels. And most importantly, her book makes him human, apart from the legend and myth that pervade most of the stories of his life.

Anderson’s story is real and true to the period in which she grew up. The text is peppered with the occasional photo of times gone by, and she even unearths a previously unseen picture of Johnson, smiling with his guitar, which graces the book’s cover. Of course, Anderson’s story is not all olden day family remembrance. She also details her and her sister’s involvement with the record labels and quasi-historians who initially released Johnson’s recordings in the ‘90s, people who cheated her family out of royalties they so deserved as primary living heirs. It makes for a sad conclusion to what is a remarkable book, one which so richly complements those that came before it documenting Robert Johnson’s life and legacy.


Author rating: 7/10

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