In 1927, as the muddy waters of the Mississippi River began to recede from what was then the deadliest storm-related flood in American history, blues musicians wailed their sorrow and rage. Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded his “Rising High Water Blues” that May:
Children stand there screamin: Mama we ain’t got no home
Awww, Mama we ain’t got no home
Papa says to the children, “Backwater left us all alone.”
The gut-wrenching disaster, and others that swept through the Mississippi’s fast-populating basin in the early 20th century, led to more blues devoted to rain and flood than any other natural event. But Papa was wrong: It wasn’t the water...