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Robert Johnson

“Robert Johnson at 100” tribute concert, Apollo Theater, New York, March 6, 2012. Photo: Chang W. Lee/New York Times/Redux.

ON FEBRUARY 21, 2012, at the end of a White House blues night, President Obama sang a chorus of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” Two weeks later, on March 6, to mark Johnson’s centennial, the Apollo Theater in New York staged the tribute concert “Robert Johnson at 100,” featuring, among many others, the Roots, offering “Milkcow’s Calf Blues,” Living Colour with “Preachin’ Blues,” Elvis Costello with “From Four Until Late,” both James Blood Ulmer and Taj Mahal taking on “Hellhound on My Trail,” Bettye LaVette with “I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man” and “When You Got a Good Friend,” Shemekia Copeland and Living Colour with “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues,” and Sam Moore with “Sweet Home Chicago.”

It is hard to imagine that had Robert Johnson lived any longer than he actually did, or lived a different life, he would have ever gained greater renown or respect, or that his music would have

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