Blues in Philadelphia:

Fig. 1- Rittenhouse Square- Philadlphia, Pennsylvania.
Fig. 1- Rittenhouse Square- Philadlphia, Pennsylvania.
On May 13, 2010, our African American History teacher Mr. Sherif took the whole class out to Rittenhouse Square so that we could interview people about Ethnomusicology and our assigned genre of music for our Q4 Benchmark. My questions and responses are listed below:

Question # 1:

What do you think is the origin and background of blues music?


I think that blues have roots in slavery. Maybe it originated from traditional African folksongs and the creole language. Back in those times, there was a need of freedom and this type of music addressed the soul of the black people. Blues music was something that they were happy about and they could freely express themselves.

~ Thomas Wright

Question # 2:

Why do you listen to blues?


Well, from I was a little boy growing up, my parents listened to blues. They would play Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson all day, so I guess I am just use to it. I think that I also listen to it because of its historical background and the tone of the music. Blues is so calm and smooth and it relaxes me. It is a part of my culture and I love it. ~ Phillip Williams

Research Questions:

Fig. 2- "Strummin' Blues painting by Stephen Johnson
Fig. 2- "Strummin' Blues painting by Stephen Johnson

1) Where did blues originate from? Which country, state etc?

2) How has blues changed overtime and what is the impact on society?

3) Back in the 1900s, why did African Americans dominate all the aspects of blues?

4) What are the different chord progressions of blues?

5) What are the different sub-genres of blues and when were they introduced?

6) Who are the most influential blues artists?

7) Was blues seen as a lifestyle or was it a goal that many young black musicians strive for?

8) Were whites involved in the development of blues?

9) Did blues have roots in slavery?

10) Why was blues seen as a way of self-expression?

Research Design:

Our research will be centered around the theses that are listed below. We will be researching various types of blues. Some of the topics that our research will be focused on are: the origin, famous artists, instruments and its influence on the black community during the Jim Crow era. We will also provide a list some of the sub-genres of blues and other types of music that have branched out from blues. Did you know that some of the genres of music that we listen to today was influenced by blues? The fact is that blues was apart of the culture of African- Americans growing up during the Jim Crow era. Artists also used blues as a method to talk about slavery and the oppression of African Americans.

We will be collecting information using mostly online online sources and make sure that these website are educational friendly (.org, .edu and .gov). Our research will also be guided by the 10 questions above. For our presentation, we will be recording a song. We all have assigned each other jobs and due dates to make the research smooth and efficient. Shamarlon will be responsible for editing and organizing the wiki-page. Tucker will be finding the samples and analyzing them. Isabella will be keeping track of the bibliographies and Zach will be helping Shamarlon and Tucker with the samples and findings. The due dates for everything listed above will be Wednesday, May 12, 2010 for the rough draft.


Blues music has direct ties with slavery and the Jim Crow era as musicians expressed the brutality and evil through their music and lyrics.

Blues music is not only about sadness, evil or slavery. It can be humorous, reflective and romantic.


First, we will like to start off with a definition of blues: blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre created primarily within the African-American communities in the Deep South of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads.

Fig. 3- The Cotton Club.
Fig. 3- The Cotton Club.

In the 1920s, the blues became a major element of African American and American popular music, reaching white audiences via Handy's arrangements and classic female blues performers. The blues evolved from informal performances in bars to entertainment in theaters. Blues performances were organized by the Theater Owners Bookers Association in nightclubs such as the Cotton Club and juke joints such as the bars along Beale Street in Memphis. Several record companies, such as the American Record Corporation, Okeh Records and Paramount Records, began to record African American blues music.

The transition from country to urban blues, that began in the 1920s, had always been driven by the successive waves of economic crisis and booms and the associated move of the rural Blacks to urban areas, the Great Migration. The long boom in the aftermath of World War II induced a massive migration of the African American population, the Second Great Migration, which was accompanied by a significant increase of the real income of the urban Blacks. The new migrants constituted a new market for the music industry. The name race record disappeared and was succeeded by Rhythm and Blues.


The Sad Blues

Name: "Ten Million Slaves"

Artist: Otis Taylor

Genre : Blues

Date: 2002

Fig. 4- Depiction of slaves being loaded onto slave ships in West Africa.
Fig. 4- Depiction of slaves being loaded onto slave ships in West Africa.

Synopsis: Although blues music now is not as popular as it was back in the early 1900s, musicians still use it to discuss slavery and the Jim Crow Era. This is song was released in 2002 by Otis Taylor. It relates to African American history because it talks about the fact that over "10 million" slaves were brought to America. The lyrics also address the lives of slaves, living in shelters and shackles on their legs.

Song: Strange Fruit

Artists: Billie Holiday

Genre: Blues

Date: April 20, 1939

Fig. 5- Billie Holiday delivering a performance of StrangeFruit at Greenwich Village.
Fig. 5- Billie Holiday delivering a performance of StrangeFruit at Greenwich Village.


Fig. 6- Lynching cartoon during the 1930s.
Fig. 6- Lynching cartoon during the 1930s.

This is just one of example of how artists like Billie Holiday used blues to condemn the racism against African-Americans during the Jim Crow Era, particularly lynching. The lyrics to this song are very influential and full of deep emotions. She is talking about how African Americans were hung from trees and were then set on fire. She describes the bulging eyes, the twisting mouth and the burning flesh. After they are killed, bodies are then decomposed by rain and the boiling sun. Crows have a bite and then they drop from the trees. The roots and leafs on the trees are filled with blood. The hanging bodies are "Strange Fruits." Since blues was a very important part of the African-American culture during this time period, this song relates to back to blues because it addresses lynching and people who have never heard it before can now know how inhumane and cruel it was. Blues was apart of the African American culture and it addressed some of the struggles within that culture.

Fig 7- Strange fruit cartoon. DARFUR is carved into the trunk of the tree.
Fig 7- Strange fruit cartoon. DARFUR is carved into the trunk of the tree.

The situation is Dar Fur is referred to as a genocide. Over 400,000 civilians have been killed. About the size of Texas, the Darfur region of Sudan is home to racially mixed Muslim tribes. In February 2003, frustrated by poverty and neglect, two Darfurian rebel groups launched an uprising against civilians. Even today, this song is used to describe the casualties of the Civil War in Dar Fur who are hung from trees. This very similar to the lynching that happened in the US during the 1900s.

The Happy & Romantic Blues

Song: Crazy Blues

Artists: Mamie Smith

Genre: Blues

Date: August 10, 1920

Fig 8- Mamie Smith on the album cover
Fig 8- Mamie Smith on the album cover

Synopsis: This song reflects the romantic aspect of blues. Mamie Smith is talking about her "man" who is not treating her right. The man that she loves left her and now she has the crazy blues. She has to find the love of her life and make it right one last time.

Song: Got my mojo workin'

Artist: Muddy Waters

Genre: Blues

Date: December 1, 1956

Fig. 9- Muddy Waters poses with this beloved guitar.
Fig. 9- Muddy Waters poses with this beloved guitar.

Synopsis: This song relates to the happy aspect of blues. Muddy Waters got his mojo working and he is happy. Because of his great mojo, he is a ladies man again and this put a smile on his face. He got his "game" back.


"Background on the Genocide in Darfur, Sudan." African History. UCLA, 10/6/2006. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.blues.org/#ref=blues_background_index>.

Daniels, Peter. "Strange Fruit: Story through a song ." African American History. World Socialist Web Site , 8 February 2002. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.wsws.org/articles/2002/feb2002/frut-f08.shtml>.

"DarFur." African History. Genocide Intervention Network, 2009. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.genocideintervention.net/educate/darfur>.

Keil, Charles, and Robert Palmer. "Blues." Website For Teachers and Students. Encyclopedia of Chicago , 1991. Web. 12 May 2010. <http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/151.html>.

"Strange Fruit ." Lynching in America. Creative Commons , 2008. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.strangefruit.org/>.

"What is blues? ." African American History Resources. PBS, 2003. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.pbs.org/theblues/classroom/essaysblues.html>.