The History Of Blues Music
Article by Liam Gibson
The contribution of Blues music to the development of many other genres of music is very significant. Blues was originally grown out of the hardships endured by many generations of African Americans, and first arose from the rural Mississippi region, around about the time of the dawn of the 20th century. The style developed from work shouts (known as arhoolies), and became the vocal narrative style that we associate with blues music today. Jazz, rock music and country and western are just some of the styles that owe a lot of their progression from the original blues.
The style of music known as the blues developed from work shouts (known as arhoolies), and became the vocal narrative style that we associate with blues music today. Jazz, rock music and country and western are just some of the styles that owe a lot of their progression from the original blues. The contribution of Blues music to the development of many other genres of music is very significant. Blues was originally grown out of the hardships endured by many generations of African Americans, and first arose from the rural Mississippi region, around about the time of the dawn of the 20th century.
There was by the 1920’s a very particular style to Blues music, based around a three-line stanza. The stanza contained just one line of verse, repeated, and then finished with a final line of rhyming verse. Industry was progressing, and by the 1920’s Blues music was also developing – affecting the everyday lives of people involved.
The style at this time included a repeating blues chord progression, which then formed the basis for the harmony. Although there were variations, the usual rule of thumb was a 12-bar pattern utilizing the 3 major chords of a scale. The text was set to a 12-bar chorus, and typically was between four and eight stanzas in length.
The melody is formed, typically, by flattened third, fifth and seventh notes of the major scale. This then forms the ‘bent’ notes that give Blues music its distinctive sound – enforcing the notes to have that bittersweet emotional impact that so many of us love. For the majority of blues music the focus is on the vocals – contradicting the fact that performers will often improvise instrumental solos over the Blues chord progressions.
Country blues arose from the Southern rural experience, particularly influenced by the impact of emancipation, and are often referred to as ‘Delta Blues’ (in tribute to the Mississippi Delta were they first originated. Many itinerant musicians (the majority of which were men), travelled from one community to the next, singing songs that focused on freedom, sex, love, and the general sorrows of life.
African Americans began to migrate, mainly looking for work. Areas such as Memphis and New Orleans began to become more populated, and these people brought their own brand of music with them. As they settled in these areas, it led to Blues music becoming much more urban-orientated. The music evolved as their way of life evolved. Male or female vocalists began to appear more regularly, and there was now the addition of a single piano.
The popularity of this kind of music grew exponentially. The music industry as a whole started to take note, and more and more compositions and marketing arrangements emerged, as people began to take notice. In actual fact, what would become known as Classic Blues became so popular that many songs were released with the word ‘blues’ in the title to capitalize on this, even though they bared little or no relation to the style of music. The audience also grew, and Blues became more mainstream. Throughout the country as a whole, Blues music could now be heard in dancehalls and barrooms.
The appetite for Blues music grew and grew. The center of the Blues music world which had always been clustered around Memphis and New Orleans began to shift. Soon, cities such as Chicago were emerging as the central point for the music.
The end of the Second World War brought a new revival into the genre, and artists began to develop the music, primarily through adding a bit of extra emphasis on the bass drums and cranking up the guitar sounds. Artists like Elvis and Bill Haley began to incorporate the Blues methods into their own unique brand of rock n roll. By the 1950’s this style was no longer centered around the African American community, and was universally practiced across all races.
Although this incorporation into different genres still exists today, Blues music in its own right is still going strong, with top-selling artists still maintaining the original styles. The influence of Blues music on much of the music industry as a whole is undoubted, and yet it is still evolving, and still producing exceptional music that stirs the soul of those who listen to it.