Blues, one of the South’s treasured creations, can be traced back to the Mississippi Delta. Mississippi, a state known for its history of racism and bigotry, is also home to many musicians that have changed the world of music. Birthed in the late 1890s, many elements of the blues incorporated the rituals of Blacks during slavery, such as chants and field hollers. Folks and African musical traditions also influenced the genre’s sounds. Defining characteristics of the blues include bass lines, call-and-response, and the use of the guitar and harmonica. Filled with much emotion, most original blues songs consisted of narratives that described the injustices and discrimination that African-Americans were facing.
Bessie Smith, Sonny Boy Williamson II, the list goes on. These legendary blues singers used their gifts to express the feelings of a generation and did it well. Although the spotlight is selective, there were many blues singers who came from poor, rural areas of Mississippi who used their talents to make money to support their families. Soon, the same songs that were performed in the small towns began to be performed in clubs and festivals. Yes, the exposure was good, but it was often due to White Americans taking the creations of Black blues musicians, putting it on the big stage, and keeping the profits.
The influence of the blues on future genres, including country music, jazz, and rock and roll are evident in sound, but is seldom acknowledged. Rock and roll, which is often credited to Elvis Presley for its popularization, was directly influenced by African-Americans, specifically composers of the blues. Today, many European bands consider themselves to perform the blues and believe that they are continuing the legacy of White blues singers. White blues singers, a concept that must be challenged.