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History of Blues Music

The Native American musical and verse form is called Blues. It emerged as a distinct African-American art form. Originated in the late 19th century, it has in its essence the spirit of the workers symbolising their hardship, pain and suffering.

The origin of the word 'blue' may be traced back to the Elizabethan era. It symbolised the idea of melancholy or depression. The name 'blues' is credited to Washington Irving, an American writer.

Blues originated from the 'working songs' of West African slaves in the fields of Southern plantation owners of the United States of America.

These slaves developed a unique way of singing to overcome the pains of work. Blues music therefore was the outcome of chants, work songs, field hollers, rural music, drum music and country dance music.

The blues, as a separate form of music was popularised by W C Handy, a black composer. Through his 'Memphis Blues' in 1909, the blues began to gain popularity especially among the youngsters.

'Dellas Blues' was published by Hart Wand in 1912. In 1920, Mamie Smith recorded the first vocal blues song namely 'Crazy Blues'. In the 1940s, the famous blue folklorist Alan Lomax made field recordings of bluesmen in their surroundings.

The blue music is powerful and emotive and includes subjects like love, sex, drinking, railroads, jail, murder, poverty and so on. Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson were the leading names in the blues from the 1920s.

From the 1940s onwards, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, John Hooker etc. began to electrify the blues. Blues was spreading to the urban areas and evolved into electrified Chicago blues and various other styles.

Blues also took on regional characteristics. St. Louis blues, the Memphis blues, the Louisiana blues are examples.

Blues music mostly is comprised of 12 bars. Blues also utilise a specific series of notes. The individual parts of this scale are known as the blue notes. Typical instruments of the blues are Guitar, Piano, Harmonica, Drums, Saxophones, Trumpet Double bass and vocals.

The different forms of blues evolved in course of time. The first and the oldest is the traditional country blues which include the Mississippi delta and others. Jump blues, pioneered by Louis Jordan was a danceable amalgam of swing and blues.

Persons like Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson initiated the piano based blues called Boogie Woogie. West coast blues was popularised by Texas musicians who moved to California.

Others are Chicago blues, Cool blues, Texas blues, Memphis blues, and St. Louis blues, British Blues and New Orleans blues. Blues rock, African blues, Jazz blues, Punk blues, Soul blues are the fusion genres of blues.

Deep Blues by Robert Palmer, White Boy Singing the Blues: The Black Roots of White Rock by Michael Bane are interesting books on the blues.

In 1980, the film the Blues Brothers was released. The blues have influenced all varieties of music worldwide including jazz and rock. It continues to remain popular among music lovers all around the globe.

Article about: History of Blues music

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