by Marty Weil @ChiBluesHistory

Without record producer John Hammond (1910-1987), the careers of Billie Holliday, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Ray Vaughan might not have happened or been significantly delayed in their development. 

Hammond was arguably one of the most important figures in American popular music in the 20th century and was one of the most important and influential proponents of the idiom. In 1938, for instance, Hammond organized the first From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall, presenting a broad program of blues, jazz, and gospel artists, including Ida Cox, Big Joe Turner, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade “Lux” Lewis, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Count Basie orchestra, Sidney Bechet, Sonny Terry, James P. Johnson, and Big Bill Broonzy (who took the place of the murdered Robert Johnson). Hammond looms particularly large in the story of Robert Johnson, whose posthumous fame he did much to promote.

John Hammond was a hugely successful producer and talent scout, but perhaps more importantly he was in many ways a precursor of the young, white, intellectually engaged fans that would “rediscover” blues in the 1960s. For John Hammond, America’s musical soul, the story of blues is at once personal and epic. It is the story of a man at the center of things bringing forth the music legends that made the world dance, smile, and think.

Artwork: John Hammond headshot

Marty Weil is the editor of @CHIBLUESHISTORY on Twitter. Marty is a blues researcher, educator, and social media influencer.

Read more articles in bBlues Note, the bi-weekly newsletter: SIGN UP HERE.