What critics are saying about

Beale Street Dynasty

Sex, Song, and the Struggle for the Soul of Memphis

“…not even a bullet in the head could stop [Bob] Church, who became the star mega-mogul of Beale Street. Like many of the district’s czars, he was both valiant and corrupt, a charmer and a thug. In a startlingly rebellious move, he opened what Lauterbach — the author of ‘The Chitlin’ Circuit’ — calls ‘sex slavery plantations,’ brothels stocked with white women….’Beale Street Dynasty’ adds a fascinating chapter to civil rights history. But for all the hatred it depicts, this gracefully written book never loses sight of the fun that made [W.C.] Handy exalt that stretch of dirt road.” New York Times

“Preston Lauterbach has conjured a fascinating demimonde that’s dead and gone. After reading this, I dreamed all night about street hustlers, hoodoos, and snake oil salesmen on Beale Street, the Main Street of black America. Here Lauterbach gives us Beale in its heyday—the chitlin joints, the rough-and-tumble politics, the fecund music—and deftly paints a portrait of the one improbable millionaire who towered over this vibrant world. Read Beale Street Dynasty and you begin to feel you’re communing with ghosts.” — Hampton Sides, bestselling author of Hellhound on His Trail

“In his last book, The Chitlin’ Circuit, Lauterbach shone light into obscure, all but unknown rooms of the rock-’n’-roll story. This time he turns to a chapter we thought we knew well—Beale Street, one of the grounds zero of American culture, with Tin Pan Alley and Congo Square and Concord—and the result is every bit as illuminating. Lauterbach has become one of my favorite people to read on 20th-century popular music.” — John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead

“You may know about Beale Street, W. C. Handy, and the Memphis Blues, but chances are you’ve never heard of the Church family and its achievements. Could an African-American political dynasty, against all odds, have managed real power in a Southern city a century ago? Preston Lauterbach tells the tale authoritatively and with flair.” — Luc Sante, author of Low Life

“Preston Lauterbach takes readers on an uproarious, sometimes shocking jaunt through Memphis history by way of Beale Street, the remarkable thoroughfare that has hosted the likes of W.C. Handy, Ida B. Wells, and Richard Wright. Beale Street Dynasty is a compelling, witty, deeply researched, and always enlightening book.” — Gary Krist, author of Empire of Sin

“Beale Street’s decadent and uplifting components alike were brought and held together through regional politics of the most brutal sort: vote bundling, poll taxes, stolen ballot boxes, anti-Negro pogroms, lynchings and assassinations by men who could get away with murder. All aspects of this complex, fascinating history are told in ‘Beale Street Dynasty’ with verve and vivid erudition by Preston Lauterbach.” Wall Street Journal

“So much American history is the story of power, race and money. And that story runs extra deep and vivid in the old Tennessee river city of Memphis. On the Chickasaw Bluffs, above the Mississippi, Memphis moved after the Civil War…from slaves and cotton to sex and song. There was a furious battle for power. For a time, blacks won a notable share. It built Beale Street.” Tom Ashbrook, NPR On Point

Beale Street Dynasty is both good history and a good yarn. … [A] Southern answer to Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York or HBO’s similarly titled Boardwalk Empire.” Memphis Commercial Appeal

“…a masterful job of depicting the ruthless entrepreneurship that yielded a lot of tangled vice and, perhaps not surprisingly, some tangible good as well.” Washington Post

“Beale Street Dynasty…is an important and impeccably researched social and political history of Memphis that may be one of the best historical narratives of black life in the American South from the end of the Civil War to the 1940s. It’s also a riveting tale that’s hard to put down.” Jackson Clarion-Ledger

“It’s a tale littered with vice kings and philanthropists, graft-driven politicians and progressive activists, human depravity and timeless music….Lauterbach presents the lively history of this period with meticulous research, an engaging plot that resembles a tense political thriller, and the white-hot language of hardboiled crime fiction.” Knoxville News Sentinel

“His skill as a writer is to interweave historical facts with the stories of the characters that populated Beale Street and its surrounds.” Seattle Times

 The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock and Roll

 The Wall Street Journal Top Ten Non-Fiction books of 2011

The Boston Globe Top Non-Fiction books of 2011

An NPR Best Music Book of 2011

An Onion AV Club Best Book of 2011

Living Blues Magazine Book of the Year 2012

“Lauterbach traces the vibrant history of the ‘chitlin’ circuit’ – the dance halls, juke joints and night clubs that catered to black audiences and flourished in the South for two decades beginning in the 1930s.” Ihsan Taylor, The New York Times

“Mr. Lauterbach uncovers a story as sensational as any day-glo circuit-show poster…The era’s hepcat lingo (‘ork’ for orchestra, ‘ofay’ for ‘white’) and hard-boiled, noir ambience give Mr. Lauterbach a tune he can carry….the book is at heart a well-researched valentine to a lost world of seedy con men, promoters and club owners, the power brokers and hustlers who made the ‘circuitry spark.’ ” Eddie Dean, The Wall Street Journal  

“A major achievement and an important contribution to American musical history.” June Sawyers,  Booklist, Starred review

“Crucial….spirited, studious, surprising, occasionally hilarious—is absolutely persuasive on its subject.” Stephen M. Deusner, Paste Magazine

“Preston Lauterbach’s rollicking, radiant new book plumbs the music’s deep black roots, providing an important historical corrective….Lauterbach spins the tale with enormous vitality and it’s terribly fun to read.” Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe

“This sprawling, fascinating history drops readers into a chaotic, dangerous, utterly vanished world. It turns out to be more vibrant than the standard rock ‘n’ roll mythology. The true dawn of rock lit a landscape in which timeless music got made thanks to every vice and virtue imaginable. Now that’s America.”   John Repp, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Highly recommended….relishes the criminal origins of the mostly southern black club scene from the early ’30s to the late ’60s ….a coherent, musically savvy history of a performance culture that until now was known only piecemeal.” Robert Christgau, and  Barnes and Noble Review

“Lauterbach’s tribute to [the chitlin’ circuit] is welcome and overdue.” Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“Vivid characterizations and killer storytelling chops…. first-class entertainment…. the wild characters who built and lived in the twilight world of mid-century black American nightclubs come alive on the page….The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock and Roll is the genius prequel to an oft-told epic. As Lauterbach puts it in the book’s introduction, the story of America’s most influential creation begins “not with an old song, but with a lost world.” With this book, that world again comes to life.” Alison Fenterstock, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Lauterbach has written the definitive history of the musical back roads and back rooms of the southern United States…. a great read, well written and insightful. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the seedy history of American popular music.”  Library Journal, Starred review

“Lauterbach’s writing is as energetic as a Little Richard song (a performer who started on the chitlin’ circuit and crossed over to national fame)…. a rocking read and a deserving tribute to the people and places who were the foundations of rock and roll.” Publisher’s Weekly 

“Remarkable….a complex, multi-layered story, and a lot — probably most — of the names won’t be familiar to modern readers. But the stories are gripping, and The Chitlin’ Circuit illuminates a period of American musical history that’s long needed it.” Ed Ward, NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross


RADIO BackStory All Things Considered NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook Soundcheck on WNYC Voice of America News (2nd half of show) BookTalk on WYPL KPBS San Diego WWNO New Orleans PRINT NUVO The Southern Literary Review The Commercial Appeal

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