Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
“I Belong to the Band” is the first extensive analytical examination of the music of guitarist/singer Reverend Gary Davis (1896-1972), whose vast repertoire and instrumental virtuosity made him a favorite performer and teacher during the folk and blues revival. Discussed in detail are his songs and aspects of musical technique as well as larger issues such as appropriation in traditional song, the interplay of sacred and secular content and style in African American song, the role(s) of blindness in musical culture, and contrastive and associative symmetries in blues performances. To better glean Davis’s music and the world in which he lived, numerous methodologies were called on including the use of musicological, structuralist, and Jungian interpretative models, textual linguistics in my examination of visual and violent imagery and inference in Davis’s songs, and contextual and biographical analysis. This dissertation also contains the most complete and accurate discography of Davis to date, plus analysis and classification of songs and performances through a number of data-driven as well as hermeneutic approaches including key choice, sacred or secular content, stanzaic structures, and lyric tropes. In the process, I have debunked certain well-established generalizations about Davis, pointing out the extent to which he cultivated a secular repertoire later in his life despite frequent claims by writers that he did not, and I have shown the overreaching influence blindness had on his music and his life. At the same time, this examination of a “folk” figure suggests avenues of research beyond typical folkloric and biographic models, notably through a kind of musicological rigor rarely applied to the performances of such artists. Much can still be culled from this rich swath of musical history simply by revisiting the songs themselves with a more pointed, analytical pen. Ultimately, “I Belong to the Band” demonstrates how one traditional musician forged a highly personalized style from layers of “belonging” and foundation building, from his rural Carolina and African American regional and cultural roots to the rootless solidarity of the Piedmont blues scene to his Christian faith and its expression through gospel music and finally to the “discipleship” he engendered in others who continue to perform his music.
Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.
Ellis, William Lee, "I Belong to the Band: The Music of Reverend Gary Davis" (2010). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 106.