The Cambridge Companion to Blues and Gospel Music

The Cambridge Companion to Blues and Gospel Music

The Cambridge Companion to Blues and Gospel Music

The Cambridge Companion to Blues and Gospel Music

Synopsis

From Robert Johnson to Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson to John Lee Hooker, blues and gospel artists play significant roles in twentieth-century culture. This overview of these genres provides an expression of the twentieth-century black American experience. Histories are questioned; songs and lyrical imagery are analyzed; perspectives are presented from the standpoint of voice, guitar, piano, and working musician. A concluding chapter discusses the impact that the genres have had on mainstream musical culture.

Excerpt

Some time probably in 1971, in a run-down cinema in a tiny town on the coast of middle England, a singer/guitarist then unknown to me flew for ten minutes over the simplest harmonic structure. To someone then coming to grips with the harmonies of early modernism, this performance by Ten Years After on the film of the Woodstock festival was a revelation, perhaps analogous in impact to the effect of people like B. B. King on a young Eric Clapton a decade earlier. There was a crucial difference, however. Having undertaken a metaphorical journey back to discovering where such performances came from, I was in terested notintry ing to re-createand relive that atmosphere as the British blues movement was, but in understanding it as something I could never fully partake in. It is for this reason that, as a scholar of popular music, I have under taken to put to gether this volume. The twin roles of fan and scholar of popular music are now common currency, even if the necessary tensions are irresolvable, even in theory. Those tensions are, in their way, manifested in this collection. Although all the contributors to this volume are both fans and scholars, some participate in the musical practices they describe, while others (myself, for instance) only observe. We thus form a microcosm of the involvement of our readership for, while the public taste for consuming both blues and gospel is more stabilized now that it was twenty or thirty years ago, a sizeable number of people still perform the music, and are themselves involved in critical admiration of music produced up to eighty years ago.

The scope of the Cambridge Companions is large indeed, covering genres, oeuvres, repertoires shown to have had an undeniable effect on musicmaking, n the industrialized West. It is therefore entirely appropriate that the series should contain a volume devoted to genres of music originating with a disenfranchised slave culture in small pockets of what is now the United States of America, genres which have posed a perennial challenge to the music of established culture. That challenge must remain as a subtext, Those genres, of blues and gospel, are the subject of this volume and, because they are not always deemed worthy of the depth of attention they receive here, it is valuable, briefly, to ponder the apparent differences between, hese genres, their developments, and those of the European concert hall and opera house where such depth of attention goes unremarked.

For many years after its appearance in the early years of the previous century, the blues was a largely improvised music. With the exception of some moments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, improvisation . . .

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