The Blues genre originated around the 1890s, during severe limitations of African Americans freedom in society due to Jim crow laws and a new influx of white immigrants, specifically in the rural South. The false hope of freedom and a fulfilled life after Emancipation left African Americans hopeless. Instead of playing into the incredibly overwhelming negative stereotypes pinned to the lives of all African Americans, they created Blues, a musical outlet to demonstrate their true sophistication and poise to White people. Blues is a individualist genre, with performers pulling from their known struggle and hardship to put such depth of feeling into the music. The common melodies used throughout blues (for example moaning, and repetitive prayers) can be rooted back to “field holler,” similar to “call and response” used during slavery and also in folk music. Blues was sung by performers all around venues and around cities and rural areas in front of audiences, sometimes with a combination of music/song from other genres such as folk and ragtime. African Americans used the Blues as a means to make a living, in terms of money, as well as building a proper reputation of themselves and other African Americans. Although, the range of locations African Americans performed the Blues at were very wide. For example, some performed on the weekdays after work or the weekends during their free time, but more often there were those who sang in clubs/ venues with illegal activity.
Some distinguishable aspects of the genre include; in depth lyrics of feelings and emotions (most popularly somber and pensive), exaggeration of movements and facial expressions in line with said feelings/emotions, focus on the reality of life (the good and the bad), the use of another person’s voice as instruments instead of using actual equipment, the use of several riffs. Key instruments of the Blues include the electric guitar, saxophones, and , for example. Blues gained traction around the country because of African Americans in their community hoping to support black artists and black music. This eventually opened the path of African Americans being able to actually produce and represent other Black blues artists. Blues became widely popular amongst all races around the 1970’s. The now widespread genre gave performers a greater chance at popularity, a new respect for the music, and a true influence to future genres in the music world. Such influences include the acceptance of improvisation, new techniques, flexibility, true emotion, and experimentation. Blues influenced folk music, the beginning of the jazz genre, and country music (which then influenced rock music). In my opinion, it seems as if the technical aspects of Blues were indeed the baseline of many future genres. Important performers of the Blues genre include W.C. Handy, Bessie Smith, Ray Charles, James Brown and BB. King.
Video examples of influential performers are linked below: