Robert McCormick, musicologist folklorist, Died at 85


Robert “Mack” McCormick was born on August 3, 1930, and died on November 18, 2015 from esophageal cancer.

He was an American musicologist and folklorist.

Robert was born in 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He was brought up by his mother, and as a child lived in Alabama, Colorado, West Virginia and Texas, as she travelled to find work as a hospital technician.

Robert did not complete his school education, but worked at various times running errands for musicians in Cedar Point, Ohio, and later as an electrician, cook, carnival worker and taxi driver.

In 1946, Robert met record store owner and discographer Orin Blackstone in New Orleans, and began assisting Blackstone in researching and compiling his multi-volume Index to Jazz.

Robert became Down Beat’s Texas correspondent in 1949, and, as his interest turned primarily towards blues, began travelling and researching the lives and origins of previously undocumented blues musicians around the country, as well as folk traditions and customs.

In the late 1950s, Robert “discovered” and recorded musicians such as Mance Lipscomb, Robert Shaw and Lightnin’ Hopkins, and researched the lives of dead ones, such as Robert Johnson and Henry Thomas.

At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, Robert assembled a group of former convicts who had never performed together, and after trying but failing to get Bob Dylan to end his rehearsals with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, cut off Dylan’s electricity supply, possibly giving rise to the apocryphal story that Pete Seeger had attempted to cut Dylan’s power supply during a performance there.

Robert wrote numerous magazine articles and album liner notes, worked for the Smithsonian Institution, and assembled an extensive private archive of Texas musical history.

Robert passed away on November 18, 2015 from esophageal cancer.