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Summary

An intimate memoir by blues legend Robert Johnson's stepsister, including new details about his family, music, influences, tragic death, and musical afterlife

Though Robert Johnson was only 27 years young and relatively unknown at the time of his tragic death in 1938, his enduring recordings have solidified his status as a progenitor of the Delta blues style. And yet, while his music has retained the steadfast devotion of modern listeners, much remains unknown about the man who penned and played these timeless tunes. Few people alive today actually remember what Johnson was really like, and those who do have largely upheld their silence - until now. 

In Brother Robert, nonagenarian Annye C. Anderson sheds new light on a real-life figure largely obscured by his own legend: her kind and incredibly talented stepbrother, Robert Johnson. This book chronicles Johnson's unconventional path to stardom, from the harrowing story behind his illegitimate birth, to his first strum of the guitar on Anderson's father's knee, to the genre-defining recordings that would one day secure his legacy. Along the way, listeners are gifted not only with Anderson's personal anecdotes, but with colorful recollections passed down to Anderson by members of their family - the people who knew Johnson best. Listeners also learn about the contours of his working life in Memphis, never-before-disclosed details about his romantic history, and all of Johnson's favorite things, from foods and entertainers to brands of tobacco and pomade. 

Together, these stories don't just bring the mythologized Johnson back down to earth; they preserve both his memory and his integrity. For decades, Anderson and her family have ignored the tall tales of Johnson "selling his soul to the devil" and the speculative to fictionalized accounts of his life that passed for biography. Brother Robert is here to set the record straight. 

Featuring a foreword by Elijah Wald and a Q&A with Anderson, Wald, Preston Lauterbach, and Peter Guralnick, this book paints a vivid portrait of an elusive figure who forever changed the musical landscape as we know it.

©2020 Annye C. Anderson and Preston Lauterbach (P)2020 Hachette Books

Critic reviews

"Although it's been more than 80 years since Anderson last saw Johnson, her memories are vivid and personal, as she recalls a well-loved older sibling who entertained his family and community with his guitar and vast repertoire of songs. [...] Anderson's account debunks myths about Johnson: he had a loving family; he was exposed to all kinds of popular music; he was not illiterate; and he did not go to the crossroads and sell his soul to the devil. Consider Anderson's heartfelt chronicle an earnest attempt to set the record straight." (Booklist)

Publishers Weekly, "Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2020" 

"Anderson offers vivid, personal glimpses of her stepbrother... providing a colorful picture.... [An] earnest and enlightening memoir." (Publishers Weekly)

"Cutting through the mythos that has long surrounded this iconic artist, this is an intriguing addition to the history of 20th-century blues." (Library Journal)

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  • Tony
  • 07-10-20

A fascinating snapshot of a lost time, from one of the few remaining survivors.

Mrs Anderson recalls a simple family story with familial details that made and lost fortunes and changed the course of popular music. Her character and personality shines through the dark times and ugly business dealings, and she recreates a lost time as only a true survivor can. I thoroughly enjoyed this intriguing audio book, and the narrator was the perfect choice to tell it!

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  • Catalyst
  • 25-06-20

the best part of the book is the new photo of RJ

the story did hold some interesting details dispelling some of the mystique and mystery surrounding Robert Johnson and his music. Sadly like so many books these days...it quickly turns into a platform to inject current liberal politics repeatedly. the book should have been called "How the evil White man got rich off Robert Johnsons music because the White man is just bad".....every chance the author had to inject some small comment about how they had been screwed over by "whitey" they took it. Might want to look deeper into the people who really took advantage of Johnsons family and his music and you'll see they dont "Identify " as white at all...since the whole world is hung up on identity politics these days. The book had potential to be soemthing good...but they chose to go with the theme of the day. Politically Correct biased and sophomoric propaganda sprinkled loosely with some anecdotal stories of a distant relative to RJ.

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  • Michael James Melton
  • 25-06-20

Missing Pieces of the Robert Johnson Legend

This book was a treat. The personality of Mrs. Anderson alone is worth the read.