Our Music Their Gain: The Commodification of Blues by European Artists

Blues was originated in the deep south and midwest in the 1890s. This genre was a part of the wave of innovation in black American music. This creativity sparked during the time of Jim Crow, or segregation laws that prevented blacks from social and economic growth. This genre is characterized by both African and European elements; European elements include form, harmony, and instrumentation and the African elements are the instruments used. Guitars, washboards, juggs, and kazoos are recreations of original African Instruments. Blues is also characterized by its lyrics which are concerned with self and harmonic and rhythmic background to the vocal part. Blues, a genre originated by African Americans first became popular through the covers of blues songs performed by European bands. This was problematic because original blues artists were not recognized for their music, but the European artists performing their songs were. It wasn’t until the civil rights era that African American blues artists received the recognition they deserved for their contribution to and creation of the blues genre. What is most interesting to me is that Europeans Americans take credit for the creation of Rock N’ Roll, a genre that emerged from a variation of the blues genre. It is disappointing and invalidating to these artists, their work, and the community that the originating artists were recognized only after whites were recognized.

Some popular blues artists include:

  • B.B. King
  • Bessie Smith
  • Mammie Smith
  • Muddy Waters
  • Paul Butterfield
  • W.C. Handy
  • Gertrude “Ma” Rainey

Below is a playlist of popular blues songs


by Jiana Barnes

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