Appalachian Blues

By Pearson, Barry Lee | Black Music Research Journal, Spring-Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Appalachian Blues


Pearson, Barry Lee, Black Music Research Journal


By sheer coincidence, the U.S. Congress declared July 2002 to July 2003 "The Year of Appalachia" while, concurrently, the Senate designated 2003 "The Year of the Blues." Whatever the value of such congressional endorsements, the conjunction of these two separate actions provides

an opportune historical moment to consider the blues tradition in Appalachia. Appalachian blues, whether an oxymoron or a valid though undervalued blues substyle, has received little scholarly attention. Despite the history of Appalachian studies and the dynamics of contemporary blues research, the region and the genre have not been paired. Possibly, this is because the terms themselves pose a number of challenges.

In the American imagination, Appalachia consists of a rugged, yet beautiful mountain chain inhabited by a relatively homogenous, marginalized population, poor in material wealth but rich in traditional culture, especially "authentic" forms of music. From this romantic perspective, Appalachia may be reduced to a half-dozen states: North and South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, with Bristol--a city that sits astride the Tennessee/Virginia border--as cultural center. On the other extreme, a more bureaucratic approach lists designated Appalachian counties in a full thirteen states: Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Approaching the region from a blues point of view, I find the former too limited and the latter too broad. Attempting to envision a blues region, I would limit the region to counties in Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, excluding Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York--not so much because there are no blues players in those states, but because they lack a recognizable, long-standing blues tradition.

I would also leave out Mississippi for a different reason. The prominence of Mississippi as the home of the blues is largely based on the dominant blues culture in the Delta and the adjoining hill country running down to Jackson. I would argue that artists born in designated Appalachian counties, such as Big Joe Williams, Booker White, or Howling Wolf, work largely within the Delta-based tradition and, for that matter, moved to and lived and worked in the Delta.

But even pared down to eight states, the region remains problematic because of its size and cultural diversity. Since it ranges from urban centers, such as Birmingham, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, to the small towns and farmsteads of Virginia to the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia, Appalachia embraces a musical kaleidoscope rather than a single common thread.

We also have to deal with the term blues, which designates an African-American song form that is both folk and popular culture and that came to the stage in 1902, to sheet music in 1912, and to phonograph recordings in 1920. Moreover, blues meant different things to different performers at different times in different venues. For a definition, I take my cue from the 260 blues artists that I have interviewed over the years. Although they do not all agree nor should be expected to, the majority offer a relatively consistent set of definitions that focus more on what blues does than on its formal characteristics. For this project, I look to what several Appalachian artists have to say about blues.

Their take on blues tends to downplay the stress on hard times and oppression that features so heavily in definitions put forward by Delta artists. For example, Alabama-born Wilbur "Big Chief" Ellis (1977) said, "Blues makes you happy sometimes, makes you sad sometimes 'cause it's a living thing." Virginian Archie Edwards (1986) offered a similar observation: "So, it's just the mood you're in. When you're moody, you sing a moody song; you're happy, you sing a happy song. …

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

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.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Appalachian Blues
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
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?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.