Sounds Workshop November 18 and 19

Presentation by Scott Reynolds Nelson-November 18 and 19

The Untold Story of An American Legend

Scott Reynolds Nelson, winner of the Arts Club of Washington’s inaugural National Award for Arts Writing for Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, The Untold Story of an American Legend (Oxford University Press).
Scott Reynolds Nelson is Legum Professor of History at the College of William and Mary. Scott served as a consultant on the forthcoming PBS documentary on John Henry. Steel Drivin’ Man has also received a 2007 Merle Curti Prize from the Organization of American Historians and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction, an award that recognizes books on race and culture.

Untold Story of An American Legend

November 18 and 19

The ballad “John Henry” is the most recorded folk song in American history and John Henry–the mighty railroad man who could blast through rock faster than a steam drill–is a towering figure in our culture. But for over a century, no one knew who the original John Henry was–or even if there was a real John Henry. In Steel Drivin’ Man , Scott Reynolds Nelson will recounts the true story of the man behind the iconic American hero, telling the poignant tale of a young Virginia convict who died working on one of the most dangerous enterprises of the time, the first rail route through the Appalachian Mountains. Using census data, penitentiary reports, and railroad company reports, Nelson reveals how John Henry, victimized by Virginia’s notorious Black Codes, was shipped to the infamous Richmond Penitentiary to become prisoner number 497, and was forced to labor on the mile-long Lewis Tunnel for the C&O railroad. Nelson even confirms the legendary contest between John Henry and the steam drill (there was indeed a steam drill used to dig the Lewis Tunnel and the convicts in fact drilled faster). Equally important, Nelson masterfully captures the life of the ballad of John Henry, tracing the song’s evolution from the first printed score by blues legend W. C. Handy, to Carl Sandburg’s use of the ballad to become the first “folk singer,” to the upbeat version by Tennessee Ernie Ford. We see how the American Communist Party appropriated the image of John Henry as the idealized American worker, and even how John Henry became the precursor of such comic book super heroes as Superman or Captain America.

Directions

From the North:
• Take I-77 South to Granger Road (Exit 157)
• Head east on Rt. 17 to Canal Road (Big Boy on corner)
• Turn right on Canal Road to Fosdick Road (second traffic light)
• Turn right over bridge and right on W. Canal Rd.
• Buildings B will be on your left.

From the South:
• Take I-77 North to Rockside Road (Exit 155)
• Turn right (east) on Rockside, crossing Brecksville Road
• Continue down the hill to Canal Road
• Turn left on Canal to Fosdick Road (third traffic light)
• Turn left over bridge and right on W. Canal Rd.
• Buildings B will be on your left

From the East:
• I-480 West to E. 98th Street (Exit 21) – turn right
• Turn left at the 1st traffic light (Granger Road)
• Continue down the hill to Canal Road (first light)
• Turn left on Canal to Fosdick Road (second traffic light)
• Turn right over bridge and right on W. Canal Rd.
• Buildings B will be on your left

From West:
• Take I-480 East to E. 98th Street (Exit 21) – turn left
• Turn left at the 1st traffic light (Granger Road)
• Continue down the hill to Canal Road (first light)
• Turn left on Canal to Fosdick Road (second traffic light)
• Turn right over bridge and right on W. Canal Rd.
• Buildings B will be on your left.