Black History Month & Music: Part 4 of 12

When you’re digging deeper into Rock ‘N’ Roll, you’re on a freight train headed straight for The Blues.

-Jack White, from the documentary It Might Get Loud

Don’t ever stop digging. Just when you think you’re getting close, I assure you there’s more. The stories are endless, and endlessly fascinating. If you want to fully begin to understand where we are today, you must spend copious amounts of time absorbing everything about The Blues.

From Paul Oliver’s book, Blues Fell This Morning: Meaning In The Blues,

“With some speculation on the origins of the blues, which are admittedly obscure, it has been possible to trace its process of evolution and change in a sequence which becomes progressively more clear after the turn of the century [1900]. Buried deep in the fertile ground of Revival hymns, spirituals, minstrel songs, banjo and guitar rags, mountain ‘ballits’, folk ballads, work songs and field hollers, improvised by the field hands of a thousand southern plantations influenced the growth of this extempore song. They were sung by men at work but the blues evolved as a song primarily created by men at leisure, with the time and opportunity to play an instrumental accompaniment to their verses.”

The Blues were the magical next step in the musical evolution of the late 1800s to early 1900s United States. Its primary inspiration should always be kept in mind: the resultant hardships from slavery.

From Francis Davis’s The History of the Blues: The Roots, the Music, the People,

“In Elvis’s early interviews, when the subject of his influences came up, he inevitably praised black performers, admitting that he wasn’t doing anything they hadn’t been doing for years….If he hadn’t been a Southerner, he wouldn’t have been Elvis and probably wouldn’t have sung the blues with such natural feeling. And if he hadn’t sold all those records, American popular music might be quite different now. So might the patterns of contemporary American life.”

Make sure to make it to a Blues club (or twelve) in Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans or similar mecca, sometime in your lifetime.

Experiencing it is tantamount to understanding it.

The following five videos (around 7 min. each) comprise Martin Scorsese’s Nothing But The Blues. The video is a great way to begin to learn more about this most special of musical styles/genres.


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