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Lecture 3 The Blues

What is the blues?!

  • Wikipedia defines it as:

A vocal and instrumental form of music based on the use of the blue notes and a repetitive pattern that most often follows a twelve-bar structure. It emerged in African-American communities of the United States from spirituals, praise songs, field hollers, rhymed English and Scots-Irish narrative ballads, shouts, and chants

Origins of the Blues

  • The phrase “the blues” is a reference to having a fit of “the blue devils,” meaning “down” spirits, depression and sadness

  • 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

Blues Lyrics

    • The original lyrical form of the blues was probably a single line, repeated three times

    • It was only later that the current, most common structure of a line, repeated once and then followed by a single line conclusion, became standard

    • These lines were often sung following a pattern closer to a rhythmic talk than to a melody

  • W.

    C. Handy (1873 – 1958)

    • Born on November 16, 1873 in Florence, Alabama

    • A blues composer and musician who is among the most influential of American songwriters

    • Handy was an educated musician who used folk material in his compositions

Handy’s Legacy

  • Known as “The Father of the Blues”

  • Credited for giving blues its contemporary form

    • Was able to notate music for publication and posterity

    • Use of syncopated rhythms, a style unique to his music

  • Took the blues from a not very well-known regional music style from the Delta to one of the dominant forces in American music

Formative Years

  • Handy joined a local blues band as a teenager, but he kept this fact a secret from his parents

  • He purchased a cornet from a fellow band member and spent every free minute practicing it

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