The Early Years of Rhythm and Blues: Focus on Houston
by Alan B. Govenar, Benny Joseph
2nd Edition Published: August 30, 2004, Schiffer Publishing, Paperback, 80 pages, Dimensions: 12 x 9 x 0.5 inches, 1.5 pounds, ISBN-10: 0764319833,
1st Edition Published: February 1990 by Rice University Press; ASIN: 0892632739, Hardcover, 88 pages, 11.76" x 0.55" x 8.86"
Benny Joseph made his living as a professional photographer in Houstons black community during the crucial decades from the 1950s through the early 1980s, when the amplified pulse of rhythm and blues underscored the social changes sweeping the nation. Joseph photographed everything from parades and teen hops to impassioned speeches by civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall. Under contract to the pioneering black entrepreneur Don Robey, owner of the Duke and Peacock recording labels, Joseph photographed many of the popular recording artists of the day, including B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson, Buddy Ace, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, and Della Reese. With over 120 unique black and white photographs, this is a must have for all rhythm and blues enthusiasts, and a valuable historical resource for photography collectors. Writer, photographer, and filmmaker Alan Govenar met Joseph in 1984 when he was closing his studio in Houstons Third Ward and worked with him over the next five years, sifting through thousands of negatives to identify and contextualize his most compelling images of this remarkable era.
From The New York Times Book Review (September 22, 1991)
In the early 1950s, when Houston was the home this country’s most vital rhythm and blues scene, Benny Joseph was hired to photograph the rising stars of his two record labels, Duke and Peacock. Artists such as Bobby (Blue) Bland, Clarence (Gatemouth) Brown, Johnny Ace and Junior Parker (whose “Mystery Train” inspired a young Elvis Presley) were making a new kind of Southern blues that would strongly influence subsequent pop, soul and gospel sounds. The Early Years of Rhythm and Blues: Focus on Houston is a guide to their universe. As the text by Alan Govenar, a writer and film maker, explains, Mr. Joseph’s black-and-white photographs also documented the beginnings of the civil rights movement in Houston’s black community. Alongside images of such performers as B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson and Della Reese are photographs Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching, the future United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall exhorting a congregation under a painting of a supplicant Jesus and an N.A.A.C.P. meeting beneath a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
Haunting, heartbreaking and always life-affirming, “The Early Years of Rhythm and Blues is a triumph of the spirit and a celebration of the soul.