Jay Brakefield grew up in Houston when it was a hotbed of blues and jazz and fell in love with the music at an early age. He also was inspired by his mother’s stories of the famed father-son song-hunting team of John and Alan Lomax, whom she had known while in graduate school at the University of Texas.
Brakefield earned a BA in English from the University of Houston, then worked for newspapers as a writer and editor for the next four decades. He ignored a veteran journalist’s advice on papers: “Don’t stay with any of ’em too long” and worked at the Dallas Morning News for 18 years. While there, he met Alan Govenar, a Dallas-based folklorist, writer and filmmaker, for whom he performed a number of tasks, including research, editing and transcription. They collaborated on a book about the storied section called Deep Ellum. An updated version titled Deep Ellum: The Other Side of Dallas was published by Texas A&M Press in 2013. Another joint project, The Texas Music Scene: 1920s-1960s, was published by Arcadia Publishing in 2014.
In 2004, Brakefield and his wife, Shirley, moved to Bryan, Texas, where he worked for five years for the Bryan-College Station Eagle. Before and after retirement, he was a frequent presence on the airwaves as a volunteer DJ and talk-show host on community radio station KEOS. Among his shows was a blues program, An Exuberant Melancholy, whose title he respectively appropriated from the great African-American writer Richard Wright. It captures both the pain and the wry humor of the blues.
In 2018, the Brakefields and their four cats moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi, a musical landmark in the Delta, an hour south of Memphis, that produced such giants as Muddy Waters, Ike Turner and Sam Cooke. The town has a lively music scene, and the couple rang in 2019 at the Ground Zero Blues Club with a performance by James “Super Chikan” Johnson and an appearance by actor Morgan Freeman, one of the owners of the club.
In retirement, Brakefield enjoys reading history and fiction and playing several musical instruments, none very well. He loves cats.