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Book Review: "The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘N’ Roll"

This book review of “The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘N’ Roll” is provided for fans of music and history. It is a recommended read for anyone who appreciates the intersections of music and history.

The book helps any music fan to share with others how today’s popular music evolved. It can also help self-declared fans of any of the following music forms: rock, jazz, blues, soul, and r&b gain a greater appreciation of both current and past artists of those music genres.

I do not know any more about the book’s author Preston Lauterbach than what is on the inside cover of the book and or on his website at prestonlauterbach.com. But what I do know is that Mr. Lauterbach has a great ability to present how Rock ‘N’ Roll evolved.

Mr. Lauterbach’s writing educated me about how historical economic changes, political changes, and social / cultural changes in the U.S. contributed to the music’s evolution. This included an incredible presentation of how non-musical forces drove the development of the “chitlin’ circuit”, and then in turn how the chitlin’ circuit facilitated the development of an American music art form along with an entirely new economic sector itself: the combination of live music production, the recording industry, and on-air music broadcasting via radio and television.

One of the surprises for me: Prior to reading the book, I thought that the chitlin’ circuit was a reference to a network of clubs and or music halls located in the concentrated region of the southeastern states of the U.S. Instead, what I learned was that the chitlin’ circuit was a complex network located in a larger and sometimes shifting group ( dependent upon changing economic circumstances ) of clubs, bars, cafes / restaurants, music halls, and sometimes makeshift venues ( barns ). This network was located in the southeastern states of the U.S. as well as Houston, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, and cities on the eastern seaboard.

I also learned that the chitlin’ circuit was really both informal and formal. Mr. Lauterbach’s book shows the reader how savvy club owners and booking agents/talent agencies networked with each other to develop an successful music performance market which later gave rise to a profitable market for recorded music.

I also found an intriguing presentation by “The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘N’ Roll” of how the tour booking agents developed and controlled the circuit in the early days which led to the development of successful clubs and other venues for the live music. Mr. Lauterbach tells us how the tour business and related live music performances spawned successful artists. The successful artists then produced creative new music that then produced changes in how live music was presented to audiences throughout the circuit. And those changes in turn begat innovations for the recording industry -which then eventually supplanted the touring industry as the top driving economic force for music in the U.S.

I also think that Mr. Lauterbach was providing the reader a bittersweet story based on historical fact. The bittersweet story involves the evolution of the past segregated America to a country that today is officially desegregated. The book explains how racial integration changed the U.S. urban economy which in turn ultimately led to the demise of “the Stroll” which was located in all American cities. “The Stroll” was another name for the Black American “cities within the cities” and/or concentrated Black American economic centers within each American community prior to the achievement of desegregation.

The word “bittersweet” is used here because this book presents sad stories caused by the cruel and unjust racism endured by African Americans throughout the U.S., the linkages of those sad stories to the development of beautiful music, and classic rags-to-riches stories of successful black music artists. The book gives us the rest of the story about how Federal Government and Local Government level public policy changes ( such as the federal government Urban Renewal and Interstate highway programs ) then caused the landscape of the chitlin’ circuit to sort of fade away.

But at the end of the day: the book titled “The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘N’ Roll” shows us that the great music produced by the chitlin’ circuit remains and is there for any and all music listeners to enjoy.

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