The Blues The Blues is considered by some as the first purely American music. It encompasses, along with Jazz, the evolution of our popular music, and these two traditions embody a great deal of our socio-cultural past. They are African-American art forms, appropriated by popular culture. They are the voice of an African-American experience outside of the cultural majority, and simultaneously the source of a cultural landscape shared by all. The following images and sounds will outline a brief progression of the blues.
Field Hollers and Work Songs <ul><li>Field hollers were one of several traditions born out African customs and brought by slaves into the American South. Music was used in African culture for specific purposes, such as prayers for successful crops and dialogue with ancestors. These traditions were carried into the fields of the South and changed over the next few generations according to circumstances. Field hollers were sung by a lone worker or in small groups. They were improvised around common themes and often made up on the spot; sometimes prayers, sometimes laments, sometimes simply distraction or news. Later, they would become the soliloquy of the lone sharecropper and the rhythmic work songs of steel drivers and chain gangs. The hollers can be heard in the solitary bluesman with a string instrument, the most recognizable form of the country blues. </li></ul>
Work songs fit into the same category of early influences on the blues. Similar to the holler, they were improvised on common themes and could be one singer or a group. They often provided a rhythmic cue to coordinate action. The use of call and response, also heard in gospel and church music, found it’s way into the blues from these traditions.
Two Country Blues Greats: Skip James (right) and Mississippi John Hurt (left)
THE GREAT MIGRATION: The Great Migration (depicted below by artist Jacob Lawrence) was a long term movement of African-Americans from the rural South to urban cities, including Memphis and Chicago. Many historians recognize two major waves of migration, however, the The Great Migration can be said to have lasted from 1916 to 1970. This changed the sound and the themes of the blues from the rather distant and wispy moan of the country blues singer, to the more abrasive declaration of the city bluesmen… electric now, the blues were plugged in and had something to say. The Great Migration: A study in paintings by Jacob Lawrence, Columbia University http://www.columbia.edu/itc/history/odonnell/w1010/edit/migration/migration.html
Muddy Waters <ul><li>Known as the Father of Chicago Blues, Muddy Waters is the perfect example of the transition from the country to the city. Muddy was first recorded by the Library Congress on a farm in Mississippi as a country blues singer. He would eventually become the epitome of the Chicago blues scene. He gave birth to the slick and suave bluesmen who followed in his shoes, including Buddy Guy and Otis Rush. His music remained an important link between the old country style and modern electric blues. </li></ul>
Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll <ul><li>Meanwhile, in Memphis, a man named Sam Phillips and his legendary Sun Records was turning this new electric blues sound into a movement that would change the face of mainstream American pop culture. Some same say the first rock and roll song ever recorded was Rocket 88, credited to Jackie Brenston and performed by Ike Turner (of later Ike and Tina fame). It was recorded by none other than Sam Phillips. Phillips was hungrily recording blues and R&B artists, completely enthralled and in love with the music. The city had seen the addition of drums, bass and horns into the musical form. Chess Records had started in Chicago with a similar mission, and while many of these black artists were getting some pay and airplay on black radio stations, none of it was hitting the mainstream… not until Phillips recorded the same songs with white artists, and rock & roll was born. </li></ul>
<ul><li>That’s Alright... ELVIS </li></ul><ul><li>Original version recorded by Arthur Crudup: </li></ul>
<ul><li>The appropriation of the Blues into mainstream American culture was unstoppable. The number of influential blues and R&B artists and their influence on other musical forms is too great to estimate. </li></ul><ul><li>Our own cultural identity is intertwined with those field hollers and work songs… the juke joint dances and blues bar shakes. </li></ul><ul><li>The Blues is a great American musical tradition. </li></ul>