For over a century, house parties have nurtured blues musicians and dancers in the Mississippi Delta. Each Friday and Saturday night, an audience gathers to hear a bluesman play his guitar or piano and sing. The guitar player may be accompanied by a harmonica player, a drummer, and a musician who rubs a broom handle across the floor to provide rhythm. As the evening progresses, audience members sing along with their own verses and tell stories as part of the performance.
Food and drink are essential to the house party. Their sale provides the owner of the house with income to pay the musicians and to make a profit. Typical fare includes homemade corn whiskey and cold beer served with chitlins, sliced bologna, and fried catfish sandwiches on “light” (white) bread. Food and drink are carried from the kitchen to an adjacent room, where the musicians and dancers gather.
Stories, jokes, and music are all part of the blues performance at a house party. The small room fills with the smell of food, cigarette smoke, and alcohol as couples talk, dance the slow drag, and sing along with the performer. Dancers speak to the singer, who responds to them through his music. The blues singer “talks the blues” with his audience as he works the conversation into his blues verses. After he sings a verse, the musician may continue his instrumental accompaniment during a talk session. Then he sings another verse while audience members try to remember rhymes and jokes to share at the next verse break. As they force the singer to integrate their response with his song, audience members influence the length and structure of each blues song. Experienced bluesmen know that audience response is a measure of their musical skill, and a successful blues session is filled with remarks and jokes that are shared as the music is played. This “call and response” ex-