Robert Johnson would have been 102 today, some say. Johnson's music was seeped in voodoo, hoodoo, black magic, spells, charms and the devil. There is only one thing wrong with Robert Johnson's music...there won't be any more. The last missing track, version two of "Traveling Riverside Blues" turned up in 1998. Where did his mumbo-jumbo imagery come from? Maybe from Black Herman.
One of the most obscure folks in history, and one of the few African-American magicians I can think of, died in 1934 just two years before Johnson made his recordings.
Actually, Black Herman died MANY times as it was a regular part of his act.
Black Herman was Benjamin Herman Rucker. I don't know if he is related to Darius Rucker, A.K.A "Hootie" or "Blowfish" but with genetic testing we might be able to find out. Herman did the medicine show routes and sold an African tonic. Like most tonics of the time, pretty much all alcohol. He abandoned that ruse as his magic skills increased, and soon he was performing numerous conjuring tricks which included, most notably, his own death. For a big finish, Herman would be buried alive and placed in "Black Herman's Private Graveyard" from which he would miraculously reappear THREE DAYS LATER and continue his act. There was just one problem. One day Black Herman died for REAL.
Some folks even claimed he died on stage and everyone thought it was part of the act, but this has been shown to be false. He just croaked. But that still wasn't the end of the act. His assistant charged admission to the viewing in the funeral home, where paying customers were allowed to poke Black Herman with a stick.
The above is an advertisement for his only book, appropriately "ghost-written" titled "Amazing Secrets of Black Herman" which appeared long after his death in a 1943 pulp magazine...the October 1943 issue of "Gay Love." (A magazine title which should be resurrected today like Herman) A similar ad, with a drawing of Herman decked out in his turban appears in the April 29, 1939 issue of The Afro-American, so someone was still making money on him long after he croaked...just like Robert Johnson!
Herman has a Wiki entry, but the best historical examination by far is on the Magic Tricks site HERE. And how could you NOT want to read more.
Black Herman Ad from Gay Love Stories October 1943 Collection Jim Linderman
SEE ALSO BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR HERE