One of America's most enduring musical forms, the blues, is having a great year. 2003 was officially proclaimed "The Year of the Blues" by the United States Congress in February. The recent success of the television series The Blues spawned a variety of new audio and video releases. One of those releases may contain everything you ever wanted to know about the blues, and more.
Indeed, the new CD, Blues Story, covers a lot of historical ground, and is a fine introduction to some of the blues' most important players. From Delta bluesman Robert Lockwood, Jr., heard singing and strumming Take A Walk With Me, to modern guitar greats Buddy Guy and B.B. King, Blues Story's 38 tracks weave acoustic country blues, electric blues and jump blues with rhythm-and-blues and blues-rock.
Blues music was discovered 100 years ago by composer W.C. Handy, who adapted the raw blues sound he heard on Mississippi street corners into sheet music. One of the first blues songs ever published was Handy's Memphis Blues in 1912.
Later, "The Empress of the Blues", Bessie Smith, had a hit with the W.C. Handy classic Saint Louis Blues. Bessie Smith's contemporaries Mamie Smith and Ma Rainey are also featured on Blues Story.
The blues in America changed with the times. From the sprawling cotton fields along the mighty Mississippi River to the expanding industrial cities of the north, the blues branched out to Saint Louis, Memphis, Chicago and New York. The arrival of rock-and-roll in the late-1950s put a cap on blues' soaring popularity, only to find itself back in vogue a decade later with rock's blues-based "British Invasion."
Guitarist John Lee Hooker was among those to benefit from the revival. His rise to stardom is just part of the long and winding story of the blues.
Today, blues music is recognized the world over with international festivals, at the W.C. Handy Awards and Grammy Awards, in television theme songs and jingles, a Blues Foundation and Hall of Fame, re-issues of rare blues recordings, and documentaries such as Blues Story and The Blues.
In the first line of its proclamation designating 2003 "The Year of the Blues," the U.S. Congress states: "Whereas blues music is the most influential form of America roots music with its impact heard around the world in rock and roll, jazz, rhythm and blues, country, and even classical music."