Cover image for The day is so long and the wages so small : music on a summer island
The day is so long and the wages so small : music on a summer island
Charters, Samuel, 1929-2015.
Publication Information:
New York : Marion Boyars, 1999.
Physical Description:
175 pages : illustrations, map ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML3565 .C53 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A richly textured collection of memories and observations ... terrific.'Straight No Chaser In the summer of 1958 Samuel Charters and Ann Danberg travelled to Andros, an "island on the wrong side of the wind" in the Bahamas. They were drawn to this remote location by a song, so rich and startling in its resonance that they followed it to its source. In The Day is so Long and the Wages so Small Charters recalls the unique experience of this incredible summer. Living within the small yet vital community descended from a handful of Bahamian slaves, Charters and Danberg discovered the pleasures and the harsh realities of island life. They also found that the historical fusion of disparate cultures on Andros, from Africa and Europe, had resulted in a rich, distinctive musical confluence that stubbornly resisted the influx of modern styles. The invaluable recordings they made that summer introduced the world to the guitar music of Joseph Spence, the ballads and 'rhyming' songs of John Roberts and Frederick McQueen, and a wealth of traditional Bahamian music. Samuel Charters, the eminent historian of jazz and blues music, is the author of the award-winning The Roots of the Blues, The Legacy of the Blues, and the novel Louisiana Black (filmed under the title White Lies) all of which are available from Marion Boyars Publishers.

Author Notes

Samuel Charters was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 1, 1929. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, he spent time in New Orleans, where he played clarinet, banjo and washboard in bands and studied with the jazz clarinetist George Lewis. He received a degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley.

His first book, The Country Blues, was published in 1959 and was released in tandem with an album also entitled The Country Blues. His other books included The Roots of the Blues, The Legacy of the Blues, The Poetry of the Blues, The Bluesmen, Jazz New Orleans, A Language of Song: Journeys in the Musical World of the African Diaspora, Songs of Sorrow, and The Harry Bright Dances. He also produced albums including Chicago: The Blues Today! and the first four albums by Country Joe and the Fish.

He published several poetry collections including Things to Do Around Piccadilly and What Paths, What Journeys as well as several novels including Louisiana Black and Elvis Presley Calls His Mother After the Ed Sullivan Show. He also translated works by Swedish authors and wrote a book in Swedish entitled Spelmannen, about Swedish fiddlers. He died of myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of bone marrow cancer, on March 18, 2015 at the age of 85.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

In the summer of 1958, Charters and Ann Danberg, his future wife, were out of college and biding time. In 1955 he had heard a 1940 field recording of a singer on the Bahamian island Andros that he considered one of his most thrilling musical experiences. When Ann heard it, she, too, was intrigued. They pooled their resources for a recording trip to Andros. Mud on one side and reef-bound on the other, the scantly populated island proved hard to get to from the nearest tourist destination, expensive Nassau, but get there they did. They rented a tiny house with electricity for the bulky tape recorder, Charters went line-fishing daily for supper, and they searched the music out. They garnered two hours of vocal and instrumental music, including the first recordings of two of the most astonishing traditional musicians ever encountered, dexterous guitarist Joseph Spence and spine-tingling singer Frederick McQueen. The distinctiveness of Andros music, Charters learned later, arose from the quite pure Africanisms of rhythm and harmony that Andros musicians laid over English song structures. Charters wrote notes and Danberg took photographs of their adventure. From them, Charters has made this gentle, wonder-filled memoir--the book folk music devotees have been waiting for him to give them for 40 years and also just about the finest what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation report ever written. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

The quest to record and preserve the last vestiges of a fast-disappearing musical culture is vividly rendered in this account of a summer on the Bahamian island of Andros. In 1958, when Charters and his future wife, Ann Danberg, then in their early 20s, made their trek to the island, Andros was a barren, swamp-ridden backwater, with fewer than a thousand inhabitants, almost all descendants of Bahamian slaves. A budding music historian, Charters (The Roots of the Blues) had discovered a series of Alan Lomax's Library of Congress recordings of Andros folk songs from the late 1930s, and was so intrigued by the musicÄa fusion of 18th-century anthems and African polyphonyÄthat he decided to seek out the musicians and their songs. Lugging a heavy, suitcase-sized tape recorder, and traveling on the tightest of budgets, he and Danberg finally made it to the tiny settlement of Fresh Creek. On the porch of their mosquito and crab-infested house there, they recorded the guitar music of Joseph Spence and the ballads and rhyming songs of John Roberts. Still, they were assured that their project wouldn't be complete until they had heard the voice of the legendary singer, Frederick McQueen. Charters's final chapters document their search for the elusive musician; he concludes with a rousing outdoor performance by McQueen. The elegiac, leisurely pace of this slim memoir evokes the moods and rhythms of a long-distant island summer. Song lyrics included. (Sept.) FYI: Smithsonian Folkways Records will issue a single CD selection of the music described in this book, under the same title. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Charters has been one of our most respected writers on blues and jazz for four decades. In the late 1950s, he traveled to Andros Island in the Bahamas in the hopes of coming back with some field recordings of a distinctive music first recorded by Alan Lomax 25 years earlier. First, however, he had to get to the island that fishermen described as being "on the wrong side of the wind." His first option was a rickety fishing boat, but the captain got drunk, so the mission was aborted. Charters finally made a harrowing flight in a tiny plane that touched down on a dirt runway on the shabby side of paradise. He set up housekeeping in a shack without electricity or running water and set about finding an elusive bunch of musicians who thought nothing of the Billboard chartsÄthey sang for the song. The trip resulted in four records released on Folkways Records nearly 40 years ago as well as this valentine to a more innocent time when only the music mattered. For comprehensive collections.ÄDan Bogey, Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

It is virtually impossible to date the origin of any spiritual, those classic religious folk songs anonymously created by African American slaves before the Civil War. However, field recordings made in the Bahamas in the summer of 1958 by Samuel and Ann Charters encouraged speculation that some of this repertoire was carried by Royalist slave owners to the islands in the 18th century, and others evolved from such a stimulus. In this volume, Samuel Charters dwells less on such ethnomusicological matters (the CD reissues are not included but are available) than on the warm memories of the visit made by the pair in their graduate-student days, specifically to Andros Island. These are memories of social importance, lucidly recalled with graphic details, without didactic pretense. Those who follow blues literature will be familiar with the Charters' major contributions to scholarship, but all readers will be charmed by these kind and colorful memories. For general readers and academic collections supporting the study of US musical traditions. D.-R. de Lerma; Lawrence University

Table of Contents

List Of Illustrationsp. 8
1 A Different Kind Of Musicp. 11
2 An Island The Wrong Side Of The Windp. 18
3 The Problem With Fishing Boatsp. 33
4 An Island Housep. 47
5 Night Voicesp. 58
6 Opinions About Sharksp. 72
7 Spencep. 86
8 Sharks Againp. 95
9 Gal, You Want To Go Back To Scambop. 106
10 A Walk On The Beachp. 117
11 The Pleasures Of Sailingp. 132
12 The Day Is So Long And The Wages So Smallp. 146
13 McQueenp. 156
14 Last Long Summer Daysp. 166
Appendixp. 173