and economic aspects
The social and economic
reasons for the appearance of the blues are not fully known. The first appearance of the blues is not well defined and is
often dated between 1870 and 1900, a period that coincides with the emancipation of the slaves and the transition from slavery
to sharecropping and small-scale agricultural production in the southern United States.
Several scholars characterize
the early 1900s development of blues music as a move from group performances to a more individualized style. They argue that
the development of the blues is associated with the newly acquired freedom of the slaves. 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." Levine states that "psychologically, socially, and economically, Negroes were being
acculturated in a way that would have been impossible during slavery, and it is hardly surprising that their secular music
reflected this as much as their religious music did."
The most important reason
for the lack of certain knowledge about the origins of the blues is the earliest blues musicians' tendency to wander through
communities, leaving little or no record of precisely what sort of music they played or where it came from. Blues was generally
regarded as lower-class music, unfit for documentation, study or enjoyment by the upper- and middle-classes
Detail from cover of The
Celebrated Negro Melodies, as Sung by the Virginia Minstrels, 1843Blues later adopted elements from the "Ethiopian (here,
meaning "black") airs" of minstrel shows and Negro spirituals, including instrumental and harmonic accompaniment. The style
also was closely related to ragtime, which developed at about the same time, though the blues better preserved "the original
melodic patterns of African music". Songs from this early period had many different structures. A testimony of those times
can be found for instance in Henry Thomas' recordings. However the twelve-, eight-bar, or sixteen-bar structure based on tonic,
subdominant and dominant chords became the most common. Melodically, blues music is marked by the use of the lowered third
and dominant seventh (so-called blue notes) of the associated major scale. What is now recognizable as the standard 12-bar
blues form is documented from oral history and sheet music as appearing in African-American communities throughout the region
along the lower Mississippi River during the decade of the 1900s (and performed by white bands in New Orleans at least since
1908). One of these early sites of blues evolution was along Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. However, author Eileen Southern
has pointed out several contrasting statements by old-time musicians. She cites Eubie Blake as saying "Blues in Baltimore?
Why, Baltimore is the blues!" and Bunk Johnson as claiming that the blues was around in his childhood, in the 1880s .
Blues has evolved from
an unaccompanied vocal music of poor black laborers into a wide variety of styles and subgenres, with regional variations
across the United States and, later, Europe and Africa. The musical forms and styles that are now considered the "blues" as
well as modern "country music" arose in the same regions during the nineteenth century in the southern United States. Recorded
blues and country can be found from as far back as the 1920s, when the popular record industry developed and created marketing
categories called "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 race of the performer, and even that sometimes was
documented incorrectly by record companies. Studies have situated the origin of "black" spiritual music inside enslaved peoples'
exposure to their masters' Hebridean-originated gospels. African-American economist and historian Thomas Sowell also notes
that the southern, black, ex-slave population was acculturated to a considerable degree by and among their Scots-Irish "redneck"
neighbours. However, the findings of Kubik and others also clearly attest to the essential Africanness of many essential aspects
of blues expression.
Mamie Smith on the sleeve
of volume 1 of the Complete Recorded Works reissue collectionThe American sheet music publishing industry produced a great
deal of ragtime music. By 1912, the sheet music industry published three popular blues-like compositions, precipitating the
Tin Pan Alley adoption of blues elements: "Baby Seals' Blues" by "Baby" F. Seals (arranged by Artie Matthews), "Dallas Blues"
by Hart Wand and "Memphis Blues" by W. C. Handy.
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 Latin
habanera rhythm that had long been a part of ragtimeHandy's signature work was the St. Louis Blues.
One of the first professional
blues singers was Ma Rainey, who claimed to have coined the term blues. Classic female urban or vaudeville blues singers were
popular in the 1920s, among them Mamie Smith, Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Victoria Spivey. Mamie Smith, more a vaudeville
performer than a blues artist, was the first African- American to record a blues in 1920; her "Crazy Blues" sold 75,000 copies
in its first month
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