Blues History at a Glance

The Christian Science Monitor, November 21, 1996 | Go to article overview

Blues History at a Glance


Early 1900s

"Blues" was already a term applied to the musical tradition. The field holler leads to the work song, which leads to the spiritual and the blues song.

1920s to 1930s Blues gets recorded. Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith ("St. Louis Blues") are the first singers to be recorded. W.C. Handy pens songs, establishing himself as "Father of the Blues." In the Delta, Charlie Patton is first "star" of blues, performing country blues. Son House influences the mythic Robert Johnson. In Texas, Blind Lemon Jefferson form. In New Orleans, piano blues emerge. In the West, more bands. John and Alan Lomax conduct field recordings of blues musicians in the South such as Leadbelly for the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Songs. 1940s As blacks migrate to the north, themes of highways and trains appear in music. Alan Lomax records Muddy Waters. Artists start to gain ground: John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Nighthawk, Little Walter, Johnny Shines, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, and others. "King Biscuit Time" radio show broadcasts blues out of Helena, Ark. Muddy Waters moves to Chicago and "plugs in"; T-Bone Walker plugs in down in Texas a little later - electric blues is born. 1950s Sun Records in Memphis, Chess Records in Chicago, and others support blues. Producer-musician Willie Dixon writes songs for greats, including "Hoochie Coochie Man" for Muddy Waters. Elvis Presley - white boy sings blues, then rock emerges. In the late '50s, blues artists play for enthusiastic audiences in Europe. …

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