Robert Palmer (writer)

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Robert Palmer
Birth nameRobert Franklin Palmer Jr.
Born(1945-06-19)June 19, 1945
Little Rock, Arkansas, United States [1]
DiedNovember 20, 1997(1997-11-20) (aged 52)
Valhalla, New York [1]
Genres Folk rock, folk, blues, rock
Occupation(s)Writer, musician [1]
Instruments Clarinet, Saxophone [1]
Associated acts The Insect Trust

Robert Franklin Palmer Jr. (June 19, 1945 November 20, 1997) was an American writer, musicologist, clarinetist, saxophonist, and blues producer. He is best known for his books, including Deep Blues ; [2] his music journalism for The New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine; [3] his work producing blues recordings and the soundtrack of the film Deep Blues; and his clarinet playing in the 1960s band the Insect Trust. [4] A collection of his writings, Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer, edited by Anthony DeCurtis, was published by Simon & Schuster on November 10, 2009.

Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1870s by African Americans from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, spirituals, and the folk music of white Americans of European heritage. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes, usually thirds or fifths flattened in pitch, are also an essential part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as the groove.

Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads is a British documentary film, released in 1991, and made by music critic and author Robert Palmer and documentary film maker Robert Mugge, in collaboration with David A. Stewart and his brother John J. Stewart. The film provided insight into the location, cast and characteristics of Delta blues and North Mississippi hill country blues. Filming took place in 1990 in Memphis, Tennessee, and various North Mississippi counties. Theatrical release was in 1991 and home video release in the United Kingdom, the next year, as was a soundtrack album. A United States consumer edition came in 2000.

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 125 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 17th in the world by circulation and 2nd in the U.S.


Early career

Palmer was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the son of a musician and school teacher, Robert Palmer Sr. A civil rights and peace activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, the younger Palmer graduated from Little Rock University (later called the University of Arkansas at Little Rock) in 1964. Soon afterwards he and fellow musicians Nancy Jeffries, Bill Barth, and Luke Faust formed a psychedelic music group, the Insect Trust, blending jazz, folk, and blues with rock and roll. [5] The band recorded its first, self-titled album on Capitol Records in 1968. Palmer continued playing clarinet and saxophone from time to time in local bands in areas where he lived throughout the rest of his life.

Little Rock, Arkansas Capital of Arkansas

Little Rock is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Arkansas. It is also the county seat of Pulaski County. It was incorporated on November 7, 1831, on the south bank of the Arkansas River close to the state's geographic center. The city derives its name from a rock formation along the river, named the "Little Rock" by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bénard de la Harpe in the 1720s. The capital of the Arkansas Territory was moved to Little Rock from Arkansas Post in 1821. The city's population was 198,541 in 2016 according to the United States Census Bureau. The six-county Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is ranked 78th in terms of population in the United States with 738,344 residents according to the 2017 estimate by the United States Census Bureau.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organization

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was one of the major American Civil Rights Movement organizations of the 1960s. It emerged from the first wave of student sit-ins and formed at a May 1960 meeting organized by Ella Baker at Shaw University. After its involvement in the Voter Education Project, SNCC grew into a large organization with many supporters in the North who helped raise funds to support its work in the South, allowing full-time organizers to have a small salary. Many unpaid grassroots organizers and activists also worked with SNCC on projects in the Deep South, often becoming targets of racial violence and police brutality. SNCC played a seminal role in the freedom rides, the 1963 March on Washington, Mississippi Freedom Summer, the Selma campaigns, the March Against Fear and other historic events. SNCC may be best known for its community organizing, including voter registration, freedom schools, and localized direct action all over the country, but especially in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

University of Arkansas at Little Rock national public research university located in Little Rock, Arkansas

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is a metropolitan public research university located in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States. Established as Little Rock Junior College by the Little Rock School District in 1927, the institution became a private four-year university under the name Little Rock University in 1957. It returned to public status in 1969 when it merged with the University of Arkansas System under its present name.

Later period

In the early 1970s, Palmer became a contributing editor of Rolling Stone . He became the first full-time rock writer for The New York Times a few years later, serving as chief pop music critic at the newspaper from 1976 to 1988.

<i>Rolling Stone</i> American magazine focusing on popular culture, based in New York City

Rolling Stone is an American monthly magazine that focuses on popular culture. It was founded in San Francisco, California in 1967 by Jann Wenner, who is still the magazine's publisher, and the music critic Ralph J. Gleason. It was first known for its musical coverage and for political reporting by Hunter S. Thompson. In the 1990s, the magazine shifted focus to a younger readership interested in youth-oriented television shows, film actors, and popular music. In recent years, it has resumed its traditional mix of content.

Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s from musical styles such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie woogie, and rhythm and blues, along with country music. While elements of what was to become rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until 1954.

Pop music is a genre of popular music that originated in its modern form in the United States and United Kingdom during the mid-1950s. The terms "popular music" and "pop music" are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all music that is popular and includes many diverse styles. "Pop" and "rock" were roughly synonymous terms until the late 1960s, when they became increasingly differentiated from each other.

He continued to work as a journalist for film magazines and Rolling Stone; meanwhile, he began teaching courses in ethnomusicology and American music at colleges, including at the University of Mississippi. In the early 1990s, he also began producing blues albums for Fat Possum Records artists, like R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. After living near Memphis from 1988 through 1992, he spent about six months at a country estate near Pocahontas, AR, 150 miles Northeast of Little Rock before relocating in early 1993 to New Orleans, Louisiana, his home until his death. [4]

Ethnomusicology study of music emphasizing cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions

Ethnomusicology is the study of music from the cultural and social aspects of the people who make it. It encompasses distinct theoretical and methodical approaches that emphasize cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions or contexts of musical behavior, instead of only its isolated sound component.

University of Mississippi university

The University of Mississippi is a public research university in Oxford, Mississippi. Including the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, it is the state's largest university by enrollment. The university was chartered by the Mississippi Legislature on February 24, 1844, and four years later admitted its first enrollment of 80 students. The university is classified as an "R1: Doctoral University—Very High Research Activity" by the Carnegie Foundation and has an annual research and development budget of $121.6 million. The university ranked 145 in the 2018 edition of the US News Rankings of Best National Universities.

Fat Possum Records record label

Fat Possum Records is an American independent record label based in Water Valley and Oxford, Mississippi. At first Fat Possum focused almost entirely on recording previously unknown Mississippi blues artists. Recently, Fat Possum has signed younger rock acts to its roster. The label has been featured in The New York Times, New Yorker, The Observer, a Sundance Channel production, features on NPR, and a 2004 documentary, You See Me Laughin. Fat Possum also distributes the Hi Records catalog.

Two of his better-known books are the historical study Deep Blues (1982) and Rock & Roll: An Unruly History (1995), the latter of which was the companion book to the ten-part BBC and PBS television series Rock & Roll on which he served as chief consultant (not to be confused with All You Need Is Love: The Story of Popular Music , a 1977 television documentary series on the history of modern pop music directed by Tony Palmer).

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

PBS Public television network in the United States

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is an American public broadcaster and television program distributor. It is a non-profit organization and is the most prominent provider of educational television programming to public television stations in the United States, distributing series such as American Experience, America's Test Kitchen, Antiques Roadshow, Arthur, Downton Abbey, Finding Your Roots, Frontline, The Magic School Bus, Masterpiece, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Nature, Nova, PBS NewsHour, Sesame Street and This Old House.

<i>Rock & Roll</i> (miniseries) 1995 American-British documentary miniseries

Rock & Roll or Dancing in the Street: a Rock and Roll History is a 1995 American-British documentary miniseries about the history of rock and roll music produced by the BBC and WGBH.

In 1985, he was recruited to play clarinet by friends Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood on the song "Silver and Gold" by U2's Bono for the Artists United Against Apartheid album Sun City . [2]

Keith Richards British songwriter, guitarist of The Rolling Stones

Keith Richards, sometimes credited as Keith Richard, is an English musician, singer and songwriter, best known as the co-founder, guitarist, backing vocalist, and co-principal songwriter of the Rolling Stones. Rolling Stone magazine called Richards the creator of "rock's greatest single body of riffs" on guitar and ranked him fourth on its list of 100 best guitarists in 2011, and the magazine lists fourteen songs that Richards wrote with the Rolling Stones' lead vocalist Mick Jagger on its "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list.

Ronnie Wood British rock musician, member of The Rolling Stones

Ronald David Wood is an English rock musician, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, artist, author and radio personality best known as a member of The Rolling Stones since 1975, as well as a member of Faces and the Jeff Beck Group.

U2 Four-member Irish rock band, from Dublin

U2 are an Irish rock band from Dublin formed in 1976. The group consists of Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr.. Initially rooted in post-punk, U2's musical style has evolved throughout their career but maintained an anthemic sound built on Bono's expressive vocals and the Edge's effects-based guitar textures. Their lyrics, often embellished with spiritual imagery, focus on personal and sociopolitical themes. Popular for their live performances, the group have staged several ambitious and elaborate tours over their career.

Throughout his life, Palmer published scholarly liner notes for albums by dozens of top jazz, blues, rock and roll and world music artists, including Sam Rivers, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Yoko Ono, John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles, Ornette Coleman, the Master Musicians of Jajouka, La Monte Young, and many more.

He worked as screenwriter, narrator, and music director of the documentary films The World According to John Coltrane (which he also directed, with Toby Byron) and Deep Blues (based on his book by the same name), He wrote a book about Jerry Lee Lewis, entitled Jerry Lee Lewis Rocks. [2] He was heavily involved in the 1995 WGBH/BBC co-production Rock & Roll , broadcast in the United States in late 1995 on PBS but never released to the general public.

Palmer died from liver disease at the Westchester County Medical Center in Valhalla, New York, on November 20, 1997. [1]

His daughter Augusta Palmer directed a documentary called The Hand of Fatima (2009) [6] about Palmer's lifelong relationship with the Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar [7]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Pareles, Jon (November 21, 1997), Robert Palmer Is Dead at 52; Critic Covered Rock and Blues, The New York Times
  2. 1 2 3 Chris Nelson (November 21, 1997). "Famed Music Critic Robert Palmer Dead At 52". VH1. Archived from the original on 2012-07-28. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  3. Kracht, C., & Woodard, D., Five Years, Vol. 1 (Hannover: Wehrhahn Verlag, 2011), p. 161.
  4. 1 2 Chris Nelson (September 18, 1997). "Rockers Come To Aid of Seriously Ill Music Critic". VH1. Archived from the original on 2012-07-28. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  5. Richie Unterberger. "Robert Palmer". . Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  6. "The Hand of Fatima". Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  7. Sisario, Ben (November 15, 2009). "In Search of a Father in Search of the Blues". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 August 2017.