There’s no other musical genre quite like the blues. Steeped with lyrical emotion and sultry melodies, it’s easy to understand why they’ve been so appreciated and loved for decades.
Along with hip-hop, blues music is another celebrated art form that is deeply connected with the African-American community. Since their emergence around the 1890s, the blues have grown from their roots into a vast musical variety with many different styles ranging from jump blues, country blues, jazz blues, boogie-woogie, and everything in between.
If you are a curious musical soul who wants to explore this rich genre, here is a brief introduction to blues music.
Leon Redbone once said: “The blues ain’t nothing but a good man feelin’ bad.” As their name suggests, when you think of blues, you think about personal adversity, oppression, misfortune, frustration, betrayal, and regret – stark emotions that other forms of music sometimes have a harder time communicating in an equally profound way.
The blues were born in the Mississippi Delta, just upriver from the birthplace of jazz – New Orleans. This explains why blues and jazz interact with each other in many different ways.
No single soul invented the blues. They were developed and shaped by many musicians. The earliest forms of blues were incorporated in traditional folk songs, minstrel tunes, European hymns, work songs, and hollers.
Nowadays, the blues are recognized widely in the form of 12-bar, 3-chord sections typically involving an A-A-B lyrical structure. The melody generally circles back around and the same themes and phrases are repeated throughout a song.
The Evolution of Blues Styles
It was not until the 1920s – when a huge number of African Americans moved out of the South – that blues travelled to the urban North. Country blues were then transformed into more streamlined and electrified blues.
As the Depression took place, it breathed commercial trends into folk blues. The genre moved toward a uniform, mainstream sound and defined the music of late-night ballrooms and parties across America. Vocal powers of this period included Pete Johnson, “Big” Joe Turner, Louis Jordan and Dinah Washington.
By the 1940s, as people flooded to Los Angeles and Oakland for industrial work, the West Coast blues, influenced heavily by a swing beat, were born, exemplified by T-Bone Walker and Charles Brown. As the swing era came to an end, rhythm & blues and the Chicago blues came onto the scene. Prominent figures were Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Howlin’ Wolf.
In the mid-1950s, blues paved the way for even more genre transitions. Along with Rock ‘n Roll, the beginnings of soul music were ushered in by the emergence of B.B. King and Ray Charles. These artists began to pave a new road stemming from the old blues wave that had been cultivated by artists like Muddy Waters.
The blues: its soulfulness, rich history, and diverse style make it not only a musical genre but also the symbol of a cultural phenomenon. From melancholy tunes to lively, up-tempo beats, the blues is a great outlet to express life’s hardships, joys, and celebrations.
Are you a blues enthusiast? Which blues artists have had the greatest influence on you?
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