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Blues History

KK's Blues

Social 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

 

Blues around 1900

 

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.

 

Early commercialization

 

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

 

Information from Wikepedia

Origins of Blues Music

 

Little is known about the exact origins of the music we now know as the blues No specific year can be cited as the origin of the blues, largely because the style evolved over a long period of time and existed in something approaching its modern form before the term blues was introduced, before the style was thoroughly documented. One important early reference to something probably closely resembling the blues comes from 1901, when an archaeologist in Mississippi described the songs of black workers which had lyrical themes and technical elements in common with the blues [

 

Influence of spirituals

 

A watercolor painting of a camp meeting circa 1839 (New Bedford Whaling Museum).The most important direct antecedent of the blues was the spiritual, a form of religious song with its roots in the camp meetings of the Great Awakening of the early 19th century. Spirituals were a passionate song form, that "convey(ed) to listeners the same feeling of rootlessness and misery" as the blues [Spirituals, however, were less specifically concerning the performer, instead about the general loneliness of mankind, and were more figurative than direct in their lyrics  Despite these differences, the two forms are similar enough that they can not be easily separated — many spirituals would probably have been called blues had that word been in wide use at the time.

 

African origins

Aside from the spirituals, African American work songs were an important precursor to the modern blues; these included the songs sung by laborers like stevedores and roustabouts, and the field hollers of slaves

 

There are few characteristics common to all blues, as the genre takes its shape from the peculiarities of each individual performance Some characteristics, however, have been a presence since prior to the creation of the modern blues, and are common to most styles of African American music. The earliest blues-like music was a "functional expression, rendered in a call-and-response style without accompaniment or harmony and unbounded by the formality of any particular musical structure".[] This pre-blues music was adapted from the field shouts and hollers performed during slave times, expanded into "simple solo songs laden with emotional content".

 

Master Kora maker Alieu Suso in the GambiaMany of these blues elements, such as the call-and-response format, can be traced back to the music of Africa; author Sylviane Diouf has pointed to several specific traits, like the use of melisma and a wavy, nasal intonation that suggest a connection between the Muslim music of West and Central Africa and the blues

 

African American composer W. C. Handy wrote in his autobiography of the experience of sleeping on a train traveling through (or stopping at the station of) Tutwiler, Mississippi, and being awakened by:

 

... a lean, loose-jointed Negro [who] had commenced plucking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags; his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages. As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar. ... The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly. . .. The singer repeated the line ("Goin' where the Southern cross' the Dog") three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard.

 

African Muslim roots of certain elements of the blues have been posited by writers including the researcher Paul Oliver and the ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik, who describe how the knife technique Handy witnessed is a common one in West and Central Africa cultures. In these regions Islam is strong and the kora is often the stringed instrument of choice. Specifically this 21 string harp-lute is 21 string harp-lute in West Africa.

 

The Jola akonting folk lutePerhaps the most compelling African instrument that is a predecessor to an African-American instrument is the "Akonting," a folk lute of the Jola tribe of Senegambia. It is a clear predecessor to the American banjo in its playing style, the construction of the instrument itself and in its social role as a folk instrument. The Kora is played by a professional caste of praise singers for the rich and aristocracy (called griots or jalis) and is not considered folk music. Jola music was actually not very influenced by Islam and North African/Middle Eastern music, and this may give us an important clue as to how African American music does not, according to many scholars such as Sam Charters, bear hardly any relation to kora music.

 

Rather, African-American music may reflect a hold over from a pre-Islamicized form of African music. The music of the Akonting and that played by on the banjo by elder African-American banjo players, even into the mid 20th century is easily identified as being very similar. The akonting is perhaps the most important and concrete link that exists between African and African-American music.