① Origins Of Blues Music

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Origins Of Blues Music



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African American Music: From Spirituals to Jazz and the Blues

Music was a solace, a community-builder, and voice for hope during enslavement and afterward, in the days of Reconstruction and then Jim Crow. Although many of them are less well known than their later counterparts, there were plenty of professional African American musicians and singers during Reconstruction, including a group of African American university students, led by their music instructor, and billed as the Fisk Jubilee Singers. They sang African American folk music and religious music, including slave songs, to white audiences, and raised enough money through their ventures to fund a building on campus named, appropriately, Jubilee Hall.

Willis James. Smithsonian Libraries The story of the Jubilee Singers; with their songs. Meinell with original instrument case. Smithsonian Libraries Slave songs of the United States. Early traditional blues verses consisted of a single line repeated four times. It was only in the first decades of the 20th century that the most common current structure became standard: the AAB pattern , consisting of a line sung over the four first bars, its repetition over the next four, and then a longer concluding line over the last bars. Early blues frequently took the form of a loose narrative, often relating the racial discrimination and other challenges experienced by African-Americans. Many elements, such as the call-and-response format and the use of blue notes, can be traced back to the music of Africa.

The origins of the blues are also closely related to the religious music of the Afro-American community, the spirituals. The first appearance of the blues is often dated to after the ending of slavery and, later, the development of juke joints. It is associated with the newly acquired freedom of the former slaves. Chroniclers began to report about blues music at the dawn of the 20th century. The first publication of blues sheet music was in Blues has since evolved from unaccompanied vocal music and oral traditions of slaves into a wide variety of styles and subgenres. Blues subgenres include country blues , such as Delta blues and Piedmont blues , as well as urban blues styles such as Chicago blues and West Coast blues.

World War II marked the transition from acoustic to electric blues and the progressive opening of blues music to a wider audience, especially white listeners. In the s and s, a hybrid form called blues rock developed, which blended blues styles with rock music. The term Blues may have come from "blue devils", meaning melancholy and sadness; an early use of the term in this sense is in George Colman 's one-act farce Blue Devils In lyrics the phrase is often used to describe a depressed mood.

In , it was in the sense of a sad state of mind that John James Audubon wrote to his wife that he "had the blues". The phrase "the blues" was written by Charlotte Forten , then aged 25, in her diary on December 14, She was a free-born black woman from Pennsylvania who was working as a schoolteacher in South Carolina, instructing both slaves and freedmen, and wrote that she "came home with the blues" because she felt lonesome and pitied herself. She overcame her depression and later noted a number of songs, such as Poor Rosy , that were popular among the slaves. Although she admitted being unable to describe the manner of singing she heard, Forten wrote that the songs "can't be sung without a full heart and a troubled spirit", conditions that have inspired countless blues songs.

The lyrics of early traditional blues verses probably often consisted of a single line repeated four times. It was only in the first decades of the 20th century that the most common current structure became standard: the so-called "AAB" pattern, consisting of a line sung over the four first bars, its repetition over the next four, and then a longer concluding line over the last bars. Handy wrote that he adopted this convention to avoid the monotony of lines repeated three times.

Early blues frequently took the form of a loose narrative. African-American singers voiced his or her "personal woes in a world of harsh reality: a lost love, the cruelty of police officers, oppression at the hands of white folk, [and] hard times". The lyrics often relate troubles experienced within African American society. Backwater rising, Southern peoples can't make no time I said, backwater rising, Southern peoples can't make no time And I can't get no hearing from that Memphis girl of mine.

Although the blues gained an association with misery and oppression, the lyrics could also be humorous and raunchy: [16]. Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me, Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me, It may be sending you baby, but it's worrying the hell out of me. Hokum blues celebrated both comedic lyrical content and a boisterous, farcical performance style.

Blues songs with sexually explicit lyrics were known as dirty blues. The lyrical content became slightly simpler in postwar blues, which tended to focus on relationship woes or sexual worries. Lyrical themes that frequently appeared in prewar blues, such as economic depression, farming, devils, gambling, magic, floods and drought, were less common in postwar blues. The writer Ed Morales claimed that Yoruba mythology played a part in early blues, citing Robert Johnson 's " Cross Road Blues " as a "thinly veiled reference to Eleggua , the orisha in charge of the crossroads".

The blues form is a cyclic musical form in which a repeating progression of chords mirrors the call and response scheme commonly found in African and African-American music. During the first decades of the 20th century blues music was not clearly defined in terms of a particular chord progression. Idiosyncratic numbers of bars are occasionally used, such as the 9-bar progression in " Sitting on Top of the World ", by Walter Vinson.

The blues chords associated to a twelve-bar blues are typically a set of three different chords played over a bar scheme. They are labeled by Roman numbers referring to the degrees of the progression. The last chord is the dominant V turnaround , marking the transition to the beginning of the next progression. The lyrics generally end on the last beat of the tenth bar or the first beat of the 11th bar, and the final two bars are given to the instrumentalist as a break; the harmony of this two-bar break, the turnaround, can be extremely complex, sometimes consisting of single notes that defy analysis in terms of chords.

Much of the time, some or all of these chords are played in the harmonic seventh 7th form. The use of the harmonic seventh interval is characteristic of blues and is popularly called the "blues seven". At a ratio, it is not close to any interval on the conventional Western diatonic scale. In melody , blues is distinguished by the use of the flattened third , fifth and seventh of the associated major scale. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and call-and-response, and they form a repetitive effect called a groove. Characteristic of the blues since its Afro-American origins, the shuffles played a central role in swing music. When this riff was played over the bass and the drums, the groove "feel" was created.

Shuffle rhythm is often vocalized as " dow , da dow , da dow , da" or " dump , da dump , da dump , da": [32] it consists of uneven, or "swung", eighth notes. On a guitar this may be played as a simple steady bass or it may add to that stepwise quarter note motion from the fifth to the sixth of the chord and back. The first publication of blues sheet music may have been "I Got the Blues", published by New Orleans musician Antonio Maggio in and described as "the earliest published composition known to link the condition of having the blues to the musical form that would become popularly known as 'the blues.

Handy 's " The Memphis Blues " followed in the same year. But the origins of the blues were some decades earlier, probably around Reports of blues music in southern Texas and the Deep South were written at the dawn of the 20th century. Charles Peabody mentioned the appearance of blues music at Clarksdale, Mississippi , and Gate Thomas reported similar songs in southern Texas around — These observations coincide more or less with the recollections of Jelly Roll Morton , who said he first heard blues music in New Orleans in ; Ma Rainey , who remembered first hearing the blues in the same year in Missouri ; and W.

Handy , who first heard the blues in Tutwiler, Mississippi , in The first extensive research in the field was performed by Howard W. Odum , who published an anthology of folk songs from Lafayette County, Mississippi , and Newton County, Georgia , between and They are now lost. Other recordings that are still available were made in by Lawrence Gellert. Later, several recordings were made by Robert W. Gordon's successor at the library was John Lomax. In the s, Lomax and his son Alan made a large number of non-commercial blues recordings that testify to the huge variety of proto-blues styles, such as field hollers and ring shouts.

Several scholars characterize the development of blues music in the early s as a move from group performance to individualized performance. They argue that the development of the blues is associated with the newly acquired freedom of the enslaved people. According to Lawrence Levine, "there was a direct relationship between the national ideological emphasis upon the individual, the popularity of Booker T.

Washington's teachings, and the rise of the blues. There are few characteristics common to all blues music, because the genre took its shape from the idiosyncrasies of individual performers. Call-and-response shouts were an early form of blues-like music; they were a "functional expression Blues has evolved from the unaccompanied vocal music and oral traditions of slaves imported from West Africa and rural blacks into a wide variety of styles and subgenres, with regional variations across the United States.

Although blues as it is now known can be seen as a musical style based on both European harmonic structure and the African call-and-response tradition that transformed into an interplay of voice and guitar, [50] [51] the blues form itself bears no resemblance to the melodic styles of the West African griots. No specific African musical form can be identified as the single direct ancestor of the blues. That blue notes predate their use in blues and have an African origin is attested to by "A Negro Love Song", by the English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor , from his African Suite for Piano , written in , which contains blue third and seventh notes. The Diddley bow a homemade one-stringed instrument found in parts of the American South in the early twentieth century and the banjo are African-derived instruments that may have helped in the transfer of African performance techniques into the early blues instrumental vocabulary.

It is similar to the musical instrument that griots and other Africans such as the Igbo [58] played called halam or akonting by African peoples such as the Wolof , Fula and Mandinka. Blues music also adopted elements from the "Ethiopian airs", minstrel shows and Negro spirituals , including instrumental and harmonic accompaniment. The musical forms and styles that are now considered the blues as well as modern country music arose in the same regions of the southern United States during the 19th century.

Recorded blues and country music can be found as far back as the s, when the record industry created the marketing categories " race music " and " hillbilly music " to sell music by blacks for blacks and by whites for whites, respectively. At the time, there was no clear musical division between "blues" and "country", except for the ethnicity of the performer, and even that was sometimes documented incorrectly by record companies.

Though musicologists can now attempt to define the blues narrowly in terms of certain chord structures and lyric forms thought to have originated in West Africa, audiences originally heard the music in a far more general way: it was simply the music of the rural south, notably the Mississippi Delta. Black and white musicians shared the same repertoire and thought of themselves as " songsters " rather than blues musicians. The notion of blues as a separate genre arose during the black migration from the countryside to urban areas in the s and the simultaneous development of the recording industry. Blues became a code word for a record designed to sell to black listeners. The origins of the blues are closely related to the religious music of Afro-American community, the spirituals.

The origins of spirituals go back much further than the blues, usually dating back to the middle of the 18th century, when the slaves were Christianized and began to sing and play Christian hymns , in particular those of Isaac Watts , which were very popular. It was the low-down music played by rural blacks. Depending on the religious community a musician belonged to, it was more or less considered a sin to play this low-down music: blues was the devil's music. Musicians were therefore segregated into two categories: gospel singers and blues singers, guitar preachers and songsters.

However, when rural black music began to be recorded in the s, both categories of musicians used similar techniques: call-and-response patterns, blue notes, and slide guitars. Gospel music was nevertheless using musical forms that were compatible with Christian hymns and therefore less marked by the blues form than its secular counterpart. The American sheet music publishing industry produced a great deal of ragtime music. Handy was a formally trained musician, composer and arranger who helped to popularize the blues by transcribing and orchestrating blues in an almost symphonic style, with bands and singers. He became a popular and prolific composer, and billed himself as the "Father of the Blues"; however, his compositions can be described as a fusion of blues with ragtime and jazz, a merger facilitated using the Cuban habanera rhythm that had long been a part of ragtime; [20] [68] Handy's signature work was the " Saint Louis Blues ".

In the s, the blues became a major element of African American and American popular music, reaching white audiences via Handy's arrangements and the classic female blues performers. The blues evolved from informal performances in bars to entertainment in theaters. Blues performances were organized by the Theater Owners Bookers Association in nightclubs such as the Cotton Club and juke joints such as the bars along Beale Street in Memphis. Kentucky-born Sylvester Weaver was in the first to record the slide guitar style, in which a guitar is fretted with a knife blade or the sawed-off neck of a bottle. Country blues performers often improvised, either without accompaniment or with only a banjo or guitar.

Regional styles of country blues varied widely in the early 20th century. The Mississippi Delta blues was a rootsy sparse style with passionate vocals accompanied by slide guitar. The little-recorded Robert Johnson [71] combined elements of urban and rural blues. In addition to Robert Johnson, influential performers of this style included his predecessors Charley Patton and Son House.

Singers such as Blind Willie McTell and Blind Boy Fuller performed in the southeastern "delicate and lyrical" Piedmont blues tradition, which used an elaborate ragtime-based fingerpicking guitar technique. The lively Memphis blues style, which developed in the s and s near Memphis, Tennessee , was influenced by jug bands such as the Memphis Jug Band or the Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers. Memphis Minnie was famous for her virtuoso guitar style. Pianist Memphis Slim began his career in Memphis, but his distinct style was smoother and had some swing elements. Many blues musicians based in Memphis moved to Chicago in the late s or early s and became part of the urban blues movement. City or urban blues styles were more codified and elaborate, as a performer was no longer within their local, immediate community, and had to adapt to a larger, more varied audience's aesthetic.

Mamie Smith , more a vaudeville performer than a blues artist, was the first African American to record a blues song in ; her second record, "Crazy Blues", sold 75, copies in its first month. Smith would "sing a song in an unusual key, and her artistry in bending and stretching notes with her beautiful, powerful contralto to accommodate her own interpretation was unsurpassed". In the vaudeville singer Lucille Hegamin became the second black woman to record blues when she recorded "The Jazz Me Blues", [79] and Victoria Spivey , sometimes called Queen Victoria or Za Zu Girl, had a recording career that began in and spanned forty years.

These recordings were typically labeled " race records " to distinguish them from records sold to white audiences. Nonetheless, the recordings of some of the classic female blues singers were purchased by white buyers as well. The blues women thus effected changes in other types of popular singing that had spin-offs in jazz, Broadway musicals , torch songs of the s and s, gospel , rhythm and blues , and eventually rock and roll. An important label of this era was the Chicago-based Bluebird Records.

Carr accompanied himself on the piano with Scrapper Blackwell on guitar, a format that continued well into the s with artists such as Charles Brown and even Nat "King" Cole. Boogie-woogie was another important style of s and early s urban blues. While the style is often associated with solo piano, boogie-woogie was also used to accompany singers and, as a solo part, in bands and small combos. Boogie-Woogie style was characterized by a regular bass figure, an ostinato or riff and shifts of level in the left hand, elaborating each chord and trills and decorations in the right hand.

John blends classic rhythm and blues with blues styles. Another development in this period was big band blues. A well-known big band blues tune is Glenn Miller 's " In the Mood ". In the s, the jump blues style developed. Jump blues grew up from the boogie woogie wave and was strongly influenced by big band music. It uses saxophone or other brass instruments and the guitar in the rhythm section to create a jazzy, up-tempo sound with declamatory vocals. Jump blues tunes by Louis Jordan and Big Joe Turner , based in Kansas City, Missouri , influenced the development of later styles such as rock and roll and rhythm and blues.

The transition from country blues to urban blues that began in the s was driven by the successive waves of economic crisis and booms that led many rural blacks to move to urban areas, in a movement known as the Great Migration. The long boom following World War II induced another massive migration of the African-American population, the Second Great Migration , which was accompanied by a significant increase of the real income of the urban blacks. The new migrants constituted a new market for the music industry. The term race record , initially used by the music industry for African-American music, was replaced by the term rhythm and blues.

This rapidly evolving market was mirrored by Billboard magazine's Rhythm and Blues chart. Electric blues used electric guitars , double bass gradually replaced by bass guitar , drums , and harmonica or "blues harp" played through a microphone and a PA system or an overdriven guitar amplifier. Chicago became a center for electric blues from on, when Muddy Waters recorded his first success, "I Can't Be Satisfied". Their style is characterized by the use of electric guitar, sometimes slide guitar, harmonica, and a rhythm section of bass and drums.

Brown played in bands led by Elmore James and by J. Lenoir , but the saxophone was used as a backing instrument for rhythmic support more than as a lead instrument. Other harp players such as Big Walter Horton were also influential. Muddy Waters and Elmore James were known for their innovative use of slide electric guitar. Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters were known for their deep, "gravelly" voices. The bassist and prolific songwriter and composer Willie Dixon played a major role on the Chicago blues scene. Smaller blues labels of this era included Vee-Jay Records and J. During the early s, the dominating Chicago labels were challenged by Sam Phillips ' Sun Records company in Memphis, which recorded B.

King and Howlin' Wolf before he moved to Chicago in In the s, blues had a huge influence on mainstream American popular music. While popular musicians like Bo Diddley [89] and Chuck Berry , [95] both recording for Chess, were influenced by the Chicago blues, their enthusiastic playing styles departed from the melancholy aspects of blues. Chicago blues also influenced Louisiana 's zydeco music, [96] with Clifton Chenier [97] using blues accents.

Zydeco musicians used electric solo guitar and cajun arrangements of blues standards. In England, electric blues took root there during a much acclaimed Muddy Waters tour in Waters, unsuspecting of his audience's tendency towards skiffle , an acoustic, softer brand of blues, turned up his amp and started to play his Chicago brand of electric blues. Although the audience was largely jolted by the performance, the performance influenced local musicians such as Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies to emulate this louder style, inspiring the British invasion of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Other blues artists, such as John Lee Hooker had influences not directly related to the Chicago style.

John Lee Hooker's blues is more "personal", based on Hooker's deep rough voice accompanied by a single electric guitar. Though not directly influenced by boogie woogie, his "groovy" style is sometimes called "guitar boogie". Strongly influenced by Jimmy Reed , swamp blues has a slower pace and a simpler use of the harmonica than the Chicago blues style performers such as Little Walter or Muddy Waters. Alan Lomax 's recordings of Mississippi Fred McDowell would eventually bring him wider attention on both the blues and folk circuit, with McDowell's droning style influencing North Mississippi hill country blues musicians.

By the beginning of the s, genres influenced by African American music such as rock and roll and soul were part of mainstream popular music. White performers such as the Beatles had brought African-American music to new audiences, both within the U. However, the blues wave that brought artists such as Muddy Waters to the foreground had stopped. Dick Waterman and the blues festivals he organized in Europe played a major role in propagating blues music abroad.

In the UK, bands emulated U. Blues performers such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters continued to perform to enthusiastic audiences, inspiring new artists steeped in traditional blues, such as New York—born Taj Mahal. John Lee Hooker blended his blues style with rock elements and playing with younger white musicians, creating a musical style that can be heard on the album Endless Boogie. King 's singing and virtuoso guitar technique earned him the eponymous title "king of the blues". King introduced a sophisticated style of guitar soloing based on fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato that influenced many later electric blues guitarists.

Tennessee -born Bobby "Blue" Bland , like B. The music of the civil rights movement [] and Free Speech Movement in the U. As well festivals such as the Newport Folk Festival [] brought traditional blues to a new audience, which helped to revive interest in prewar acoustic blues and performers such as Son House , Mississippi John Hurt , Skip James , and Reverend Gary Davis. Lenoir from the Chicago blues movement in the s recorded several LPs using acoustic guitar, sometimes accompanied by Willie Dixon on the acoustic bass or drums.

His songs, originally distributed only in Europe, [] commented on political issues such as racism or Vietnam War issues, which was unusual for this period. His album Alabama Blues contained a song with the following lyric:. I never will go back to Alabama, that is not the place for me 2x You know they killed my sister and my brother and the whole world let them peoples go down there free. White audiences' interest in the blues during the s increased due to the Chicago-based Paul Butterfield Blues Band featuring guitarist Michael Bloomfield , and the British blues movement. One blues rock performer, Jimi Hendrix , was a rarity in his field at the time: a black man who played psychedelic rock.

Hendrix was a skilled guitarist, and a pioneer in the innovative use of distortion and audio feedback in his music. In the early s, the Texas rock-blues style emerged, which used guitars in both solo and rhythm roles. In contrast with the West Side blues, the Texas style is strongly influenced by the British rock-blues movement. These artists all began their musical careers in the s but they did not achieve international success until the next decade.

Since the s there has been a resurgence of interest in the blues among a certain part of the African-American population, particularly around Jackson, Mississippi and other deep South regions. Often termed " soul blues " or " Southern soul ", the music at the heart of this movement was given new life by the unexpected success of two particular recordings on the Jackson-based Malaco label: [] Z. Buchana, Ms. Jody, Shirley Brown , and dozens of others. During the s blues also continued in both traditional and new forms.

In the album Strong Persuader announced Robert Cray as a major blues artist. The first Stevie Ray Vaughan recording Texas Flood was released in , and the Texas-based guitarist exploded onto the international stage. John Lee Hooker 's popularity was revived with the album The Healer in Eric Clapton , known for his performances with the Blues Breakers and Cream , made a comeback in the s with his album Unplugged , in which he played some standard blues numbers on acoustic guitar. However, beginning in the s, digital multitrack recording and other technological advances and new marketing strategies including video clip production increased costs, challenging the spontaneity and improvisation that are an important component of blues music.

In the s, the largely ignored hill country blues gained minor recognition in both blues and alternative rock music circles with northern Mississippi artists R. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. The Billboard Blues Album chart provides an overview of current blues hits. Blues musical styles, forms bar blues , melodies, and the blues scale have influenced many other genres of music, such as rock and roll, jazz, and popular music.

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