At the end of the first decade of the 20th century, the term “blues” began to be applied to a new type of song emerging from Black communities in the southern United States.  Blues emerged with the first stirrings of ragtime, jazz, gospel music, and barbershop style vocal harmony. This coincided with a hardening of White resistance to Black social and economic progress in the form of Jim Crow Laws and the institutionalization of racial segregation, disenfranchisement of Black voters, lynching, and the loss of jobs to new European immigrants.

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Throughout their history, blues songs have mainly been sung solo. The singers, especially males, usually play an instrument. The blues combines elements from European and African musical traditions. The harmonic and structural form of the blues comes mainly from the folk ballad. The majority of blues uses the twelve-bar AAB form. Mamie Smith was the first Black vocalist to record blues commercially. Although blues has its own history and stylistic development, it has played an important role in most other major popular musical genres in the United States.