Blues music was created by black people in the South in the 1870’s, and it was influenced by ragtime and folk music. What makes blues music unique is that it expresses feelings, usually sadness and problems in one’s love life. Blues performers use syncopation as a technique to express their emotions. Syncopation is when there is a displacement in the beat.

Ma Rainey (1886-1939)

“Mother of Blues”- the first great professional blues singer.

In 1923, she recorded 92 songs for Paramount with some of the popular songs being “See See Rider”, “Prove It On Me”, and “Blues Oh Blues”. Rainey was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983.


Bessie Smith (1894-1937)

One of the greatest blues singers and she was influenced by Ma Rainey.

She recorded 160 songs throughout her career, including “Careless Love Blues”, “Empty Bed Blues”, and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. Her songs covered poverty, love, and betrayal.


There are different styles of blues from each state. In Georgia and the Carolinas, they were known for their clarity of enunciation and regularity of rhythm. Texas blues was known for high and clear singing with single string gun lines. Lastly, Mississippi blues is known for its intensity and has been highly influential, it’s more speech like with rhythmic guitar.

Historical Context

The Great Depression and the World Wars caused the dispersal of the blues throughout the United States. Millions of blacks were leaving the south and moving up north to urban cities. This led to blues being adapted to more urban themes.