Blues Narrative


Blues was as an attempt to convey the problems of ordinary people, their difficult life, and inability to overcome fate through music. In this case this style absorbed work chants, elements from certain African rituals, and various ballads. However, blues not only conveys a deep state of mind and emotions, but also transforms them into a story that can be a universal value or even a tradition for many musicians and poets. In the current essay, this music style is analyzed as a special cultural narrative, especially in terms of folklore, tradition, and type of storytelling. In other words, it is important to understand what type of a story blues is trying to tell.

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The roots of blues are in its history that started from slavery and moved through complex scenes of workingmen’s hard life. The slaves worked on the plantations and did all the dirtiest and unpretentious work. All the complexity of their life was poured in vocal songs, including such ethnic genres like holler, work songs, and spirituals, combining in them the ethnic African music, mainly percussion bits and national-religious vocal rhythms. The slaves on plantations often chanted short poems that later were transformed into certain stories. Then, the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865 has influenced the genre. However, in 1895, only African-Americans performed this music, united under one general term ‘blue devils’. The term was coined in 1912, when Dallas Blues written by Wendy Hart was published. It was the first blues song, which was published in the press. Still, the first African-American blues performer was William Handy, who wrote The Memphis Blues, a canonic work for many blues musicians.

Hence, first, blues tells the story of hard work, but does it with hope and light melancholy. It was reflected in lyrics of Nigger Blues: “The blues ain’t nothing but a good man feeling bad” (White). The first bluesmen wandered around the country, had odd jobs while maintaining personal independence, ready to continue their wanderings at any moment. Sometimes, it was possible to get to play at parties and Juke Joint, where musicians were rarely paid in cash, and oftener with food and drink. This was the typical lifestyle of a blues artist: hard physical labor and meager earnings.

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Early blues frequently turned into a free-form narrative, which often turned into a single stream of consciousness or improvisation. Typically, the singer expressed his or her own experience of harsh reality, including the cruelty of police officers, cruelty from the hands of white folk, and hard times in general (Ewen, 1957, p. 142). It was mostly a plain story, with some repetitions, and always very emotional flow of real human experience. According to Steinberg (2012), blues is intertwined with the power of human emotions, which the listener is often difficult to understand (p. x). In this sense, this music style always tries to tell the universal story of all people through individual experiences, some mythological stories, or even a particular episode of history. For instance, racial discrimination and cultural intolerance, and, as a result, the attacks of white people on blacks are very popular stories among the first Delta blues musicians (Muir, 2009, p. 12). Charley Patton was one of the first performers from Delta blues school, who played with Son House and Robert Johnson. Moreover, he mixed different genres and made blues more democratic and open to different people.

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Thus, blues stands out among other genres of music with its special mood that is reflected in a narrative. It was formed in African-American enslaved culture at the end of 19th century, which incorporated a universal motif of loneliness, poverty, and inequality. However, the blues history not only conveys the sadness of black people, but also deep sadness of one person who cannot find his or her sense. It is a canonical motif of narrative while there are many others. Obviously, the commercially played blues not always goes through the authentic history, but then it is not the true blues, but its elements in other genres.


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