Book Review: Read My Lips
Historical overview of Memphis' legendary music row
Reviewed by Nina Hernandez, Fri., May 29, 2015
Beale Street Dynastyby Preston Lauterbach
W.W. Norton & Company, 368 pp., $26.95
Music writer Preston Lauterbach breezes through nearly a century of the booze-saturated history of Memphis' infamous stretch of concrete in Beale Street Dynasty: Sex, Song, and the Struggle for the Soul of Memphis. Rebuilding after the Civil War, politicians and musicians fed on prostitution, gambling, and violence. The first black earl of Beale Street, Robert Church fueled both lavish brothels and the talon-sharp writing of journalist and NAACP activist Ida B. Wells, who in 1892 fled Tennessee for the north when the city no longer desired her conscience. Lauterbach, author of The Chitlin' Circuit, lays the groundwork for both Prohibition and the Beale Street Renaissance of the Forties that nurtured future blues titans like B.B. King, then sketches in how Church's son, Junior, furthered his father's work in politics and music by proposing a local chapter of the NAACP and becoming close friends with and patronizing blues forefather W.C. Handy. Ultimately, it cost him everything. Intertwining newspaper reports with a keen narrative focus, the author navigates a turbulent part of Southern (and American) history with ease.