Scholars of Syncopation Go to the Delta ; Annual Gathering at Arkansas State University Gives the Blues Their Due

By Savoye, Craig | The Christian Science Monitor, April 23, 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Scholars of Syncopation Go to the Delta ; Annual Gathering at Arkansas State University Gives the Blues Their Due


Savoye, Craig, The Christian Science Monitor


When Jim Baird is asked to define the blues, he pauses for a moment and then recites a B.B. King line: "Nobody loves me but my mother - and she could be jivin' too."

"Americans are loved for two things around the world: their movies and their music. And the blues are the basis of popular music," says Mr. Baird, a professor at the University of North Texas who has been studying American culture and music since he first discovered the blues as a college student in 1962.

The juke joints where the blues took root here in the Delta have been closing down, but academic exploration of this uniquely American art form - midwife to a half-dozen other musical genres - is thriving from coast to coast.

At the University of Virginia, for example, a class looks at the impact of Robert Johnson, an early bluesman credited with influencing performers as diverse as Eric Clapton and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Johnson was only 28 when he died in 1938, but his music "remains the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice," Clapton has said. Although Johnson received little formal education, the course description says his lyrics are "tightly wrought poems worthy of intense literary examination."

The rise of African-American studies departments on university campuses, in fact, has been a significant catalyst for a proliferation of courses on the blues.

And an annual symposium for scholars interested in the blues is now in its eighth year at Arkansas State University. It was conceived as a conference on the history and culture of the Mississippi Delta region, but the response to the first year's subject, the blues, was so overwhelming that it has been repeated ever since.

The original conference took place during what is generally referred to as the second blues revival, sparked by Columbia Records' 1990 reissue of Robert Johnson's collected music. This year's symposium, which just concluded, lured about three dozen scholars, some from as far away as Genoa, Italy.

The flip side of the American Dream

Why the intense academic interest in the blues? If movies and music are indeed America's two truly unique cultural exports, the history of film is largely a product of white America, while the blues is an African-American creation. For that reason, say some, the music that chronicles the flip side of the American Dream has been slower to receive scholarly attention, and its impact on music worldwide is still underrated.

Wholly different strains of African and European music were combined to produce Delta blues, says William Clements, a professor of folklore at ASU and an organizer of the symposium. "The blues were not only a new creation, but became the foundation on which other forms of music were built."

A product of the Delta

Unlike rock 'n' roll, which has but a few vague geographical landmarks, such as Graceland, the blues are a specific product of the Delta and the African-American experience here.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Scholars of Syncopation Go to the Delta ; Annual Gathering at Arkansas State University Gives the Blues Their Due
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?