Origin & Characteristics

Blues music originated in the south during the late 1800s. Many elements of blues music come from European and African influences. Characteristics of blues are blues texts, the role of instruments, blue notes, and blues forms. Blues texts refer to the lyrics sung in blues music which were very repetitive and to the point. Blues were typically sung in the first person and were about sex, sadness, and feeling blue. The role if instruments in blues were essential in order to complete the full effect. Instruments were known as the “second voice” as opposed to being in the background. Common instruments would include harmonicas, pianos, drums, bass, and guitars. Blue notes are “notes that fall between two adjacent notes in the standard Western division of the octave into twelve equal intervals” (African 125). Blue notes can be achieved with voice, on the guitar by applying pressure on the strings on the neck, by special blowing methods on the harmonica, and other woodwind instruments. Blue forms include the twelve-bar blues, which is a “stanza of three lines (AAB) of four measures each, the lines beginning respectively in the I, IV, and V chords and resolving in the I chord”(African 127).

Social Implications, Commodification & Influence on Future Genres

The blues genre was created as dance to be played in dance halls. Many people also played it in order to lure women. In most black neighborhoods by the 1920s had theaters that allowed black people to support and share their musical talents. Mamie Smith was the first black blues singer to record blues and her success influenced many other blues vocalists to record their music. Blues music had a strong influence on other genres like rock ‘n roll, pop, country, gospel and soul music. Many artists today use blues riffs in their music no matter the genre.

Important Performers

W.C. Handy

Bessie Smith

B.B. King


Just like negro spirituals, folk, and jubilee quarters blues music was an outlet for African Americans to express their feeling and share their stories. Because places like theaters were opened and were dedicated to music, it allowed black people to express themselves and support people just like them at the same time.