The blues is a musical style that originated from the African slaves who were taken to North America (now the United States) by the European slave traders. Even though it is not known when and where exactly the blues music was first heard we know that the music started to take its modern form during the 19th century. And from one of the darkest period in human history came out a music that changed the world of music.
Music Shaped By Deep Melancholy
The Old Plantation
(Slaves Dancing on a South Carolina Plantation), ca. 1785-1795. watercolor on paper,
attributed to John Rose, Beaufort County, South Carolina. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum,
Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.
The African slaves were subjected to mandatory labour and to unimaginable hardship. The only way they could escape from this reality was to pray and sing. They tried to distract themselves from the horror by singing. They sang in the rhythms they knew from their past and also they took elements of local folk music. They would often sing what is called in a call and response manner. This means one person will sing a phrase and then other workers working around him/her will repeat that phrase. Singing was one of the ways they could find some solace. While they worked and worked and worked, music came out of their tortured soul. Their blood and tears gave birth to the blues.
Early Blues Artists
We cannot possibly know the names of the earliest people that sang the blues because no proper historical documents exist to exactly pinpoint that information. But some of the early blues musicians who shaped the music and gave the music its modern form were Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and the most famous Robert Johnson. There were, of course, many others who also helped create the modern blues sound.
But How Did It Change The World?
A more appropriate question would be perhaps to ask which popular contemporary music was not influenced by the blues or more precisely blues guitar. The answer that is almost each and every music we hear now took elements of the blues. Some of the most popular genre we know today were even originated from the blues. Have you heard of the music called rock and roll? Of course, you have. Rock and roll music came from blues guitar playing. After its creation rock and roll soon gave birth to the genre we call rock music. So, every early or modern rock band that you like are indebted to the blues. From Eric Clapton to Led Zeppelin, from The Rolling Stones to The Beatles, from Pink Floyd to AC/DC, from Kiss to Guns N’ Roses – every one of these artists’ music are directly linked to the blues. Maybe it is needless to mention that all of these artists are among the best-selling musicians in the recorded history of music, The Beatles being literally the best selling artist of all time. That is kind of impressive, to put it modestly.
Is this making you curious? Keep an eye out for our article next week where we will talk about the most important blues guitarists of all time.