Blues music was birthed by slavery, racism, and Jim Crow


Be ready to spend a while listening at present, or bookmark a few of this wonderful footage for later. Although no single documentary can embody the entire blues and its historical past, Jay Levey’s Blues Story makes a superb begin on capturing each blues and the musicians who made it occur.

Hallgeir Olsen, writing for Born To Hear, penned this review of the “basic” 2003 movie in October 2020.

Blues Story presents an impressionistic historical past of one of the lasting artwork varieties America has ever produced – as informed for the primary time via the eyes of the artists who lived it. Combining unique interview and efficiency footage with classic clips and the music of many Blues legends lengthy gone, the historical past of this richly felt music is illuminated – from its African roots to its American city expression – together with its profound place in our cultural heritage.

The result’s a uncommon, first-hand glimpse into the lives of those vanishing artists, and a transferring, insightful and informative look right into a music that continues to be liked by hundreds of thousands all through the world.

Blues Story options (in alphabetical order): Bobby “Blue” Bland, Charles Brown, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Ruth Brown, R.L. Burnside. Honeyboy Edwards, Willie Foster, Lowell Fulson, Buddy Man, John Jackson, B.B. King, Willie King and the Liberators, Robert Lockwood, Magic Slim and the Teardrops, Little Milton, Pinetop Perkins, Snooky Pryor, Philadelphia Jerry Ricks, Hubert Sumlin, Koko Taylor, Rufus Thomas, Henry Townsend, and Othar Turner and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band.

The identical 12 months, PBS and Martin Scorsese produced The Blues

The Blues™ anchors a multi-media celebration that raises consciousness of the blues and its contribution to American tradition and music worldwide.

Beneath the guiding imaginative and prescient of Govt Producer Martin Scorsese, seven administrators will discover the blues via their very own private kinds and views. The movies within the sequence are motivated by a central theme: how the blues advanced from parochial people tunes to a common language.

The seven-part movie sequence consists of:
Feel Like Going Home by Martin Scorsese
The Soul of a Man by Wim Wenders
The Road to Memphis by Richard Pearce
Warming by the Devil’s Fire by Charles Burnett
Godfathers and Sons by Marc Levin
Red, White & Blues by Mike Figgis
Piano Blues by Clint Eastwood

Right here’s the sequence’ trailer.

Whereas many of the histories of the blues cowl its genesis within the enslavement interval within the U.S., David “dopper0189” Reid, Managing Editor of Black Kos, just lately explored its Islamic-African roots

The Blues is a musical style born within the Deep South, created by African-People within the 1860s. The Blues additionally kind the bottom from which jazz, R&B (rhythm and blues) and rock and roll all later got here from. The Blues is likely one of the most influential musical artwork varieties on the earth, and varieties a big a part of the DNA for many trendy American common music. However as effectively know because the Blues are, two essential historic info of its origins are sometimes neglected. The primary is that many parts of the Blues, such because the call-and-response format and using blue notes, may be instantly traced again to the music of Africa. The second is that many options of the Blues together with the lengthy “wavy intonation” notes and the instrumentation, have direct origins from West African Muslims. From the 1600s to the mid-1800s, tens of 1000’s of Muslim slaves from West Africa had been taken by pressure to america. Primarily based on the place most American slaves had been taken from, 20%-30% % of the African slaves taken to america had been Muslims.

This historical past was additionally explored by Jonathan Curiel, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Sylviane Diouf is aware of her viewers could be skeptical, so to display the connection between Islam and American blues music, she’ll play two recordings: The Muslim name to prayer (the spiritual recitation that is heard from mosques around the globe), and “Levee Camp Holler” an early sort of blues tune that first sprang up within the Mississippi Delta greater than 100 years in the past.

“Levee Camp Holler” is not any unusual tune. It is the product of ex-slaves who labored transferring earth all day in post-Civil Struggle America. The model that Diouf makes use of in shows has lyrics that, like the decision to prayer, talk about an excellent God. (“Nicely, Lord, I awakened this mornin’, man, I feelin’ unhealthy . . . Nicely, I used to be thinkin’ ’bout the great occasions, Lord, I as soon as have had.”) However it’s the tune’s melody and be aware adjustments that carefully parallel one in every of Islam’s best-known refrains. As within the name to prayer, “Levee Camp Holler” emphasizes phrases that appear to quiver and shake within the reciter’s vocal chords. Dramatic adjustments in musical scales punctuate each “Levee Camp Holler” and the decision to prayer. A nasal intonation is clear in each.

“I did a chat a couple of years in the past at Harvard the place I performed these two issues, and the room completely exploded in clapping, as a result of (the connection) was apparent,” says Diouf, an creator and scholar who can also be a researcher at New York’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Tradition. “Folks had been saying, ‘Wow. That is actually audible. It is actually there.’ “

If, like Diouf’s audiences, it is advisable to hear it to imagine it, this video was made for you.

No historic exploration of the blues could be full with out Blues Folks: Negro Music in White America, the seminal work on Black music printed by a 29-year-old author and poet named LeRoi Jones in 1963. Jones would go on to turn into Amiri Baraka, a number one determine within the Black Arts Movement.

“A should for all who would extra knowledgeably recognize and higher comprehend America’s hottest music.” — Langston Hughes

Bookcover: Blues People

“The trail the slave took to ‘citizenship’ is what I wish to take a look at. And I make my analogy via the slave citizen’s music—via the music that’s most carefully related to him: blues and a later, however parallel growth, jazz… [If] the Negro represents, or is symbolic of, one thing in and in regards to the nature of American tradition, this actually needs to be revealed by his attribute music.”

So says Amiri Baraka within the Introduction to Blues Folks, his basic work on the place of jazz and blues in American social, musical, financial, and cultural historical past. From the music of African slaves in america via the music scene of the 1960’s, Baraka traces the affect of what he calls “negro music” on white America—not solely within the context of music and popular culture but additionally when it comes to the values and views handed on via the music. In tracing the music, he brilliantly illuminates the affect of African People on American tradition and historical past.

A 12 months earlier than his demise in 2014, Baraka’s e-book could be revisited and celebrated by Eugene Holley Jr., writing for NPR.

The 12 months 1963 noticed the March on Washington, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Medgar Evers, the bombing of the Birmingham church that resulted within the deaths of 4 black women and the passing of W.E.B. Du Bois. That very same 12 months, LeRoi Jones — a twentysomething, Newark, N.J.-born, African-American, Decrease East Aspect-based Beat poet — printed a e-book titled Blues Folks: a panoramic sociocultural historical past of African-American music. It was the primary main e-book of its sort by a black creator, now generally known as Amiri Baraka. Within the 50 years since, it has by no means been out of print.

“The e-book was initially titled Blues: Black and White,” says Baraka, now 78, by telephone from Newark, whereas he was engaged on his son Ras Baraka’s mayoral marketing campaign. “However I modified it as a result of I wished to give attention to the people who created the blues. And that was the actual intent of that title: I wished to give attention to them — us — the creators of the blues, which continues to be, I feel, the predominate music beneath all American music. It can’t be dismissed, despite the fact that you may give it to some pop singer, they alter it round. However it should come out. It will likely be heard.”

Blues Folks argues that of their artwork, Louis Armstrong, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and numerous different black bards confronted the forces of racism, poverty and Jim Crow. This gave beginning to work songs, blues, gospel, New Orleans jazz, its Chicago and Kansas Metropolis swing extensions, the bebop revolution (which in flip spawned the so-called cool and onerous bop faculties), and the then-emerging avant-garde of the late ’50s and early ’60s, characterised by the forward-thinking artistry of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor. For Baraka, jazz is “probably the most cosmopolitan of any Negro music, capable of make the most of virtually any international affect inside its broader spectrum” — a cultural achievement Baraka says was downplayed and ignored by Eurocentric whites.

This cartoon by Keef Knight illustrates my ideas on racism’s function within the creation of the blues.


Desirous about Jim Crow and racism jogs my memory of those three blues tunes. 

The primary is “North Certain Blues,” a tune by Maggie Jones, who was born in Texas in 1894 and recorded with Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Inexperienced, and Elmer Snowden. Her date of demise is unknown.

Take a look at the lyrics:

Received my trunk and grip all packed
Goodbye, I ain’t coming again
Going to depart this Jim Crow city
Lord, candy pape, New York sure  

Received my ticket in my hand
And I am leaving dixieland

Going north little one, the place I may be free
Going north little one, the place I may be free
The place there is no hardships, like in Tennessee

Going the place they do not have Jim Crow legal guidelines
Going the place they do not have Jim Crow legal guidelines
Do not should work there, like in Arkansas

After I cross the Mason Dixon Line
After I cross the Mason Dixon Line
Goodbye previous gal, yon mama’s gonna fly

Going to daddy, received no time to lose
Going to daddy, received no time to lose
I will be alone, cannot hear my northbound blues

Subsequent, the good Huddie Leadbetter, recognized to the general public as Lead Stomach, was born on a Louisiana plantation someday round January 1885, although different information give totally different years for his beginning. In his introduction to “Jim Crow Blues,” Lead Stomach tells the story of going into a spot in Las Vegas with a “white feller,” the place he’s informed: “We don’t serve coloured.”

Once more, take a look at the lyrics:

Bunk Johnson informed me too, This previous Jim Crowism lifeless unhealthy luck for me and also you
I been touring, i been touring from shore to shore
All over the place I’ve been I discover some previous Jim Crow

One factor, individuals, I would like everyone to know
You’re gonna discover some Jim Crow, each place you go

Down in Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia’s a mighty good place to go
And get collectively, break up this previous Jim Crow

I informed everyone over the radio
Make up their thoughts and get collectively, break up this previous Jim Crow

I wish to let you know individuals one thing that you just don’t know
It’s a lotta Jim Crow in a transferring image present

I’m gonna sing this verse, I ain’t gonna sing no extra
Please get collectively, break up this previous Jim Crow

Boogie-woogie piano participant Charles Edward “Cow Cow” Davenport was born in Alabama in 1894, and recorded his personal “Jim Crow Blues,” about leaving dwelling and heading up north in 1927.

The lyrics:

I’m uninterested in being Jim Crowed, gonna Go away this Jim Crow city
Doggone my black soul, I’m candy Chicago sure

Sure I’m leaving right here from this previous Jim Crow city
I’m going up North the place they are saying cash grows on bushes
I don’t give a doggone if my black soul is free
I’m going the place I don’t want no child

I received a hat, received a overcoat, don’t want nothing however you
These previous straightforward walkers going to offer my ankles the blues
However when my woman hears about this, oh, that might be unhappy information.

I’m going up North, child I can’t carry you
Ain’t nothing in that chilly up there a ?? can do
I’m gonna get me a Northern woman, see that I’m via with you Lord

But when I stand up there, climate don’t swimsuit, I don’t discover no job
Go and inform that boss man of mine, Lord I’m prepared to come back again to my Jim Crow city

The subjects lined by the blues span the experiences of Black American life. Worksongs had been the music of plantations, and the blues grew to become the sound of postslavery life: reconstruction, migration, segregation, in addition to the each day wrestle of making an attempt to get a job and preserve it, or get a associate and preserve them.

Blues itself as a musical kind follows a specific sample. These of you readers who’re nonmusicians (like me) could discover this PBS Sound Field program, hosted by L.A. Buckner and Nahre Sol, very academic. Sol demonstrates the blues on piano, explaining its musical elements. 

It doesn’t matter what the state of affairs, the politics or the headlines, there might be a blues tune that speaks to it. So it shouldn’t shock anybody that PBS Information Hour just lately did a narrative on “The Coronavirus Blues.”

Musician Pat “Mom Blues” Cohen has lengthy met adversity with music. She misplaced her New Orleans dwelling to Hurricane Katrina and relocated to North Carolina with help from the Music Maker Aid Basis, a gaggle that helps blues musicians. However now, the coronavirus pandemic has hit very near dwelling.

For these of you unaware of the work of the Music Maker Aid Basis, take a look at their mission video and their website.

I don’t learn about you, however I’ve received the quarantine blues, the coronavirus blues, the “sick of Republicans blues,” the “I’m not getting any youthful blues”—and extra.

Be part of me in feedback for extra on blues, and to share your favorites.