African-American singers 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. Although the blues gained an association with misery and oppression, the lyrics could also be humorous and raunchy: .
Hokum blues celebrated both comedic lyrical content and a boisterous, farcical performance style. Blues songs with sexually explicit lyrics were known as dirty blues. The lyrical content became slightly simpler in postwar blues, which tended to focus on relationship woes or sexual worries. Lyrical themes that frequently appeared in prewar blues, such as economic depression, farming, devils, gambling, magic, floods and drought, were less common in postwar blues. The writer Ed Morales claimed that Yoruba mythology played a part in early blues, citing Robert Johnson 's " Cross Road Blues " as a "thinly veiled reference to Eleggua , the orisha in charge of the crossroads".
The blues form is a cyclic musical form in which a repeating progression of chords mirrors the call and response scheme commonly found in African and African-American music. During the first decades of the 20th century blues music was not clearly defined in terms of a particular chord progression. Idiosyncratic numbers of bars are occasionally used, such as the 9-bar progression in " Sitting on Top of the World ", by Walter Vinson.
The blues chords associated to a twelve-bar blues are typically a set of three different chords played over a bar scheme. They are labeled by Roman numbers referring to the degrees of the progression. The last chord is the dominant V turnaround , marking the transition to the beginning of the next progression.
The lyrics generally end on the last beat of the tenth bar or the first beat of the 11th bar, and the final two bars are given to the instrumentalist as a break; the harmony of this two-bar break, the turnaround, can be extremely complex, sometimes consisting of single notes that defy analysis in terms of chords. Much of the time, some or all of these chords are played in the harmonic seventh 7th form. The use of the harmonic seventh interval is characteristic of blues and is popularly called the "blues seven". At a ratio, it is not close to any interval on the conventional Western diatonic scale.
In melody , blues is distinguished by the use of the flattened third , fifth and seventh of the associated major scale.
Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and call-and-response, and they form a repetitive effect called a groove. Characteristic of the blues since its Afro-American origins, the shuffles played a central role in swing music. When this riff was played over the bass and the drums, the groove "feel" was created. Shuffle rhythm is often vocalized as " dow , da dow , da dow , da" or " dump , da dump , da dump , da":  it consists of uneven, or "swung", eighth notes.
On a guitar this may be played as a simple steady bass or it may add to that stepwise quarter note motion from the fifth to the sixth of the chord and back.
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The first publication of blues sheet music may have been "I Got the Blues", published by New Orleans musician Antonio Maggio in and described as "the earliest published composition known to link the condition of having the blues to the musical form that would become popularly known as 'the blues. Handy 's " The Memphis Blues " followed in the same year. But the origins of the blues were some decades earlier, probably around Reports of blues music in southern Texas and the Deep South were written at the dawn of the 20th century. Charles Peabody mentioned the appearance of blues music at Clarksdale, Mississippi , and Gate Thomas reported similar songs in southern Texas around — These observations coincide more or less with the recollections of Jelly Roll Morton , who said he first heard blues music in New Orleans in ; Ma Rainey , who remembered first hearing the blues in the same year in Missouri ; and W.
Handy , who first heard the blues in Tutwiler, Mississippi , in The first extensive research in the field was performed by Howard W. Odum , who published an anthology of folk songs from Lafayette County, Mississippi , and Newton County, Georgia , between and They are now lost. Other recordings that are still available were made in by Lawrence Gellert.
Later, several recordings were made by Robert W. Gordon's successor at the library was John Lomax. In the s, Lomax and his son Alan made a large number of non-commercial blues recordings that testify to the huge variety of proto-blues styles, such as field hollers and ring shouts. The social and economic reasons for the appearance of the blues are not fully known.
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Several scholars characterize the development of blues music in the early s as a move from group performance to individualized performance. 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.
There are few characteristics common to all blues music, because the genre took its shape from the idiosyncrasies of individual performers. Call-and-response shouts were an early form of blues-like music; they were a "functional expression Blues has evolved from the unaccompanied vocal music and oral traditions of slaves imported from West Africa and rural blacks into a wide variety of styles and subgenres, with regional variations across the United States. Although blues as it is now known can be seen as a musical style based on both European harmonic structure and the African call-and-response tradition that transformed into an interplay of voice and guitar,   the blues form itself bears no resemblance to the melodic styles of the West African griots , and the influences are faint and tenuous.
No specific African musical form can be identified as the single direct ancestor of the blues. That blue notes predate their use in blues and have an African origin is attested to by "A Negro Love Song", by the English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor , from his African Suite for Piano , written in , which contains blue third and seventh notes. The Diddley bow a homemade one-stringed instrument found in parts of the American South in the early twentieth century and the banjo are African-derived instruments that may have helped in the transfer of African performance techniques into the early blues instrumental vocabulary.
It is similar to the musical instrument that griots and other Africans such as the Igbo  played called halam or akonting by African peoples such as the Wolof , Fula and Mandinka. Blues music also adopted elements from the "Ethiopian airs", minstrel shows and Negro spirituals , including instrumental and harmonic accompaniment. The musical forms and styles that are now considered the blues as well as modern country music arose in the same regions of the southern United States during the 19th century.
Recorded blues and country music can be found as far back as the s, when the record industry created the marketing categories " 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. Though musicologists can now attempt to define the blues narrowly in terms of certain chord structures and lyric forms thought to have originated in West Africa, audiences originally heard the music in a far more general way: it was simply the music of the rural south, notably the Mississippi Delta.
Black and white musicians shared the same repertoire and thought of themselves as " songsters " rather than blues musicians. The notion of blues as a separate genre arose during the black migration from the countryside to urban areas in the s and the simultaneous development of the recording industry. 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 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.
It was the low-down music played by rural blacks. Depending on the religious community a musician belonged to, it was more or less considered a sin to play this low-down music: blues was the devil's music. Musicians were therefore segregated into two categories: gospel singers and blues singers, guitar preachers and songsters. However, when rural black music began to be recorded in the s, both categories of musicians used 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.
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The American sheet music publishing industry produced a great deal of ragtime music. Handy was a formally trained musician, composer and arranger who helped to popularize the blues by transcribing and orchestrating blues in an almost symphonic style, with bands and singers. He became a popular and prolific composer, and billed himself as the "Father of the Blues"; however, his compositions can be described as a fusion of blues with ragtime and jazz, a merger facilitated using the Cuban habanera rhythm that had long been a part of ragtime;   Handy's signature work was the " Saint Louis Blues ".
In the s, the blues became a major element of African American and American popular music, reaching white audiences via Handy's arrangements and the classic female blues performers. The blues evolved from informal performances in bars to entertainment in theaters. Blues performances were organized by the Theater Owners Bookers Association in nightclubs such as the Cotton Club and juke joints such as the bars along Beale Street in Memphis.
Kentucky-born Sylvester Weaver was in the first to record the slide guitar style, in which a guitar is fretted with a knife blade or the sawed-off neck of a bottle. Country blues performers often improvised, either without accompaniment or with only a banjo or guitar. Regional styles of country blues varied widely in the early 20th century.
The Mississippi Delta blues was a rootsy sparse style with passionate vocals accompanied by slide guitar. The little-recorded Robert Johnson  combined elements of urban and rural blues. In addition to Robert Johnson, influential performers of this style included his predecessors Charley Patton and Son House. Singers such as Blind Willie McTell and Blind Boy Fuller performed in the southeastern "delicate and lyrical" Piedmont blues tradition, which used an elaborate ragtime-based fingerpicking guitar technique.
The lively Memphis blues style, which developed in the s and s near Memphis, Tennessee , was influenced by jug bands such as the Memphis Jug Band or the Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers.
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Memphis Minnie was famous for her virtuoso guitar style. Pianist Memphis Slim began his career in Memphis, but his distinct style was smoother and had some swing elements. Many blues musicians based in Memphis moved to Chicago in the late s or early s and became part of the urban blues movement. City or urban blues styles were more codified and elaborate, as a performer was no longer within their local, immediate community, and had to adapt to a larger, more varied audience's aesthetic.
source site Mamie Smith , more a vaudeville performer than a blues artist, was the first African American to record a blues song in ; her second record, "Crazy Blues", sold 75, copies in its first month. Smith would "sing a song in an unusual key, and her artistry in bending and stretching notes with her beautiful, powerful contralto to accommodate her own interpretation was unsurpassed".
In the vaudeville singer Lucille Hegamin became the second black woman to record blues when she recorded "The Jazz Me Blues". Nonetheless, the recordings of some of the classic female blues singers were purchased by white buyers as well. The blues women thus effected changes in other types of popular singing that had spin-offs in jazz, Broadway musicals , torch songs of the s and s, gospel , rhythm and blues , and eventually rock and roll.
An important label of this era was the Chicago-based Bluebird Records. Carr accompanied himself on the piano with Scrapper Blackwell on guitar, a format that continued well into the s with artists such as Charles Brown and even Nat "King" Cole. Boogie-woogie was another important style of s and early s urban blues. While the style is often associated with solo piano, boogie-woogie was also used to accompany singers and, as a solo part, in bands and small combos. Boogie-Woogie style was characterized by a regular bass figure, an ostinato or riff and shifts of level in the left hand, elaborating each chord and trills and decorations in the right hand.
John blends classic rhythm and blues with blues styles. Another development in this period was big band blues. A well-known big band blues tune is Glenn Miller 's " In the Mood ".