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Exclusive First Look at New Photograph of Blues Legend Robert Johnson

Annye Anderson was only 12 years old when her stepbrother, Robert Johnson, died in 1938 at the age of 27. In the years that followed, she watched in dismay as the sweet-natured man she knew was transformed into an unrecognizable legend: the hard-living, hard-drinking blues singer and guitarist who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his otherworldly talent. The only two photographs of Johnson ever published did little to dispel the mystery of the artist Eric Clapton once called “the most important blues musician who ever lived.” In one, Johnson strikes a stern pose, a cigarette dangling from his lips. In the other, taken at a Memphis photo studio, he is smiling but formal, perched cross-legged in a pinstripe suit atop a wooden stool.

But Mrs. Anderson, as she prefers to be called, kept something of her stepbrother that reveals a different side of him. The treasure was stored in a small box that had held a bottle of sewing machine oil back in the 1930s: a photograph Johnson took of himself in a nickel portrait booth in Memphis, probably at the same time as his cigarette photo. It depicts a young man of 25 or 26, full of a warmth and joy that seem against type for a bluesman, his fingers forming a chord on the neck of his guitar. Indeed, the photo is as much a portrait of the instrument as it is of the artist, the guitar lovingly framed front and center by a man for whom the music was everything. It is a selfie from another age, and perhaps the best nickel ever spent.

In an exclusive first look, the photograph is presented here as it appears on the cover of Brother Robert: Growing Up With Robert Johnson, Mrs. Anderson’s forthcoming memoir written with Preston Lauterbach, to be published by Hachette on June 9. In an excerpt from the book, Mrs. Anderson, now 94, recounts the day the photograph was taken:
Introduction by Eric Bates


It shows Brother Robert the way I remember him—open, kind, and generous. He doesn’t look like the man of all the legends, the man described as a drunkard and a fighter by people who didn’t really know him. This is my Brother Robert.

Read entire article at Vanity Fair