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Professor publishing book about pioneers in American music history

Ben Wynne book
Dr. Ben Wynne’s book “In Tune” will be available in October and is currently available for pre-order. The book examines common themes between the musical inspirations and careers of two artists on different sides of the racial divide in the 19th century South.

Charley Patton and Jimmie Rodgers may not be well-known names to casual music listeners, but Dr. Ben Wynne, associate professor of history at the University of North Georgia (UNG), hopes to change that with a book examining how these artists impacted the future of their craft.

The book's description reads: "Born into poverty in Mississippi at the close of the 19th century, Charley Patton and Jimmie Rodgers established themselves among the most influential musicians of their era. 'In Tune' tells the story of the parallel careers of these two pioneering recording artists — one white, one black — who moved beyond their humble origins to change the face of American music."

Wynne's book deals with a time when music was one of the only areas of southern life that rose above racial boundaries; Patton and Rodgers themselves were inspired by music from both sides of the divide.

"Their music reflected the era in which they lived but evoked a range of timeless human emotions," Wynne said. "As the invention of the phonograph disseminated traditional forms of music to a wider audience, Jimmie Rodgers gained fame as the 'Father of Country Music,' while Patton's work eventually earned him the title 'King of the Delta Blues.'"

Wynne began the project with the intention of taking two artists from the time period to show that their lives reveal the universal nature of folk themes in the South — themes that were held by both races.

"During this time, music in the South was a great bridge across the racial gap," Wynne said. "Both races experienced happiness and sadness, joy, regret and heartache. Individuals of both races had the ability to reflect on their past and contemplate their future. They could view and comment on the things going on around them with either laughter or disgust, and they reacted to life's ups and downs in a similar fashion. And, they were all moved by music, which is as universal as the emotions it conveys."

Both musicians died young, leaving behind a relatively small number of recordings. Wynne said that though neither remains well-known to mainstream audiences, they have influenced decades of musicians and the impact of their contributions echoes in the songs of today.

"Their musical progeny includes almost every blues and country performer who followed them up to this very day," Wynne said. "Both men were poor and seemed to be trapped in a bleak existence, just like thousands of other southerners. However, instead of being systematically ground into the dust by this repressive environment, Patton and Rodgers created art and expressed themselves musically in a way that moved people."

A native of Florence, Mississippi, Wynne earned his doctorate degree in history from the University of Mississippi. He has written several works related to southern history. To learn more about "In Tune" and pre-order the book, which is available in October, visit: Wynne will also be holding a book talk and book signing at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library on Oct. 20.

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