On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace.
A great, all-day read that incorporates some of my favorite things: American lore, roots music, and murder ballads sung by women. If you haven’t heard of Geeshie Wiley or Elvie Thomas, you’re not alone. They’re not as widely known blues women like Mamie Smith or Big Mama Thornton. In fact, there’s no evidence that they ever even existed — except of course for the music they left behind.
I remember being lovestruck by Geeshie Wiley’s story in college. My college radio station, V89picked up a copy of Smithsonian Folkways: The Blues Masters (2007) and a great box set of rare 78’s called The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of (2006). I played both on-air regularly, especially Wiley’s tracks.
How could someone create hauntingly beautiful music - three records in the 1930’s - and leave absolutely nothing else? Not even a tombstone. Maybe it’s the ultimate artistic coup: If you’ve never lived then you’ve never died, and your music goes on.