Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation provides in-depth critical analysis of Memphis blues musician Furry Lewis's (1899-1981) life, music, and legacy. I rely on archival research, ethnographic fieldwork, and musical and technical analysis to answer a few key questions: 1) Who was Furry Lewis?; 2) Why does his music sound the way it does?; and 3) What impact does he have on current Memphis musicians? Drawing on Henry Lewis Gates, Jr.'s literary critique of the African and Afro-Diasporic legend of Esu-Elegbara, I explore the relationship between Lewis's known biography and the complex web of myths that surround him. I then examine the ways in which this rich mythos affects Lewis's reception history and legacy. I catalogue and analyze Lewis's entire known repertory as a way of identifying the relationship between its contents and his musical and cultural context. I transcribe, catalogue, and analyze his lyrics according to theories of formulaic folk construction developed by Albert Lord, Milman Perry, and David Evans as a means of understanding Lewis's compositional processes. This analysis is then used to compare and contrast Lewis's music with local and regional styles. I analyze Lewis's music by examining his learning processes, the instruments he used, the physical movements of his playing, his techniques, and his approach to and understanding of musical tradition. Through many interviews and personal observations, I trace Lewis's musical and personal influences from Memphis's alternative rock movement in the 1960s through the current resurgence of interest in the city's musical history. The evidence presented in this dissertation shows that Lewis is a complex figure. His life-story is blurred by both incomplete records and mythology. His music is surprisingly complicated as idiosyncrasies push it just beyond local and regional traditions. His legacy is uncommonly rich, as he has had a greater and longer lasting influence on Memphis's alternative rock musicians than on its blues and folk musicians. Though he was never Memphis's greatest musician or its most popular, he is certainly one of the most interesting.
dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.
Fritts, Jamison Tyler, ""Mr. Furry's Blues": The Life, Music, and Legacy of Furry Lewis" (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1517.