A groundbreaking Black artist and his career in the Jim Crow South
“Jackson is a person whose image appears often in history but whose story has been relatively unknown. Cason’s work makes an important contribution by detailing the life of a successful musician who hitched his star to a mainstream, consensus culture and thus was welcomed and favored among local, state, and national politicians. Jackson’s career is not without controversy, and Cason exposes those complexities along the way, doing the important work of bringing Jackson’s life to light.”—R. A. Lawson, author of Jim Crow’s Counterculture: The Blues and Black Southerners, 1890-1945
“Cason’s biography returns to the spotlight and centerstage a trailblazing performer and musician who helped shape a generation of Black musicians and artists.”—Le’Trice D. Donaldson, author of Duty beyond the Battlefield: African American Soldiers Fight for Racial Uplift, Citizenship, and Manhood, 1870–1920
This book is the first biography of Graham Jackson (1903-1983), a virtuosic musician whose life story displays the complexities of being a Black professional in the segregated South. David Cason discusses how Jackson navigated a web of racial and social negotiations throughout his long career and highlights his little-known role in events of the twentieth century.
Widely known for an iconic photo taken of him playing the accordion in tears at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral, which became a Life magazine cover, Jackson is revealed here to have a much deeper story. He was a performer, composer, and high school music director known for his skills on the piano and organ. Jackson was among the first Black men to enlist in the Navy during World War II, helping recruit many other volunteers and raising over $2 million for the war effort. After the war he became a fixture at Atlanta music venues and in 1971, Governor Jimmy Carter proclaimed Jackson the State Musician of Georgia.
Cason examines Jackson’s groundbreaking roles with a critical eye, taking into account how Jackson drew on his connections with white elites including Roosevelt, Coca-Cola magnate Robert Woodruff, and golfer Bobby Jones, and was censured by Black Power figures for playing songs associated with Confederate memory. Based on archival, newspaper, and interview materials, The Life and Music of Graham Jackson brings into view the previously unknown story of an ambitious and talented artist and his controversial approach to the politics and culture of his day.
David Cason is associate professor in the Honors Program at the University of North Dakota, where he teaches courses on history, the civil rights movement, and social justice.
Publication of this work made possible by a Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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