Sources for the Blues:
In class, we've been reading Peter Guralnick's book, Searching for Robert Johnson, and listening to Blues music and the sources for Blues music. This collection of sound clips is intended to jog your memory and help you write your paper on the ways that cultures change by absorbing other cultures. These are the source materials for the Blues:
Recommended Reading: Samuel Charters, The Roots of the Blues: An African Search (Boston: M. Boyars, 1981).
- African Griot Music: This is a musical tradition common in Western Africa; the griot is a bard or storyteller who recounts cultural stories through song. There are two examples of griot singing here.
- "Kedo," Jali Nyama Suso (recorded 1974, Bakau Village, The Gambia) (296kb wave file)
- "Tutu Jara," Dela Kanuteh, Mawdo Suso, and Kurunka Suso (recorded 1974, Bakau Village, The Gambia) (279kb wave file)
- Images of African Griot musicians
- Gospel: This is a Southern American tradition of religious singing. It provides source material for Blues singing, as well as improvisatory singing styles which were imitated and cross-pollinated by Blues singers.
- "My Soul Will Be Saved," Ethel Perkins and Equila Hall (recorded 1954, Houston, Texas) (261kb wave file)
- "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder," Bernice Johnson Reagon (449kb wave file)
- Work and Prison Songs: These are songs which use the "call and response" to allow both for improvisation and group participation; work songs were designed to keep people working on the same beat, and that driving rhythm is reflected in Blues music.
- "Go Down Old Hannah," Texas Prison Camp Work Gang (recorded 1951, Retrieve State Farm, Texas) (402kb wave file)
- Ragtime: This upbeat dance music also inspired the Blues with its loose, "ragged," syncopated rhythms and experimentation with harmony and progression.
- "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899), Scott Joplin (recorded 1916, New York City, New York) (247kb wave file)
- Two Examples of The Blues, Rural and Urban
- Robert Johnson (Rural Blues):
- "Terraplane Blues" (recorded 1936, San Antonio, Texas) (348kb wave file)
- "Cross Road Blues" (recorded 1936, San Antonio, Texas) (460kb wave file)
- "Hell Hound on My Trail" (recorded 1937, Dallas, Texas) (538kb wave file)
- "They're Red Hot" (recorded 1936, San Antonio, Texas) (271kb wave file)
- Bessie Smith (Urban Blues):
- "In The House Blues" (recorded 1931, New York City, New York) (294kb wave file)
- "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" (recorded 1929, New York City, New York) (181kb wave file)
- "Gimme a Pigfoot" (recorded 1933, New York City, New York) (203kb wave file)
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for HSS 502 (Honors Seminar--American Frontiers and Borderlands), The Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York. Send email to email@example.com
Last modified: Tuesday 12 September 2000.