Biography of a Phantom - Signed Edition

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When blues master Robert Johnson's little-known recordings were re-released to great fanfare in the 1960s, little was known about his life, giving rise to legends that he gained success by selling his soul to the devil. Biography of a Phantom: A Robert Johnson Blues Odyssey is musicologist Robert "Mack" McCormick's all-consuming search, from the late 1960's until McCormick's death in 2015, to uncover Johnson's life story. McCormick spent decades reconstructing Johnson's mysterious life and developing theories about his untimely death at the age of 27, but never made public his discoveries. Biography of a Phantom publishes his compelling work for the first time, including 38 unseen black-and-white photographs documenting his search.

While knocking on doors and sleuthing for Johnson's loved ones and friends, McCormick documents a Mississippi landscape ravaged by the racism of paternalistic white landowners and county sheriffs. An editor's preface and afterword from Smithsonian curator John W. Troutman provides context as well as troubling details about McCormick's own impact on Johnson's family and illuminates through McCormick's archive the complex legacy of white male enthusiasts assuming authority over Black people's stories and the history of the blues.

Museum Story

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Behring Center, is responsible for the collection, care, and preservation of more than three million objects.


  • Book signed by John W. Troutman
  • Hardcover
  • 264 pages, 38 black and white photographs
  • 9" x 6"
  • Written by Robert "Mack" McCormick
  • Edited by John W. Troutman (curator of American music at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History)