LOOKING BEHIND TO MOVE FORWARD: THE RICH HISTORY OF BLUES
The music genre of Blues is fully rich in history and struggle. Join us as we take a closer look at the relevant beginnings, emphatic struggles, and the continuing endurance of this beautiful art. It is universally acknowledged that the Blues originated from the Deep South. It is even argued that this art form started from the heart of plantations.
It was the suffering public of slaves and their descendants that created and kept the Blues alive. African-Americans prided themselves with their work tunes, worship songs, their hymns, and even drum music. These all somehow transitioned into what we know to be the Blues. This music is so popular that it often ends up being used by wedding DJs in Philadelphia for dancing.
According to music scholars, the first appearance of actual dated Blues occurred after the Emancipation Act of 1863. This enabled people of color to establish what are known as “Juke Joints” or even a “barrelhouse”. These were places where people of color gathered after work or during their free time. These were the places wherein they listened to organic music, danced, or interacted in a free social setting. While informal in its setting, Juke Joints played an integral part in the development and cultivation of Blues. It was in these places where talented musicians practiced their craft and had immediate feedback from their peers.
It wasn’t until early 1908 where blues sheet music first hit publication. It is sad that while blues had a great start, not much is documented. This is entirely because of the racial discrimination that was the norm around this time. What was also odd around this time was that there was no clear division in the category for Blues and Country. So they were often sold together—much to the artists’ confusion. The primary way in which you can differentiate Blues and Country from each other was through the ethnicity of the performer. At the time, even this was often done poorly as record labels did not really prioritize proper information regarding artists who weren’t white.
A hindrance to Blues as an art was the influence of religious communities of both colors. At the time, it was generally believed that Blues was the “Devil’s Music”. It didn’t particularly help that there was significant lore about Blues players having supernatural ties. The lyrics of their songs were also hinting to supernatural ties. So if you were a guitarist at the time, you could fall into two particular categories: guitar preachers or songsters. If you had vocals to accompany your Blues chords, you would either be a gospel singer or a blues singer.
However, when the recording of Blues became more commonplace around 1920, it was noted that both “gospel” and “Blues” shared quite similar techniques. Blues was often associated with its call-and-response style pattern. It seemed that “holy” music also took this style for their pieces.
Regardless of the divide, Blues continued to persist through the years. It eventually came to be intrinsically tied to the African-American culture as a whole. The offshoots and hybrids of Blues grew in popularity as time went on. All of these led to what we know Blues to be today.