Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

Author Peter Guralnick undoubtedly knows the title of his new book, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll, is a bit of an exaggeration. Its thesis is more accurately told in the subtitle—“How one man discovered Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley, and how his tiny label, Sun Records of Memphis, revolutionized the world.” The author, a cultural historian who has previously written about Elvis, Sam Cooke, and American roots music, digs deep to examine the role of Phillips, a Memphis, Tenn.–based engineer and producer, in the birth of rock. Guralnick, who became friends with Phillips in the last 25 years of Phillips’ life, uses that access to convey the man’s strengths and flaws. While some of the details regarding tax woes and adultery get a bit tedious, the author lyrically describes the debt-ridden Phillips’ struggle to bring music by black artists to white audiences during years of segregation as well as his subsequent successes and failures with white musicians who melded R&B and gospel with backwoods country music. At the Library of Congress, he’ll place Phillips’ work within the larger story of 20th century American music. Peter Guralnick speaks at 7 p.m. at the Library of Congress James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. SE. Free. (202) 707-5000. loc.gov.