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The Birth Of The Blues
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The Birth Of The Blues


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  • 1. The Birth of the Blues (and Beyond) The Mississippi Delta region, circa 1890-1920
  • 2. Origins of the Blues
    • Small Towns
    • Rural Regions
    • Plantations
    • Heavy Manual Labor
    • Segregated Society
    • Oral Tradition
    • Work Songs
    • Field Hollers
    • Rasping Vocal Style
    • Call and Response
  • 3. Robert Johnson “Me and the Devil Blues”
    • One of the first recorded artists of this “down-home” style
    • Sold about 4000 copies of each record
    • Instrumental introduction
    • Vocal melody with guitar interludes
    • This acts as a call and response
    • Use of “vocables”
    • Text/melodic form AAB. One line that repeats, followed by a contrasting line
    • Melodic line descends and has frequent use of the flatted third and seventh pitch
  • 4. Mamie Smith
    • Originally a theatre and cabaret singer
    • FIRST successful recording of a blues song by a black singer. (1920)
    • The Jazz Hounds
    • Sold 75,000 copies in just a few months
    • Example of the entertainment blues
  • 5. “St. Louis Blues” W. C. Handy
    • Composed in 1914
    • “ The wail of a lovesick woman for her lost man.”
    • 12 bar blues with an 8 bar tango section.
    • Performed here in 1925 by Bessie Smith with Louis Armstrong.
  • 6. Big Band Blues
    • “ Everyday (I Have the Blues)”
    • Follows the form discussed previously used by Robert Johnson (AAB)
    • The Big Band acts as the response to the vocal “call” in various ways
    • Use of “vocables”
    • Melodic line primarily descends
  • 7. Today’s Blues Jonny Lang “Matchbox”
    • Notice the raspy quality of the voice. The singer is in his late teens in this example yet has the quality of a seasoned bluesman
    • Instrumental introduction, then the voice and instruments act as a call and response
    • The text is more varied than the earlier examples yet still follows the AAB pattern
  • 8. The Blues Summary
    • Originated in the Mississippi Delta region 1890-1920
    • Primarily Vocal with Instrumental Accompaniment
    • Characteristics continue today
  • 9. Blues Characteristics
    • 12 Bar format
    • Call and response between the vocal and instruments
    • AAB form melody and text
    • Melodic line is primarily descending
    • Frequent use of the flatted 3 rd and 7 th scale degrees
  • 10. Some Significant Blues Artists
    • Robert Johnson
      • “Down-home” blues sound
      • Vocal/Guitar
      • Recorded artist (rare in this form)
      • Generally sold about 4000 copies per recording
  • 11. Some Significant Blues Artists
    • Mamie Smith
      • First black singer to successfully record a blues song (1920)
      • Recorded with the Jazz Hounds
      • Sold over 75,000 copies of “Crazy Blues”
      • Originally a cabaret/theatre singer
  • 12. Some Significant Blues Artists
    • Joe Williams
      • Performed and recorded with Count Basie
      • Song example was “Everyday (I Have the Blues)
    • Jonny Lang
      • Young contemporary bluesman
      • Performed at the age of 17
      • Song example was “Matchbox”
  • 13. References/Sources
    • Crawford, Richard “An Introduction to America’s Music”
    • Feather, Leonard “The Encyclopedia of Jazz”
    • Johnson, Robert “Me and the Devil Blues” by Robert Johnson
    • Smith, Bessie & Armstrong, Louis “St. Louis Blues” by W. C. Handy
    • The Count Basie Band and Joe Williams “Everyday (I Have the Blues) by
    • Peter Chatman
    • Lang, Jonny “Matchbox” by Ike Turner