New Robert Johnson Bio Includes Never-Seen Photo

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A new biography of the highly influential blues singer-songwriter Robert Johnson, written by his stepsister, includes a never-before-seen photo of the artist—only the third one ever discovered.

Brother Robert: Growing Up with Robert Johnson, credited to Annye C. Anderson, with Preston Lauterbach, will be published by Hachette on June 9 (in the U.S., and July 16 in the U.K.). Now 94 years old, Anderson reveals in the book the story behind the newly revealed photo. The excerpt was printed in an article in Vanity Fair:

“There was a make-your-own-photo place on Beale Street, near Hernando Street. I’ve since learned that a man named John Henry Evans owned it. The photo place was right next door to Pee Wee’s, the bar where Mr. Handy wrote his blues. One day when I was 10 or 11 years old, I walked there with Sister Carrie and Brother Robert. I remember him carrying his guitar and strumming as we went. You just walk in, drop a nickel in the slot, pull the curtain, and do it. There was no photographer. I had my picture made. Brother Robert got in the booth, and evidently made a couple.”

The authenticity of the photo was confirmed in a Facebook post by blues scholar Elijah Wald, who wrote the book’s foreword.

The advertising copy for Brother Robert, as posted on the book’s Amazon page, reads as follows:

“Though only twenty-seven years young and relatively unknown at the time of his tragic death in 1938, Robert Johnson’s enduring recordings have solidified his status as a progenitor of the Delta Blues style. And yet, while his music has retained the steadfast devotion of modern listeners, much remains unknown about the man who penned and played these timeless tunes. Few people alive today actually remember what Johnson was really like, and those who do have largely upheld their silence—until now.

Related: The Rolling Stones are among the many artists who’ve covered Johnson’s songs

“In Brother Robert, nonagenarian Annye Anderson sheds new light on a real-life figure largely obscured by his own legend: her kind and incredibly talented stepbrother, Robert Johnson. This book chronicles Johnson’s unconventional path to stardom—from the harrowing story behind his illegitimate birth, to his first strum of the guitar on Anderson’s father’s knee, to the genre-defining recordings that would one day secure his legacy.

“Along the way, Anderson not only shares personal anecdotes, but also colorful recollections of Johnson passed down by members of their family—the people who knew him best. She also outlines the contours of Johnson’s working life in Memphis, never-before-disclosed details about his romantic history, and all of his favorite things, from foods and entertainers to brands of tobacco and pomade. Together, these stories don’t just bring the mythologized Johnson back down to earth; they preserve both his memory and his integrity.”

Listen to Robert Johnson sing “Cross Road Blues”

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