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Music Education: The Blues Genre

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Nov 16, 2012 Eve Hullett, Columnist | 0 Comments

Although we may not realize it, a lot of the music we listen to today has been influenced by blues at some point, from jazz to pop, country and even heavy metal. Blues originally surfaced at the end of the 1800s. It came from simple roots: African slaves would sing songs to keep their spirits up at work and even at rest. Their songs ranged from spiritual tunes and ballads to shouts and chants and field hollers. Although there is some debate as to the origins of the genre’s name, some historians suggest that it was derived from the West African tradition of denoting death, grief, and mourning with the color blue. African slaves working on U.S. plantations often had to work on fields that grew indigo plants. The resulting blue-colored cotton that they worked with may have had some bearing on the songs that they sang, which often dealt with themes of sadness or soulfulness.

In its early days, blues was mostly vocal, or performed on one or two simple instruments. Twelve-bar blues is the most distinctive form of blues and today it can also be found in many other music genres, especially rock. When blues first entered popular culture, it was segregated from “white” music. At the time, the recording industry added new categories to accommodate blues, terming it race music. For a while, blues was even considered to be ungodly music and was not allowed to be performed in churches, even though some of it was indeed inspired by spiritual hymns. During this time people were also experimenting to create different forms of musical instruments and ways of playing them, such as metal slides for guitars, washboards, and harmonicas. Soon white musicians were also starting to create their own forms of blues music. Some notable examples include Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison, who helped to bring blues from rural areas to the cities.

Over the years, blues spawned several sub genres starting with the early forms of delta, gospel, and Memphis blues, to country, electric, and soul blues. As blues continued to evolve as a genre, it had a massive impact on other styles of music. Jazz in particular was one of the first genres to become intertwined with blues. Later, country, rock ‘n’ roll, and modern popular music followed suit. In particular, some styles that are strongly influenced by jazz include R&B, soul, funk, and rockabilly. Unlike during its conception, today blues is a widely celebrated music form. People have come to understand its widespread appeal and have embraced it rather than shun or segregate it. Perhaps a truly significant aspect of blues is not only its influence on music genres but also its influence on society. In developing the blues genre, early musicians were actually playing an important role in breaking down class and racial barriers. It certainly did take time for “race music” to become accepted into mainstream culture, but when it did, the effects were profound. Today people would likely find it bizarre to separate one song from another simply because of the color of the composer’s skin! In essence, blues has helped to spawn a wide variety of music as we know it today, while also contributing to increasing tolerance in society.

History and Origins of Blues Music

Blues Form

Famous Blues Artists

Blues Popular Culture

Blues Festivals and Events

Blues Organizations and Associations




Eve Hullett

With years of experience in the field of non-profit education, Eve has done it all. From teaching to tutoring, Eve has worked with hundreds of students to help them succeed in their pursuit of a college education. Today, when Eve is not enjoying a day of hiking, she spends her time writing articles on the strategies and methods of being a good student and fulfilling your goals for a college education.

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