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Concepts of How the Blues Music Started In America Research Paper

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Updated: May 14th, 2019


The history of blues as a genre of music in America can be traced back to the time when the first African slaves were brought to the United States in 1619 to when the last slaves were brought in 1807. It is believed that some of the captains who were on-board the ships that were used for transporting the slaves to America used to force new slaves to sing on the deck as they considered this to be a way of prolonging their lives. Tied with chains on their hands and legs, the slaves had to sing and dance and those who did not dance were whipped.

Since these slaves were not allowed to bring musical instruments from Africa, the kind of music they sung was purely vocal. During the slave trade period, playing of drums by slaves was not allowed by their masters. However, there are instances when slaves played the banjo and the fiddle in the 18th century. As research findings show, slaves actually played the banjo as early as 1690, a norm that became more pronounced in the 18th century (Weissman 6-10 and Oring 224-233).

Although all these is known, sometimes attempting to pinpoint the exact time when blues as a genre of music was started in the world is a difficult task, because there are chances that this kind of music was enjoyed in other communities before the slave trade period. Therefore, from research all that is clearly known is that, whenever new slaves were brought to America, they always had an influence on the already existing slaves who had developed a kind of musical fusion.

History of Blues

During the slave trade period, slaves were encouraged to attend church; whereby, the experiences they went through, which included the prospects of leaving bondage and being free was always in their minds, leading to the creation of a kind of music that was commonly referred to as African-American spiritual.

This kind of music was the first to be accepted in the United States by African-Americans (Weissman 10). As a result of the fame that this kind of music received with time, in 1867, the first set of the slaves’ songs was published. Although most of the songs that were published had religious themes, majority of them had hidden meanings; hence, in most cases, they were interpreted wrongly by people who were not slaves.

Some of these songs incorporated the plight of slavery and others went as far as informing slaves how they could escape from the plantations. As time went by, other forms of songs emerged in plantations where the slaves worked. For example, slaves started singing secular songs like the holler, work groups, and the ring’s shouts (Weissman 11).

As research studies show, the first true recording of blues was done in the 1920s, and it is thought to have originated from the period slightly after the Civil War of between 1890 and1920. This period was referred as the repressive period since after the civil war, slave trade was abolished and some African-Americans were given the opportunity of owning land under certain conditions.

In most cases, it is believed that, blues played a role in enlightening slaves about their rights and the kind of suffering and life experiences that they had to endure for them to succeed. Slaves who chose the travelling minstrel got a chance of dancing the whole night, and singing various blues, which were melodic (Weissman 19-31).

Types of blues

As a result of lack of interest in black music during the late 19th century, there is no evidence of any recording that was done during this period; hence, a lot is still unknown about the kind of music, which was actually played before the 1920s. However, a compilation of music researched and written by Howard Odum, classified blues into three categories using the people who sang them.

For example, there was the songster, who he classified as a blues musician, the musicianer who had basic experience of musical instruments, and lastly the musician physicianer, who he categorised as travelling blues singers. Many believed the songsters were the link between the earlier music that was played by the slaves and blues. Presently, blues can be categorised into four groups, namely the Chicago blues, Delta blues, Texas blues, and finally the Blue rocks. (Odum 255-294)

The Migration of Blue through Years

Emergence of Blues and Migration of Blues’ Players to Chicago

Blues gained popularity in 1920s and managed to be an America’s popular form of music. During this era, blues evolved from the informal places that it was played at night into theatres, which were more appropriate.

Due to its rising popularity, several recording studios such as Paramount and American Record Corporation started to show interest in this kind of music, leading to later recording of African-American music. As the industry grew, singers adopted and improvised a different and unique way of playing blues. The most common singers at the time were the Delta blues who had emerged with a blend of the old slave style music composition that incorporated the use of the guitar.

Between 1920 and 1930, the Memphis blue was established as a new genre of blues. This music became famous because it incorporated the use of the virtuoso guitar flair. Later in the early 1940s, there was a mass migration of blues’ players from Memphis to Chicago and this meant that they had to adjust their music for it to be appealing to a greater audience, since this was relatively a new singing environment. As a result of these adjustments, their music ended up being more organized and their performance level was elevated.

Singers such as Mamie Smith and Bessie Smith were some of the female singers who were very popular during this era and their fame enabled them to sell thousands of copies of their music anytime they produced new music. In 1925, sensational singers such as the Mills brothers learnt to mimic instruments with their vocals and as a result grew to become some of the most famous singers (Weissman 73-86).

Urban blues

The evolution of urban blues took place as a result of economic developments that had taken place, because of the migration of African-American from the rural area to cities. This migration created a better market for blues as it later on contributed to the expanding of blues to other parts of the world.

For example, in order for the then existing production companies to thrive in the music industry, they had to change their names to accommodate new developments. On the other hand, with the shift in the blues industry, industry leaders created a chart for rhythms and blue, and a new technology to amp musical sounds and streamline blues’ beats was adopted.

This development led to the emergence of the R&B genre of music. In the 1950s, the use of electric guitars to amplify music became a norm in this industry as they were normally used together with drums and harmonicas to enhance the quality of blues. During this era, the Mississippi style of blues was the main influencing factor for Muddy Waters, one of the most renowned originators of R&B music.

By the end of the 1950s, a new revolution style of blues arose that was more melodious with rhymes matching well with the rhythmic guitars, as well as other complimentary equipments. Later on, another form of blues called Swamp blues emerged. This blues were much slower and used the harmonica as the only musical instrument (Hatch and Millward 117-147).

The Revolution Blues

As a result of the free speech movement that was very common in America in between 1960 and1970, the old form of blues was adopted again. There was a deliberate intention by the African-Americans to bring back the blues that were sung before the civil war.

Traditional blues was later brought back through the Newport folk festival, and as a result of this, new audiences that liked this kind of music emerged. In 1960s, a number of white Americans started to become fans of blues, leading to the singing of blues by European musicians who had liked this kind of music during the era of delta tours, which had taken place in earlier years.

Some of the European singers who emerged during this time including the Rolling Stones and the Cream inspired American singers leading to the emergency of a kind of music fusion between music from Europe and America. As research studies clearly show, this is what led to the emergence of rock music. With blues infiltrating Latin America, a different kind of music was born, the Tulsa music.

The Tulsa sound was a kind of blues music whose main components were jazz and rock ’n’ roll and it was made famous by Eric Clapton, a renowned singer. During the 1970s in America, the British blues/rock movement influenced the northern side of the country to create a kind of blues that came to be known as the Texas rock/blues. It is this emergence that led to the rise of fame of artists such as the Thunderbirds (Davis 71-122).

Soul Blues and Later Developments in The 1990s

As a result of the revival of earlier forms of blues in the 1970s, The 1980s and 90s saw the development of a new form of blues that was called soul music. The revival also greatly contributed to the expansion of the blues industry, as they made the blues music industry to be recognised as one of the biggest industries in the world of music. Presently, as a result of expansion of this industry, other developments such as coming up of blues societies and organising of more performance festivals have been embraced (Weissman 130-141)

Boogie Woogie

This was one of the last genres of blues to emerge. This kind of blues makes use of the piano as the sole instruments in its production. Up to the 20th century, this genre was the most appreciated and liked by most lovers of blues, but the fusion of blues and hip hop made its fan base to drop.

It is worth noting that, although this form of blues is assumed to have emerged during the 19th century, historically, its early versions were common among African-Americans in the 1920s. In the past, ancient African-Americans used to gather in houses that were commonly referred to as barrelhouses to listen to this kind of music. As a result of the level of acceptance that it received in the past, African Americans used to frequent these houses to quench their thirst for slow music.

During this time, pianos were the main instruments that were used for entertainment, and their volume was usually high. Because of the simplicity of these pianos, most of them did not have tune, and as a result, the entertainer had to play at a very high speed with agility to hide the pianos imperfections (Weissman 128-139).

Present State of Blues

As a result of the continuous changing form of blues from their former forms that were common in plantation fields during the slave trade period, currently blues are very common in the almost all global societies. Although taken to be secular music, presently there are numerous gospel versions of blues, because of the big fan base that this kind of music enjoys.

Singers such as Charley Patto who are some of the most celebrated legends in the history of blues are now a major influence in the Christian gospel singing world. Presently, there are numerous artists who have ventured into singing this kind of music, because of the wide acceptance that it receives among people of all races and ages (Weissman 121-140).


In conclusion, blues have greatly helped to change the music world. This is because, without them, the world may never have had a chance to listen to other genres of music such as rock and roll, punk and R&B. Therefore, blues will always be appreciated, as they are the backbone of numerous genres of music.

Works Cited

Davis, Francis. The History of the Blues: the Roots, the Music, the People, Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1995. Print.

Hatch, David, and S. Millward. From Blues to Rock: an Analytical History of Pop Music, Manchester: ManchesterUniversity Press, 1987. Print.

Odum, Howard. “Folk-Song and Folk-Poetry as Found in the Secular Songs of The Southern Negroes.” The Journal of American Folklore 24.93 (2012): 255-294. Print.

Oring, Elliot. Folklore Groups and folklore Genres an Introduction, Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1989. Print.

Weissman, Dick. The Basics: Blues, New York: Routledge Publisher, 2005. Print.

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