Original American Art Forms. Born of Struggle and Played In Celebration

 

 

 

 

Black History is American History.

Dr Carter G Woodson, the Father of Black History Month, looked forward to a time when general American History would incorporate Black History.

But, as it is, we get one month a year to reflect upon and to teach the history of the contributions of African Americans to American History, World History and to civilization.

Black History is much more than a few extraordinary individuals, or a few practices; such as, slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement.

A lot of Black History is painful, but a lot of it is inspiring.

As Dr MLK has said “We have been able to hew out of the Mountain of Despair a Stone of hope.”

Black History did not begin at Plymouth Rock or Jamestown, VA.

Granted, it took the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and a lot of struggles in between to secure for African Americans the basic right to citizenship that other Americans take for granted.

I will not try to paint with such a broad brush today.

Some where between Centuries of existence in Africa, the trans-Alantic Slave Trade, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and today… a new Culture was born..

That Culture includes the Religion of the Black Church, Music, Literature, Sports, Dance, language, television, and film.

Some of these are Authentic Original American Art Forms.

They were born in struggle, but they are played in celebration.

Music is the most widely acknowledged African American contribution to American and World Culture.

Black American Music is recognized and cherished all over the world.

Enslaved Africans mixed their traditional musical styles and influences with the harsh realities of their new surroundings and created Blues, Jazz, Gospel, Rythm & Blues, Hip-hop and many variations of these genres.

 

The origins of the Blues are closely related to the religious music of the Afro-American community, the spirituals.

The origins of the so called Negro Spirituals go back much further than the Blues, usually dating back to the middle of the 18th century, when the slaves were Christianized and began to sing and play Christian hymns.

Before the Blues gained its formal definition in terms of chord progressions, it was defined as the secular counterpart of the, so called, Negro Spirituals.

It was the low-down and dirty music played by the rural Blacks.

Depending on the religious community a musician belonged to, it was more or less considered as a sin to play this low-down music: 

Blues were the devil’s music.  

Musicians were therefore segregated into two categories: gospel and Blues singers, guitar preachers and songsters.

Rural Black music began to get recorded in the 1920s, both categories of musicians used very similar techniques: call-and-response patterns, blue notes, and slide guitars.

Gospel music was nevertheless using musical forms that were compatible with Christian hymns and therefore less marked by the Blues form than its secular counterpart.

 

The first publication of blues sheet music was in 1908: Antonio Maggio’s “I Got the Blues” is the first published song to use the word blues.

W. C. Handy‘s “The Memphis Blues” followed in1912.

 Handy, said he first heard the blues in Tutwiler, Mississippi in 1903.

The first recording by an African American singer was Mamie Smith‘s 1920 rendition of Perry Bradford‘s “Crazy Blues“.

But the origins of the Blues date back to  around 1890. 

They are very poorly documented, due in part to racial discrimination within American society, including academic circles, and to the low literacy rate of the rural African American community at the time.

 

 

Chroniclers began to report about Blues music in Southern Texas and Deep South at the dawn of the 20th century.

 

 

 

 

 

Jazz as America’s Premier Art Form

 

 

 Jazz and Blues: America’s Original Art Forms

Louis Armstrong sparked jazz, a fusion of sounds popular in New Orleans

Jazz stars on postage stamps  (© AP Images)

Jazz stars have become national icons, even depicted on postage stamps.

(The following is excerpted from the U.S. Department of State publication, American Popular Music.)

 

Jazz music was the anthem for the first well-defined American youth culture. 

Rebelling against the horrors of mechanized warfare and the straitlaced morality of the 19th century, millions of college-age Americans adopted jazz as a way to mark their difference from their parents’ generation.

 

  Jazz’s attraction as a symbol of sensuality, freedom, and fun appear’s to have transcended the boundaries of race, religion, and class, creating a precedent for phenomena such as the Swing Era, Rhythm ‘n Blues, and Rock ’n’ Roll.

 

America’s classical music”, Jazz, is inextricably linked to the African American experience.

Jazz, one of America’s original art forms, emerged in New Orleans, Louisiana, around 1900.

New Orleans’s position as a gateway between the United States and the Caribbean, its socially stratified population, and its strong residues of colonial French culture, encouraged the formation of a hybrid musical culture unlike that in any other American city.

Jazz emerged from the confluence of New Orleans’s diverse musical traditions, including ragtime, marching bands, the rhythms used in Mardi Gras and funerary processions, and African-American song traditions, both sacred (the Spirituals) and secular (the Blues).

The New Orleans-born cornetist and singer Louis Armstrong is commonly credited with establishing certain core features of jazz – particularly its rhythmic drive or swing and its emphasis on solo instrumental virtuosity.

 Armstrong also profoundly influenced the development of mainstream popular singing during the 1920s and 1930s.  

Armstrong emerged as an influential musician on the local scene in the years following World War I, and subsequently migrated to Chicago to join the band of his mentor King (Joe) Oliver, playing on what are regarded by many critics as the first real jazz records.

In 1924 Armstrong joined Fletcher Henderson’s band in New York City, pushing the band in the direction of a hotter, more improvisatory style that helped to create the synthesis of jazz and ballroom dance music that would later be called Swing.

By the 1930s Armstrong was the best–known Black musician in the world, as a result of his recordings and film and radio appearances.

Throughout his career Armstrong often spoke of the importance of maintaining a balance between improvisation (or “routining,” as he called it) and straightforward treatment of the melody.

Ain’t no sense in playing a hundred notes if one will do,” Armstrong is reported to have said on his 70th birthday.

[This article is excerpted from American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MP3 by Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman, published by Oxford University Press, copyright (2003, 2007), and offered in an abridged edition by the Bureau of International Information Programs.]

 

Who generally began to say, JAZZ is “America’s Premier Art Form”?

This question was posted to a jazz research message board on April 19, 2008.

U S Representative John Conyers, authored a Congressional Bill (HR 57) in 1987 which designated Jazz “a rare and valuable national American treasure to which we should devote our attention, support and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood and promulgated.”

It became  the Jazz Preservation Act.

Rep. John Conyers’s good friend, Dr. Billy Taylor, called Jazz “America’s classical music” long before the Jazz Preservation Act .

Dizzy Gillespie said jazz is “our native art form” in 1957,

And an unnamed contributor to Harper‘s described “talk of jazz as a native art-form” in 1950,

and

A 1946 issue of the New Republic called jazz “the only original American art form.”

The Jazz Record, insisted that jazz is “America’s first wholly native art form” (ca. 1943) and

In 1944 RCA Victor issued a set of records claiming to be “presenting Jazz music as an American art form worthy of study.”

Earlier citations  included:

“Naturally, there have clustered together little groups of serious European thinkers to make the same discovery that Americans have made, that Jazz is a great art form” (Paul Whiteman, Time, 1926); “as far as America is concerned it (jazz) is actually our characteristic expression” (Gilbert Seldes, The Seven Lively Arts, 1924);

 

The quotes from the earlier dates are significant in that this was a minority opinion among the cultural elite at the time.

There was much heated debate about whether or not Jazz was even music, much less art. 

Mostly classical conductors, saw jazz as having artistic merit, but most saw it as an abomination that would lead to the corruption of society, probably because of its purported origins in African American culture.

 

 

Ken Burns took jazz away from the improvisers and performing musicians and put it into the hands of corporate-friendly composers and academicians.

When James Reese Europe brought his African American military ragtime band to France in 1918, the local musicians couldn’t believe the sounds that the Harlem Hell-fighters were producing with their instruments.

Trumpets growled and wah-ed, 

            Trombones slided and belched,

                          Saxophones bent notes and played without vibrato.

The first “official” jazz recording in 1917 of the Original Dixieland Jass Band included “Livery Stable Blues,” where the instruments imitated the sounds of barnyard animals.

Over the decades, an indispensable aspect of the artistry of jazz performance was mastery of a set of extended techniques that could become part of one’s “voice.”

Johnny Hodges’s swooping melodies,  

Roy Eldridge’s growls,  Walter Page’s slap bass.

Listen to John Coltrane and ask yourself if his sound and technique would have any place in the classical saxophone world.

One thing is clear, Coltrane was original—and he was original in a field of original saxophonists.

It doesn’t take a very discerning ear to hear the difference between Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Dewey Redman, Warne Marsh, Stan Getz, or Dexter Gordon.

Each took an unorthodox way of playing and milked it into a personal voice.

 

Blues

Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre that originated in African-American communities of primarily the “Deep South” of the United States around the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads.

 

The origins of the blues are closely related to the religious music of the Afro-American community, the spirituals. The origins of spirituals go back much further than the blues, usually dating back to the middle of the 18th century, when the slaves were Christianized and began to sing and play Christian hymns, in particular those of Isaac Watts, which were very popular. Before the blues gained its formal definition in terms of chord progressions, it was defined as the secular counterpart of the spirituals. It was the low-down music played by the rural Blacks.

Depending on the religious community a musician belonged to, it was more or less considered as a sin to play this low-down music: blues was the devil’s music. Musicians were therefore segregated into two categories: gospel and blues singers, guitar preachers and songsters. However, at the time rural Black music began to get recorded in the 1920s, both categories of musicians used very similar techniques: call-and-response patterns, blue notes, and slide guitars. Gospel music was nevertheless using musical forms that were compatible with Christian hymns and therefore less marked by the blues form than its secular counterpart.

Etymology

One explanation for the origin of the “blues” is that it derived from mysticism involving blue indigo, which was used by many West African cultures in death and mourning ceremonies where all the mourner’s garments would have been dyed blue to indicate suffering.

This mystical association towards the indigo plant, grown in many southern U.S. slave plantations, combined with the West African slaves who sang of their suffering as they worked on the cotton that the indigo dyed eventually resulted in these expressed songs being known as “the Blues.”

 

Lyrics

The lyrics of early traditional blues verses probably often consisted of a single line repeated four times.

The lines are often sung following a pattern closer to a rhythmic talk than to a melody.

Early blues frequently took the form of a loose narrative.

The singer voiced his or her “personal woes in a world of harsh reality: a lost love, the cruelty of police officers, oppression at the hands of white folk, [and] hard times.”

 

The lyrics often relate troubles experienced within African American society.

For instance Blind Lemon Jefferson‘s “Rising High Water Blues” (1927) tells about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927:

“Backwater rising, Southern peoples can’t make no time

I said, backwater rising, Southern peoples can’t make no time

And I can’t get no hearing from that Memphis girl of mine.”

However, although the blues gained an association with misery and oppression, the lyrics could also be humorous and raunchy as well:

“Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me,

Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me,

It may be sending you baby, but it’s worrying the hell out of me.”

From Big Joe Turner‘s “Rebecca”, a compilation of traditional blues lyrics

Form

 

The first publication of blues sheet music was in 1908: Antonio Maggio’s “I Got the Blues” is the first published song to use the word blues. Hart Wand‘s “Dallas Blues” followed in 1912; W. C. Handy‘s “The Memphis Blues” followed in the same year. The first recording by an African American singer was Mamie Smith‘s 1920 rendition of Perry Bradford‘s “Crazy Blues”. But the origins of the blues date back to some decades earlier, probably around 1890. They are very poorly documented, due in part to racial discrimination within American society, including academic circles, and to the low literacy rate of the rural African American community at the time.

 

 

 

The social and economic reasons for the appearance of the blues are not fully known.

The first appearance of the blues is often dated after the Emancipation Act of 1863, between 1870 and 1900,

A period that coincides with post emancipation and, later, the development of juke joints as places where Blacks went to listen to music, dance, or gamble after a hard day’s work.

This period corresponds to the transition from slavery to sharecropping,, and the expansion of railroads in the southern United States.

Several scholars characterize the early 1900s development of blues music as a move from group performances to a more individualized style.

They argue that the development of the blues is associated with the newly acquired freedom of the enslaved people.

According to Lawrence Levine, “there was a direct relationship between the national ideological emphasis upon the individual, the popularity of Booker T. Washington’s teachings, and the rise of the blues.”

Levine states that “psychologically, socially, and economically, African-Americans were being acculturated in a way that would have been impossible during slavery, and it is hardly surprising that their secular music reflected this as much as their religious music did.”

There are few characteristics common to all blues music, because the genre took its shape from the idiosyncrasies of individual performances.

Blues has evolved from the unaccompanied vocal music and oral traditions of slaves imported from West Africa

 no specific African musical form can be identified as the single direct ancestor of the blues. However many blues elements, such as the call-and-response format and the use of blue notes, can be traced back to the music of Africa.

 

 

The musical forms and styles that are now considered the “blues” as well as modern “country music” arose in the same regions during the 19th century in the southern United States.

Recorded blues and country can be found from as far back as the 1920s, when the popular record industry developed and created marketing categories called “race music” and “hillbilly music” to sell music by Blacks for blacks and by whites for whites, respectively.

At the time, there was no clear musical division between “blues” and “country,” except for the ethnicity of the performer, and even that was sometimes documented incorrectly by record companies.

Blues” became a code word for a record designed to sell to Black listeners.

 

The origins of the blues are closely related to the religious music of the Afro-American community, the spirituals. The origins of spirituals go back much further than the blues, usually dating back to the middle of the 18th century, when the slaves were Christianized and began to sing and play Christian hymns, in particular those of Isaac Watts, which were very popular. Before the blues gained its formal definition in terms of chord progressions, it was defined as the secular counterpart of the spirituals. It was the low-down music played by the rural Blacks.

Depending on the religious community a musician belonged to, it was more or less considered as a sin to play this low-down music: blues was the devil’s music. Musicians were therefore segregated into two categories: gospel and blues singers, guitar preachers and songsters. However, at the time rural Black music began to get recorded in the 1920s, both categories of musicians used very similar techniques: call-and-response patterns, blue notes, and slide guitars. Gospel music was nevertheless using musical forms that were compatible with Christian hymns and therefore less marked by the blues form than its secular counterpart.

 

1960s and 1970s

By the beginning of the 1960s, genres influenced by African American music such as rock and roll and soul were part of mainstream popular music. White performers had brought African-American music to new audiences, both within the U.S. and abroad. However, the blues wave that brought artists such as Muddy Waters to the foreground had stopped.

Bluesmen such as Big Bill Broonzy and Willie Dixon started looking for new markets in Europe. Dick Waterman and the blues festivals he organized in Europe played a major role in propagating blues music abroad. In the UK, bands emulated U.S. blues legends, and UK blues-rock-based bands had an influential role throughout the 1960s.

 

Blues performers such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters continued to perform to enthusiastic audiences, inspiring new artists steeped in traditional blues, such as New York–born Taj Mahal. John Lee Hooker blended his blues style with rock elements and playing with younger white musicians, creating a musical style that can be heard on the 1971 album Endless Boogie.

B. B. King‘s virtuoso guitar technique earned him the eponymous title “king of the blues”.

 

 

The music of the Civil Rights and Free Speech movements in the U.S. prompted a resurgence of interest in American roots music and early African American music.

The Jimmi Bass Music festivals such as the Newport Folk Festival brought traditional blues to a new audience, which helped to revive interest in prewar acoustic blues and performers such as Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, and Reverend Gary Davis.

Many compilations of classic prewar blues were republished by the Yazoo Records. J. B. Lenoir from the Chicago blues movement in the 1950s recorded several LPs using acoustic guitar, sometimes accompanied by Willie Dixon on the acoustic bass or drums. His songs, originally distributed in Europe only, commented on political issues such as racism or Vietnam War issues, which was unusual for this period. His Alabama Blues recording had a song that stated:

I never will go back to Alabama, that is not the place for me (2x)

You know they killed my sister and my brother,

and the whole world let them peoples go down there free

White audiences’ interest in the blues during the 1960s increased due to the Chicago-based Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the British blues movement.

1980s to the 2000s

Since at least the 1980s, there has been a resurgence of interest in the blues among a certain part of the African-American population, particularly around Jackson, Mississippi and other deep South regions.

ften termed “soul blues” or “Southern soul“, the music at the heart of this movement was given new life by the unexpected success of two particular recordings on the Jackson-based Malaco label: Z. Z. Hill‘s Down Home Blues (1982) and Little Milton‘s The Blues is Alright (1984).

Contemporary African-American performers who work this vein of the blues include Bobby Rush, Denise LaSalle, Sir Charles Jones, Bettye LaVette, Marvin Sease, Peggy Scott-Adams, Mel Waiters, Clarence Carter, Dr. “Feelgood” Potts, O.B. Buchana, Ms. Jody, Shirley Brown, and dozens of others.

During the 1980s, blues also continued in both traditional and new forms. In 1986, the album Strong Persuader revealed Robert Cray as a major blues artist. The first Stevie Ray Vaughan recording, Texas Flood, was released in 1983, and the Texas-based guitarist exploded onto the international stage. 1989 saw a revival of John Lee Hooker‘s popularity with the album The Healer. Eric Clapton, known for his performances with the Blues Breakers and Cream, made a comeback in the 1990s with his album Unplugged, in which he played some standard blues numbers on acoustic guitar. However, beginning in the 1990s, digital multitrack recording and other technological advances and new marketing strategies that include video clip production have increased costs, and challenge the spontaneity and improvisation that are an important component of blues music.

In the 1980s and 1990s, blues publications such as Living Blues and Blues Revue began to be distributed, major cities began forming blues societies, outdoor blues festivals became more common, and more nightclubs and venues for blues emerged.

 

In the 2000s to the 2010s blues-rock gained a cultural following especially as popularity of the internet increased and artists started creating YouTube channels, forums, and Facebook pages. Many notable blues-rock musicians in this time period are Beth Hart, Warren Haynes, Gary Clark Jr., Derek Trucks, Jason Ricci and the New Blood, Susan Tedeschi, Joe Bonamassa, and Shemekia Copeland. Alternative rock groups still combined strong elements of blues in their music especially Awolnation, Cage the Elephant, The White Stripes, and The Black Keys.

Musical impact

 

 

 

Before World War II, the boundaries between blues and jazz were not so clear.

After WWII, blues had a substantial influence on jazz. Bebop classics, such as Charlie Parker‘s “Now’s the Time”, used the blues form with the pentatonic scale and blue notes.

Bebop marked a major shift in the role of jazz, from a popular style of music for dancing, to a “high-art,” less-accessible, cerebral “musician’s music”. The audience for both blues and jazz split, and the border between blues and jazz became more defined.

In popular culture

Like jazz, rock and roll, heavy metal music, hip hop music, reggae, country music, and pop music, blues has been accused of being the “devil‘s music” and of inciting violence and other poor behavior.

 

In the early 20th century, the blues was considered disreputable, especially as white audiences began listening to the blues during the 1920s.

In the early twentieth century, W.C. Handy was the first to popularize blues-influenced music among non-black Americans.

During the blues revival of the 1960s and ’70s, acoustic blues artist Taj Mahal and legendary Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins wrote and performed music that figured prominently in the popularly and critically acclaimed film Sounder (1972). The film earned Mahal a Grammy nomination for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture and a BAFTA nomination.

 

Perhaps the most visible example of the blues style of music in the late 20th century came in 1980, when Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi released the film The Blues Brothers. The film drew many of the biggest living influencers of the Rhythm and blues genre together, such as Ray Charles, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, and John Lee Hooker.

The band formed also began a successful tour under the Blues Brothers marquee. 1998 brought a sequel, Blues Brothers 2000 that, while not holding as great a critical and financial success, featured a much larger number of blues artists, such as B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Erykah Badu, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Charlie Musselwhite, Blues Traveler, Jimmie Vaughan, Jeff Baxter.

In 2003, Martin Scorsese made significant efforts to promote the blues to a larger audience. He asked several famous directors such as Clint Eastwood and Wim Wenders to participate in a series of documentary films for PBS called The Blues. He also participated in the rendition of compilations of major blues artists in a series of high-quality CDs. Blues guitarist and vocalist Keb’ Mo’ performed his blues rendition of “America, the Beautiful” in 2006 to close out the final season of the television series The West Wing.

 

 

 

 

 
   
   
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Charley Patton, one of the originators of the Delta blues style, playing with a pick or a bottleneck slide.

 

 

Bessie Smith, an early blues singer, was known for her powerful voice.

 

 

Muddy Waters, described as “the guiding light of the modern blues school”[84]

Otis Rush, a pioneer of the ‘West Side Sound’

 

Blues legend B.B. King with his guitar, “Lucille”.

Blues performers such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters continued to perform to enthusiastic audiences, inspiring new artists steeped in traditional blues, such as New York–born Taj Mahal. John Lee Hooker blended his blues style with rock elements and playing with younger white musicians, creating a musical style that can be heard on the 1971 album Endless Boogie. B. B. King‘s virtuoso guitar technique earned him the eponymous title “king of the blues”.

 

Duke Ellington straddled the big band and bebop genres. Ellington extensively used the blues form

 

The music of Taj Mahal for the 1972 movie Sounder marked a revival of interest in acoustic blues.

 

 

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