Blues preserver Mack McCormick dead at 85
Texas musicologist shone light on Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lead Belly, Lightnin’ Hopkins and others
Mack McCormick, lifelong student of Texas blues who preserved hundreds of artists’ work and history, has died at the age of 85.
He passed away at home in Houston after a battle against cancer of the esophagus.
McCormick was responsible for discovering and protecting material by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lead Belly and many others, and he’s credited with giving Lightnin’ Hopkins’ career a new lease of life.
He started out as an archivist of popular culture in Ohio, before being hired in 1946 to research the last two volumes of a jazz compilation. That led to a fascination with the blues, and the building of an archive collected from nearly 1000 counties.
During his career he researched a biography of Robert Johnson, and worked on an encyclopaedia of Texas blues, neither of which were completed. He also wrote a number of album liner notes and lent his experience to the Smithsonian Institute.
A message on his website reads: “McCormick's research helped to uncover histories and biographical information that would likely have been lost forever had he not conducted his meticulous field research.
“For example, McCormick's research on Henry ‘Ragtime Texas’ Thomas is noteworthy because Thomas was one of the oldest African Americans to record in the 1920s.
“The list of others on whom McCormick has shed light is vast, and includes Robert Shaw, Buster Pickens, The George and Hersal Thomas Family (including Sippie Wallace), Peck Kelley and Lydia Mendoza, to name only a few.”
His archive, known as ‘The Monster,’ is still unpublished. His website notes that its “fate remains uncertain.”