At the turn of the 19th century – late 1890s – a musical form dubbed “the blues” began to emerge in the Deep South of the United States. This innovative new form of music coincided with the beginnings of ragtime, jazz, gospel music, and barbershop-style harmony.
Blues came along as the White resistance to Black social and economic progress worsened in the for of Jim Crow laws, segregation, disenfranchisement of black voters, lynching and other forms of terrorism and slight. While Whites stereotyped Blacks as ignorant, humorous, lazy, mentally ill, and social deviants, the new types of music Blacks were singing and playing challenged theses stereotypes, leading the way in the struggle for true freedom, justice, and equality, a predominant force during the Civil Rights Movement, as well as in this 21st century.
Like many other forms of Black American music created and developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the blues combined elements from European and African musical traditions in its form, harmony, and instrumentation. It uses a multi-phrase strophic form and the I-IV-V harmony and chord changes. While many of the instruments were common in Western music, Blacks often used secondary instruments such as washboards, jugs, kazoos, and other homemade instruments like many African instruments.
Blues lyrics are most always concerned with self and sung in first person, though self in relation to others. The lyrics express feelings or emotions and self-describe actions of an exaggerated or dramatized manner. They might contain humor but as an expression of irony, multiple meaning, social commentary and criticism, but never buffoonery.