Notes From Blues Lecture


I.  The split between folk and classical. 
     A.  Folk songs - Songs created by   ordinary people for their own   consumption.
     B.  Classical – Primarily for the   aristocracy.
     C.  Rhythm, in many ways the main   difference between classical and folk.       
          1.  Becomes less important in classical   music after the invention of polyphony.
          2.  Folk music relies heavily on rhythm.
     D.  European music arrives in the   Americas.
          1.  Initial instinct was to separate   European music from other forms of folk   music.
          2. During the 19th century, elements of   African music begin to mix into “white”   European folk music.
          3.  Largely due to influence of African   music, the gap between classical and folk   widened from the 19th century until the
II.  Early African music in North America

              A.  Difference between European styles and African   styles. 

                   1.  European music – melody was the focus.    Rhythm was incidental.

                   2.  African music – Rhythm was the focus and   it was “dressed up” with a melody.

             B.  Three kinds of songs from the slave community

                   1.  The Spiritual – the first original form of   music created by slaves in the United States.

                        a.  Created through the adaptation of   Christian rituals to African rituals and the   adaptation of European religious music to                                                                            the musical system of West Africa.

          2.  Work songs – synchronized with the   rhythm of work.

                   3.  Jubilee songs – songs for the plantation   parties.

III.  The end of slavery.

             A.  South – similar jobs, similar discrimination   and segregation.  African heritage is mostly   preserved.

             B.  North – lack of community and   connections, poor job opportunities, but   African Americans are more integrated into “white”    society.

             C.   Traditional meeting points, church and   plantation,   are dissolved.

IV.  The birth of the blues.

             A.  Music continues to be the primary vehicle   for the   discussion of the frustration of the   people. 

             B.  Less focus on the plight of the group, freedom to   express the trials, troubles, and   desires of the   individual.

             C.  Instruments of early blues.

                   1.  Banjo, of African heritage.

                   2.  Guitar, adopted from European heritage.

                   3.  Harmonica, European heritage.

D.  Bluesman adopt a narrative style from   European traditions.

                   1.  White folk music creates epic storylines   out of ordinary events.

                   2.  Black folk music has brutally realistic   depictions of everyday life.

          E.  Blues as a state of mind

                   1.  “I’ve got the blues.”

                   2.  Expectation of an unavoidable reality.

F.  The end of Reconstruction (1877)

                   1.  Economic boom cause great demographic shift.

                        a.  African American musicians end up in predominantly white cities.

                   2.  The blues is heard outside of the African-American community.

                       a.  Sex is a common theme and lyrics are descriptive.

                       b.  White audiences are shocked by explicit lyrics.

                       c.  The blues becomes more self-aware.    Becomes more metaphorical and allegorical to appeal to a white audience.

                            -Boll Weavil Blues

            G.  The Medicine Show

                  1.  Gullible doctors traveled to find gullible   customers to buy their various medicines   and elixirs.

                  2.  African American performers were   hired for cheap entertainment.  Essentially   the first professional African American       performers.

 V.  Three important centers for the blues.

              A.  New Orleans

                    1.  Most diverse city of the south.

                    2.  More tolerant than most cities in the   south.

                    3. Prominent night life provided

                         a.  Storyville

               B.  Kansas City

                    1.  Received first wave of African-American   immigrants in 1877 after the highly   contested Presidential election.

                    2.  Little enforcement of prohibition laws   (1920-1933).  Clubs provide performance   venues for African-American performers.

                C.  Memphis

                    1.  Important Mississippi River port and  important railway node.  Made rich   through cotton industry.

                    2.  Often the first stop for people migrating   to the north.

                    3.  Beale Street.

                    4.  Cotton is used less in favor of synthetic   fibers causing the city to decay.  Many   migrate to Chicago, the next stop on the railroad. 

VI.  Blues established as a legitimate genre.

               A.  Several blues stars  find work in   permanent vaudeville theatres in New York

               B.  Their songs are written for a broader   audience by professional songwriters.

                    1.  Most notable was W.C. Handy

                          a.  Memphis Blues (1909)

                          b.  Memphis Blues Band - Recorded with instrumentation that leads to jazz.

                     2.  Standardization of 12 bar pattern.

               C.  First blues songs published in 1912.

                     1.  Baby Seal Blues (Artie Matthews)

                     2.  Dallas Blues (Hart Wand)

               D.  Blind Lemon Jefferson

                     1.  First real bluesmen (country bluesman)to be recorded by a major record company   

                           a.  1926

                           b.  Starts a trend of record companies going to the Delta to find talent.

                           c.  Bad Luck Blues (1926)

                E.  Leads to discovery of country blues style.

                      1.  No jazz combo, just guitar and   harmonica accompaniment.

                      2.  Robert Johnson

                           a.  Perfected the styles of Charley Patton   and Son House.

                           b.  Cross Road Blues

VII.  Chicago and the urban blues

                 A.  Mass emigration to the north in 1916

                         1.  Musical traditions are transplanted. 

                 B.  Honky Tonks

                         1.  Clubs illegally serving alcohol. 

                  C.  Increasing reliance the band format.

                        1.  Guitar, harmonica, piano, drums and   bass    

VIII.  Blues and the African American audience.

                  A.  Audiences were largely white until the late   1930s.

                        1.  White only clubs.

                       2.  Blues not perceived as entertainment.

                  B.  By the end of the 1930s, playing the blues had become an honorable career.