Friday, January 20, 2012

Johnny Otis (born Ioannis Alexander Veliotes) (1921-2012)

For those interested in the life and work of Johnny Otis the scholarship of George Lipsitz is exemplary:

Lipsitz, George. 1993. "Introduction. Creating Dangerously: The Blues Life of Johnny Otis." In Upside Your Head! Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue. xvii–xxxv. Wesleyan University Press.

Lipsitz, George. 2007. "How Johnny Veliotis Became Johnny Otis." Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora. Vol. 33(1&2): 81–104.

Lipsitz, George. 2010. Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story. University of Minnesota Press.

There is also Johnny Otis' autobiography (Upside Your Head! Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue. Wesleyan University Press, 1993). To honor Otis's life-long anti-racist activism I share the following passage, a commentary about marrying his high school sweet heart Phyllis Walker, of Afro-Samoan ancestry (
in Reno, Nevada on May 2, 1941):

[California anti-miscegenation law prevented them from marrying in California, but also in Nevada where] “we got around the problem by the same apartheid mentality in Reno” (59)

“Our parents could have the marriage annulled if they chose to [the couple were both underage]. My mother chose to. She sent my father to Reno with specific instructions to break us legally. But Pop had different ideas.
The first thing he did when he saw Phyllis was to take her in his arms and hug her and kiss her.
‘Your mother sent me to annul the marriage, but I came to meet my new daughter,’ he said in Greek, with tears in his eyes.
‘And besides, I don’t want to get God on my case.’
I never loved that old man more than I did at that moment” (59).

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