Blues Music in the Sixties: A Story in Black and White

Blues Music in the Sixties: A Story in Black and White

Blues Music in the Sixties: A Story in Black and White

Blues Music in the Sixties: A Story in Black and White


Can a type of music be "owned"? Examining how music is linked to racial constructs and how African American musicians and audiences reacted to white appropriation, Blues Music in the Sixties shows the stakes when whites claim the right to play and live the blues.

In the 1960s, within the larger context of the civil rights movement and the burgeoning counterculture, the blues changed from black to white in its production and reception, as audiences became increasingly white. Yet, while this was happening, blackness--especially black masculinity--remained a marker of authenticity. Crossing color lines and mixing the beats of B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Janis Joplin; the Newport Folk Festival and the American Folk Blues Festival; and publications such as Living Blues, Ulrich Adelt discusses these developments, including the international aspects of the blues. He highlights the performers and venues that represented changing racial politics and addresses the impact and involvement of audiences and cultural brokers.


There has never been any doubt that the strength and power of blues
music has ensured that its influence can cross all boundaries and cultures
with relative ease. Blues music is here to enjoy, respect and celebrate, and
the door is open to all. Open it wide!

                    —Bob Brunning, Blues: The British Connection

[White blues performers] can never be bluespeople … because the blues
is not something they live but something they do—which makes all the
difference in the world. What distinguishes the bluesperson from the
blues performer is cultural-racial make-up, which can only be inherited by
a descendent of an ex-American slave.

                                —Julio Finn, The Bluesman

The two positions presented here, different as they may be, demonstrate the somewhat limited degree to which blues scholarship has been involved in a discussion of the music’s racial politics. Both the all-inclusive definition of the blues represented in the first quotation and the essentialist view of the genre as an exclusively black music represented in the second simplify the intricacies of race that have shaped the blues in its over one hundred years of history. To examine the changing racialization of sounds, images, and audiences associated with the blues, this book focuses on the key decade of the 1960s. In the 1960s, the blues was reconfigured from black to white in its production and reception. In the larger context of the burgeoning counterculture, audiences for blues music became increasingly white and European. Yet, while the blues was becoming white, blackness, in particular black masculinity, remained a marker of authenticity. As growing numbers of white people started to listen to and to play black blues, essentialist notions about race remained largely unchallenged and were sometimes even solidified in the process. By the end of the 1960s, moments of cross-racial communication and a more flexible approach to racialized sounds had largely been thwarted by practices that clearly defined racial . . .

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