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Music of Black Origin

How The Blues Ruled The World

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  • 10 question quiz based on tutorial content.
  • Lesson plan and expected outcomes

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Black History Month Tutorial

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In the 1500s, many people from Africa was brought to America as slaves, to work on the cotton-plantations and on the farms.
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Africans often use music, dancing and singing when they work, and they continued to sing and make music when they came to America.
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These songs, are called “work-songs”, “field hollers” and “shouts”
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The Africans were singing together, and the movements of the work followed the rhythm of the music, almost like a dance!
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The African slaves started to use the instruments that their owners had on the farms.
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Guitars, Banjos, Harmonica and Violins, instruments the Africans did not have access to in Africa were used.
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American music of the time, a country-type music, and christian religious hymns, important influence on the slaves music.
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In the early 1900s, the Blues was began to take form like we know it today, and eventually performers started to appear.
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The first known Blues performers came from the Mississippi Delta, traveling around with a guitar, singing in the different communities.
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The lyrics usually repeated much,
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and the music had a simple form, very few chords on the guitar,
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and a swinging and driving rhythm.
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They usually sang about love, freedom, and about sorrow, and the sad things in life. Feeling “blue”.
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This early type of Blues is called Country Blues, or Delta Blues.
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Usually it was men who was performing the blues music in the Delta Blues period.
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The guitar became the most important instrument of the blues.
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Sometimes the performers also played harmonica, and even used a glass bottleneck to make sliding sounds on the guitar.
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The melodies was similar to the work-songs, and had something that we call “blue notes”.
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Blue notes creates tension in the melody, and can sometimes sound out of tune, or false.
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In the 1920s, Blues was starting to be popular in the cities
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Instead of only a man and a guitar, larger bands was formed, and they also played to a larger audience.
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The female Blues singer,
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Mamie Smith,
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was the first to record a blues song in 1920, and other female singers also became popular
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The music recorded by the African Americans, was labeled “race music”, and mostly sold to, or bought by, black listeners
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But, some of the most popular records was also bought by white listeners.
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The black Blues singers had to perform at places that usually had a black, or a black and white mixed audience.
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They also was traveling around, as Vaudeville performers,
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and the payment and salaries was very low.
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In the 1940s after the 2. world war, many African-american blues musicians moved to the cities, where they started to play in groups and bands
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They started to use new instruments, like the electric guitar, electric organ, drums, bass and horns. Electric slide guitar was popular.
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Chicago became the most important city of the electric Blues.
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The electric Chicago Blues, had a more rough feel, and sometimes a faster tempo.
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After the increasing popularity of the Blues, British people started to buy American Blues-records
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Many english bands started to play Blues, and some of them went to America to record their own Blues Cds.
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The Blues and the black music was sold more and more to white listeners,
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and it had a very large impact on the popular music in both America and Europe.
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In the 60s, many British Blues bands
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made an influence on American groups
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that mixed the blues with rock.
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(The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Ry Cooder)
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In Texas, the Blues got its own sound in the 1970s (Texas Blues), also heavily influenced of the British blues-rock movement.
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In the 80s, outdoor Blues festivals started to be popular, some Blues bands made comeback and artists like Eric Clapton and John Lee Hooker released some important records.
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The Blues made an enormous importance in the history of popular music,
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it influenced many movements and styles in the 20. century of music,
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and still is a large source of inspiration for the new and currently emerging music
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Blues has been interpreted all over the world, mixed with different styles, and has flourished in many different forms.

Celebrating Black History Month with the Blues

Black history month Began in 1926. Initially called Negro History Week, the national celebration was later expanded to a month. February was chosen because the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass took place then. The aim was to teach the history of American Blacks in the country’s public schools. Later Canada and United Kingdom joined the celebration.

Historian Carter G. Woodson, largely regarded as the architect of Black history month, had this to say about its necessity:

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

It’s hard to imagine any genre being a more suitable soundtrack for Black history month than the blues. Just as Black history month features a narrative full of struggle, heartache and, ultimately, triumph, the same can be said of the blues.

The history of popular music – spanning across all genres – is loaded with songs depicting the struggle for freedom among Black Americans. Released on the eve of the civil rights movement, Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” is an understated masterwork detailing the movement’s undying hope:

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come

Later in the decade, James Brown’s “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” was just the anthem Black America needed after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King threatened to smother the movement’s hope.

But in the idiom of the blues, nothing beats B.B. King’s heartfelt anthem “Why I Sing the Blues” when it comes to pathos, warmth and humor. That’s right, humor.

Perhaps the most enduring stereotype of the blues is that its songs are nothing more than gloomy exercises in self-pity, early ancestors, perhaps, to the navelgazing genres of 90s grunge or emo. But B.B. King’s classic eagerly smashes this trope. King isn’t afraid to lace the bad news with good jokes:

I’ve laid in a ghetto flat
Cold and numb
I heard the rats tell the bedbugs
To give the roaches some

Near the end of the track, King spontaneously buckles into laughter, saying “That’s all right, fellas. That’s all right.” Whatever the joke is, he doesn’t share it with the listener. But somehow we don’t feel alienated. We’re having a good time with B.B. even as he describes the bad times. It’s a song full of hope, laughter and an unflinching awareness that the struggle goes on.

B.B’s guitar cries, wails, mocks and roars. It’s a lesson you can’t miss even if you’re not paying attention to the lyrics.

The story of the blues is not about sad, dejected victimization. It’s about rising above the pain, above the oppression. It’s about the healing power of catharsis.

And that’s why B.B. sang the blues.
And that’s why we celebrate Black history month.