A Brief History of the Blues

The blues is a form of music which arose in the Mississippi Delta region of the United States, where it blended African-type rhythms and European-type melodies. It has been said that “the blues is America’s musical autobiography. To understand the blues, you have to understand the experience of African-American life.” In other words, the blues is merely a form of music; it does not depict or portray anything.

The Blues originated in African-American communities in the Deep South of the United States around the end of World War I. It took its roots from rural, Scots-Irish America and was taken up by African Americans when it migrated down to Mississippi from Memphis and such places. From Mississippi, the Blues was taken to Chicago, where it developed into a form of popular music.

The first documented blues guitarist and singer was Florida native Robert Johnson (1911-1938) who settled in rural Mississippi and became an itinerant performer. Author Charlie Patton (1891-1927), an Arkansas farm laborer, wrote “When My Ship Comes In” and “High Water Everywhere,” two of the earliest blues songs. Mississippi’s Tommy Johnson (1895-1956) demonstrated the first use of a slide or bottleneck to play notes at lower pitches than finger-picked notes, giving rise to the slide guitar and blues harmonica.

From Mississippi, the blues was taken to Chicago, where it developed into a form of popular music. In 1925, record labels began recording and selling blues music. In 1928, phonograph companies began to record blues musicians, and the most famous of these early pioneers was the African-American singer and guitarist, Huddie Ledbetter (1915-1949), who sang songs such as “C.C. Rider.”

The American South provided an especially fertile ground for performers like Bessie Smith (1894-1937), who was called “Empress of the Blues,” and her contemporary, Alberta Hunter (1895-1984). The first recorded blues song was “Bo-Weevil Blues,” by Johnson.

The most famous American blues musicians of the pre-World War II era included Son House (1910-1967), Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897-1929), the Reverend Gary Davis (1916-1993) and Tommy Johnson (1895-1956).

In 1934, a band from Memphis, Tennessee called Sam Phillips and His Musical Family came out of a small record company and changed the way Americans listened to and understood music. The band’s best known member was Howlin’ Wolf (1910-1976).

After World War II, the blues scene expanded with the birth of jump blues, which blended the upbeat rhythms of jazz and swing with the harmonic feel of the blues. Jump blues featured musicians like Louis Jordan (1908-1975) and Big Joe Turner (1911-1985), who sang songs such as “Wee Wee Hours.” The 1950s also saw a growing interest in folk, folk rock and rhythm & blues.

By the end of the 1960s, the blues had become a highly influential musical form of the African-American community. Today, it has become a major influence on rock and roll and offers a perfect point at which to begin discussing music. It continues to be one of America’s most distinctive and enduring cultural forms.

For more background information, see the Wikipedia article at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blues

In conclusion, it’s clear that the blues is a distinctly American form of music with an incredible legacy. Whether you’re a fan or not, you should know that there is more to this kind of music than meets the eye. Let us know some of your favorite Blue’s artists in the comments below.

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