News / Arts & Entertainment

Music Fans Still Search for Roots of the Blues

Music Fans Still Search for Roots of the Bluesi
X
February 06, 2014
n the early 1900s, a sound came out of African-American communities in the southern U.S. states that came to be called the blues. Some of the deepest roots of the music come from the rich farming region known as the Mississippi Delta. VOA's Greg Flakus reports.
TEXT SIZE - +
Greg Flakus
— In the early 1900s, a sound came out of African-American communities in the southern U.S. states that came to be called the blues. Some of the deepest roots of the music come from the rich farming region known as the Mississippi Delta.

A little over a century ago, poor African-American laborers in Mississippi took up European instruments like the guitar and harmonica to play soulful and expressive music called the blues.

It was a time when the rich fields of the Delta region required many laborers.

Clarksdale, Mississippi, home of the Delta Blues Museum, was a transportation hub then, according to museum director Shelley Ritter.

"With so many farms, there was an opportunity for a lot of work and then we had the river here and the railroad was here," she said.

One of the largest exhibits in the museum is the reassembled farm cabin where famed bluesman Muddy Waters once lived. He and other bluesmen honed their skills in Clarksdale, which offered workers music and more.

"On Saturdays or on weekends, when the laborers were given time off, they would all come into town and avail themselves of all the vices, if you will, as well as the wares," Ritter said.

Ritter says aspiring bluesmen who couldn't afford a guitar sometimes played on a "diddly bow," a wire strung between two nails.

The sound it produced may have influenced the guitar style now associated with Delta blues.

Musicologist David Evans, who teaches at the University of Memphis, has spent a lifetime playing the blues and studying its characteristics.

"The blue notes and blues scale, these bent notes and neutral pitches, sliding pitches, however you want to characterize them and there are various ways to express them vocally and instrumentally," he said.

Evans says the blues borrowed elements from Europe as well as Africa, but its inventors were thoroughly African-American.

"It was a new synthesis, but it was pretty clear that that synthesis was accomplished by black musicians," he said.

While the Delta region, as well as Memphis and New Orleans, all have a claim on the blues, Evans says there is evidence it developed over a wide region.

"The earliest reports come from all over: Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, cities like St. Louis," he said.

The disapproval of community leaders, black and white, and preachers who called it "devil music," only enhanced its allure, says Evans.

"That made the blues variously exotic, exciting, dangerous," he said.

And that may be part of what keeps the blues alive today.

It may have started in the American South, but the blues now belongs to the world.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Saxophonist Craig Handy has an exciting new band called 2nd Line Smith, which combines the organ-jazz repertoire of Jimmy Smith with the “second line” rhythms of New Orleans parade music. Craig Handy joins "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten at Washington’s Bohemian Caverns jazz club to talk about the music and perform with the band.

Blogs