African American Studies4/7/04The BluesBlues is a form of music that grew from the social realities of Blacks inthe American South during the last two decades of the 19th century.
Early or Rural Blues is probably the oldest form of blues we know. Dominated by men, it used strong vocals accompanied by instruments like theacoustic guitar, piano, and harmonica. It was usually performed by oneperson or a small group. This was a secular type of music focusing on theexperiences of everyday life of African Americans during the late 1800’sand early 1900’s. It’s difficult to determine who the innovators of thistype of music were, because it grew mainly from field hollers, or worksongs, that set the pace for gang labor on slave plantations. Rural Bluesevolved into Urban Blues and Rhythm ; Blues, the forms of Blues that mostof us are familiar with today.
W. C. Handy was one of the first musicians to take the tunes and styles ofthe Blues and present them in modern styles with bands and singers. One ofhis most popular songs was the “St. Louis Blues”.
Urban Blues began to come into fruition during the ‘Great Migration’. Thisperiod, (1910s-1920s), saw a great number of Blacks moving from the Southto Northern big cities like Chicago and NewYork, and west to Los Angeles. In the move, African Americans carried the Blues with them. This was alsothe period when ‘race’ records became popular. One recording in particular,”Crazy Blues” by Mamie Smith sold thousands of copies in the black ghettosof Northern industrial cities.
In the 40’s and 50’s, increased urbanization and amplification led toelectric blues music. Musicians like Muddy Waters used the electric guitarand his band’s driving backbeat to gain fame in this new style of Blues. One very famous musician to emerge from this period is B. B. King whorecorded his famous “The Thrill Is Gone” back in the 1960’s.
The Blues is arguably the backbone of African American music as we know ittoday. From Blues we have; Gospel, Jazz, Rock ; Roll, just to name a few.