The Importance Of the Blues
I want to make the case for why the blues is as important today as it was during the early to mid 20th Century.
The newly decreed freedom of black american after the Civil War could not command humanity for blacks in the eyes of whites. It did not give them a heart and soul. This is where the blues comes in.
Origin Of The Blues
The blues style of music originated in the work fields of the southern United States. Historians believe that blues began in infancy as a field holler whose “call and response” style developed into work songs that matured into the blues
The entire span of the development and popularization of blues and its rock derivation have improved race relations in this country. From the minstrel shows to the British Invasion, the music has been a magnet that had no color restrictions. It drew blacks to the same shows as it did whites.
Beginning with the medicine shows at the turn-of-the-19th-century that featured and entertained both blacks and whites, blues performances have been a place to bring the two races together. Stories tell of black musicians playing dances where a cord was used to divide the dance floor in half, one side for blacks and the other for whites. By the end of the evening, the cord would be on the floor and blacks and whites would be dancing together. They were not seeing color, they were just feeling the music. It was a place where they could enjoy themselves and leave the Jim Crow laws at the door.
However, if it is true that imitation is the utmost form of flattery, then these shows were evidence of white’s attraction and fondness for black culture. They were, “a world in which black could be white, white could be black, anything could be itself and simultaneously its opposite”.
White and black musicians coming together did more to tear down racial barriers in the musical setting and made progress toward tearing them down in other settings.
“The examples are endless, but the conclusion is the same – music was music, and if a white musician liked a black sound, or vice versa, then there was no social disgrace in adapting it…So blues was always a multi-racial music”. Blues infected its fans, both black and white, with the craving to dance.
One way blues brought the races in contact with each other was through mixed dances and parties. The music got in the way of these attitudes and feelings and nobody cared who rubbed against who. Everybody was having a good time. They didn’t care what color your face was, for a moment…while the music was good.”
Memphis was a forerunner in its integration of whites and blacks, which developed because of its wealth of black musicians, both resident and passing through.
A massive shift was taking place in the listening habits of young white Americans, and the shift was felt very early in and around Memphis. Whites in the area had been hiring black entertainers for their school dances, country club parties, plantation cookouts, and other festivities for decades, and by the beginning of the fifties, most of the jukeboxes in recreation parlors, swimming pool club rooms, and other spots frequented by white teenagers were stocked almost exclusively with records by black artists. The teenagers who considered themselves sophisticates danced and drank and necked to a soundtrack of ‘the blues.’
Judd Phillips, brother of Sam Phillips and lover of Memphis music says that around Memphis:
the poor blacks and the poor whites were coming together as early as 1900, playing music”.
Most of the jukeboxes found in Memphis hangouts during the early 1900s were stocked with songs by black artists. Distributors, jukebox operators, and retailers knew that white teenagers were picking up on the feel of the black music.
Stewart – owner of a black radio program in Memphis TS – thought, “music really started breaking the barriers before the politics in America began to deal with it. [The races] began to communicate…because of the music…and the black radio in the black community being accepted and enjoyed…by the white community.”
In the present day, the blues greats of the past are revered and missed. The blues enthusiast of today is more likely to be white rather than black. Ironically, while today’s black Americans for the most part prefer other genres of music, many whites like to claim that only blacks can truly know, and therefore play the blues.
Whites have both a sense that their heritage is intertwined with black culture and gratitude that the blues, along with country-and-western, was the genesis of rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll became the backdrop of this new culture and against this backdrop skin color began to be drowned out by the music.
The British Invasion
It was not until the British Invasion when groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones appeared on the scene that young Americans began to treasure their own fountain of culture – the blues
The blues succeeded, at what politics, religion, and law could never do, in writing in the heart and soul what the Supreme Court could only write in books.”
The blues has brought us together in worship, celebration and heartbreak. It is a vital part of American history. It’s proof that we can live together in harmony free of prejudice and racial tensions.
Many blues fans and performers are now whites. The music has been completely accepted by white folks. In it we understand and empathize with our neighbors – seeing no color differences in each other. It makes us all more human.
It’s time for America to re-acknowledge the role the blues has played in our history to bring us closer together as a nation. We are all god’s children and no-one is more important than their neighbor.
Healing is a key part of the tradition of the blues, and Johnny Riley is on a mission to extend this tradition into the digital age.
Johnny Riley is now introducing his upcoming live album, “Johnny Riley Live From Bluesberry Cafe”. I posted a free track for you from the album. This track is called, “Change”.
If you are unable to download the music to your device I have posted a video that will show you how.
Just follow the instructions provided in the video and you should have no problem downloading the track directly to your device.
Pre-orders are open now. Order now and you will get TWO bonus tracks as well as a FREE copy of Johnny Riley’s country blues album. Limited Time Only.
Get Johnny’s new album and a FREE download of Johnny’s country blues album by going to the page below and placing your order before the pre-order expires.
Let me know what you think of the free track off my upcoming album, “Johnny Riley Live @ Bluesberries Cafe” .