By Jessica McElrath
Blues music reflected
the new status of African Americans. Slaves newly acquired freedom, Booker
T. Washington’s teachings, and the Horatio Alger model, which asserted
that the individual molds his own destiny, influenced this form of personalized
music. 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. Psychologically,
socially, and economically, Negroes 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." (Levine, Lawrence W., Black Culture and Black Consciousness.) As
a consequence, it was the emphasis on the individual that influenced the
blues personalized form of song.
The blues was
first sung by men at leisure, and was called the folk blues. Some folk
blues singers sung in medicine shows and touring carnivals. As black vaudeville
singers came in contact with country singers, they eventually learned
to sing the blues. Vaudeville singers brought a professional quality to
it and constructed the foundation for the Classic Blues.
Americans migrated North in the early 20th century, they brought the blues
with them. Coming from New Orleans, black-butt pianist who played the
blues in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, gave way to the Fast Western
pianist who sang as they played, imitating Southern guitarists. Country
singers joined the black-butt and the Fast Western pianist migration,
and brought their style to Chicago, Detroit, and New York, where the classic
blues singers united with the New Orleans and Fast Western musicians,
and introduced their blues style in clubs, theaters, and dance halls.
Blues style was popular among newly arrived African Americans in the cities.
The migration of many blacks to the cities gave them a new freedom from
the church and community that had not been experienced in rural areas.
Blacks demanded entertainment, and black theaters, dance halls, and clubs
were opened. Women stopped singing in their churches and schools, and
began to perform in theaters, clubs, dance halls, and vaudeville shows.
The first recording
of the blues was in 1895. George W. Johnson's recording of "Laughing Song"
was the first blues song to be recorded. Thereafter, blues songs began
to appear in music rolls. The 1906 series of Music for the Aedian Grand,
listed one blues title among the forty-nine music rolls.
The blues entered
the forefront in 1920, when Mamie Smith's recording of "Crazy Blues" and
"It's Right Here for You" became popular and opened the doors to other
blues singers. The record was priced at one dollar and sold 75,000 copies
the first month of release.
for the recorded blues was almost entirely black during the 1920s and
1930s, and the records became known as "race records." Record companies
advertised exclusively to blacks and only black stores sold the records.
As a result of Smith's success, record companies seized the opportunity
to make a profit in the new market. Companies searched for talented blues
artists, and singers such as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter,
and Ethel Waters, became popular blues artists.The
popularity of the blues marked a new era for black music. It combined
the styles of the past with a new type of song. The result was the creation
of a style of music that would eventually contribute to the development