Baby, It’s the Blues!


The blues originated in the deep south and are known to have originated in the 1890’s. Blues music has its roots in Africa but was undoubtedly born in America. The genre stemmed from work songs and churches and utilized field hollers, shouts, chants, and call and response. 


Blues is an emotional genre of music. African Americans used blues to communicate and express themselves. Coming from a time full of segregation and discrimination after slavery was abolished, the blues where often about moving on and keeping the past behind. The blues found a way to transform misery into happiness.

Majority of blues utilized the 12-bar form. A 12-bar blues is divided into three four-bar segments. The standard progression features 3 chords (first, fourth, and fifth), in the order 1111-4411-5415.

Instruments were an important part of the music. Guitars, harmonicas, and drums were often used. However, blues musicians would use whatever they could get their hands on as an instrument, washboards were popularly used as an instrument. The slide technique for playing the guitar, placing an object against the strings while playing, created the unique, American sound that is often associated with the blues. The blues utilized the call and response, where the singer would say a word then the band would play behind it.

Social Implications and Commodification:

The blues had almost instantly become popularized amongst the black community. There were traveling tent shows, minstrel shows, medicine shows, and circuses where black people were able to perform and make a name for themselves. The first famous blues performers were black women. Black men, however, had to be humiliated if they wanted to perform. They would often be featured in minstrel shows as clowns and other demeaning characters.

Composer and musician, W.C Handy, who gave himself the title of Father of Blues, was able to create a profiting empire selling blues sheet music.

By 1910, the blues genre had spread all around. By 1920’s, blues was being commercially recorded and written by whites. Mammie Smith became the first black singer to record blues commercially. “Race records”, music by black people marketed to black people, had come into play in the 20’s. Gradually, White people started purchasing those records, which lead to extreme popularization of the blues.

Future Genres:

By the 1960’s the blues had influenced the genres of rhythm and blues, rock n’ roll (the white version of R&B), and soul. During this time, blues had experienced a revival as white rock n’ roll artist gained interest in the root of the blues. They began looking for the old black men who processed the authenticity of the blues, and they brought them into the spotlight.

Important Performers:

  • Lead Belly

  • Mammie Smith

  • Muddy Waters

  • B.B King

  • Bessie Smith


Blues influence on music is not limited to soul, R&B, and rock ‘n roll. Blues has gone to affect all music in America. Blues had have an impact on every song succeeding it, and the black musicians behind the art of the blues are not credited enough. Without the blues, modern-day music wouldn’t be anything like it is now.

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