When Were the Blues Invented?

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

A deep dive into the history of the blues, how it developed and when it was first popularized.

Origins of the Blues

The blues is a genre of music that originated in the African-American communities of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The genre developed from the fusion of African and European musical traditions. The term “blues” refers to the blue notes which are sung or played in a minor key.

African American folk music

African American folk music evolved in the 1860s when the blues were first created by African American laborers who worked in the deep south. These workers would sing songs while they worked that were later known as the blues. The blues soon spread to other parts of the country and became extremely popular.

Work songs and field hollers

The earliest recorded blues date back to the end of the 19th century, but the genre has its roots in the music of Africa. American slaves brought many of their cultural traditions with them to the New World, and these included work songs and spirituals. These songs were often accompanied by clapping or dancing, and they allowed the slaves to communicate with each other and share their feelings.

The blues evolved out of these work songs and spirituals, and they often dealt with topics such as poverty, racism, and oppression. The first recorded blues song was “Crazy Blues,” which was released in 1920 by Mamie Smith. This song was incredibly popular, and it opened the door for other black artists to record their own blues songs.

The blues quickly became one of the most popular genres of music in America, and it has influenced countless other genres, including rock ‘n’ roll. The blues is still going strong today, and it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Spirituals, gospel, and blues

The blues is a genre of music that has its roots in the African-American community. There are many different origin stories for the blues, but most historians believe that it emerged from a combination of spirituals, gospel, and work songs.

Spirituals were religious songs that were sung by slaves in the fields. Gospel was a type of religious music that was popular in black churches. And work songs were songs that were sung while working on plantations or in other jobs.

The first recorded use of the word “blues” was in 1908, when W.C. Handy published a song called “The Memphis Blues.” But it wasn’t until the 1920s that the blues really began to develop into its own genre. In the 1920s, musicians started to experiment with the sound of the blues, and they began to add elements of jazz and ragtime. This new sound became known as “New Orleans jazz.”

It wasn’t until the 1940s that the blues really began to gain popularity with white audiences. In the 1940s and 1950s, musicians such as Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson helped to popularize the genre with their electric guitars and soulful singing voices. And in the 1960s, British bands such as The Rolling Stones and The Beatles popularized the blues even further by incorporating it into their own music.

The First Blues Recordings

The first known recordings of what we now call the blues were made in the 1920s by African American musicians in the Mississippi Delta. These early recordings were made on flimsy 78 rpm discs that were easy to break and often got lost or damaged. As a result, few of these early recordings survive today.

The Mississippi Delta

The first blues recordings were made in the early 1920s by regional artists from the Mississippi Delta. These recordings were mostly done by traveling musicians who would go to major cities like New York and Chicago to make records for small, independent labels. The most well-known of these early recording artists was W.C. Handy, who recorded the song ” Memphis Blues” in 1912.

The Mississippi Delta is a region of the United States that is known for its rich cultural history and its contribution to the development of the blues genre of music. The Delta region is located in the northwestern corner of Mississippi, and it is bordered by the Yazoo River to the west and the Mississippi River to the east. The region is also home to the city of Memphis, Tennessee, which is considered to be one of the birthplaces of the blues.

Memphis and Chicago

The first commercial recordings of what is now called blues music were made in the years just prior to World War I. In Memphis, Tennessee, in 1917, the white songwriter W. C. Handy published his “Beale Street Blues,” one of the first compositions to capture the flavor of the music of black Southern laborers and immigrants. That same year in Chicago, two black vaudeville performers, Ma Rainey and Ida Cox, made popular recordings of “Moonshine Blues” and “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues,” respectively. While such artists as these two were singing a new kind of music, other black musicians were creating a new musical style that would change American popular music forever: jazz.

The rise of the urban blues

The first commercial recordings of what would become known as “blues” were made by black musicians in the early 1900s. These recordings were marketed to both black and white audiences, but they were primarily intended for white listeners who were interested in hearing “authentic” black music.

One of the earliest and most popular performers was Mamie Smith, who recorded several songs with a jazz band in 1920. Her records were huge hits, and she became known as the “Queen of the Blues.” Other early performers include Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

The popularity of the urban blues coincided with the rise of the ” Harlem Renaissance,” a period of intense creativity in African American culture that occurred in the 1920s and 1930s. The blues played an important role in this movement, as it provided a source of inspiration for writers, poets, and visual artists.

The Spread of the Blues

The Blues were invented in the American South by African American musicians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The music spread to other parts of the country and became popular with white audiences as well. In the mid-20th century, the Blues became a mainstream part of American popular music.

The blues in Europe

The blues first arrived in Europe in the early twentieth century, brought over by American soldiers stationed in France during World War I. These soldiers exposed the locals to the music of their homeland, and the genre quickly began to gain popularity. One of the most popular venues for blues music in Paris was the Music Hall Bobino, which hosted performances by artists such as Josephine Baker and Django Reinhardt. In the United Kingdom, blues performers such as Big Bill Broonzy and Leadbelly found popularity in the 1940s and 1950s.

The British blues boom

The British blues boom was a period of time in the late 1950s and 1960s when a lot of British bands and musicians started playing the blues. The British blues boom started when bands like the Rolling Stones and the Animals started playing the blues. These bands were influenced by American blues musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson II.

The British blues boom reached its peak in the late 1960s with the release of albums like Cream’s “Disraeli Gears” and the Rolling Stones’ “Beggars Banquet”. After the British blues boom ended, many of the British blues bands changed their sound to be more influenced by rock music.

The blues today

The blues today are heard in all types of music, from country to rock to pop. Even classical and jazz musicians have been influenced by the blues. The blues can be happy or sad, but they always tell a story.

The blues began in the American South, in the late 1800s. African Americans were singing about their lives, their work, and their troubles. They used different sounds to express themselves, including work songs, spirituals, and folk songs. Over time, these songs developed into the blues.

The first blues musicians were traveling musicians who played for tips in juke joints and on street corners. They often improvised their lyrics, making up stories as they went along. As the popularity of the blues grew, more and more people began to play and sing the blues.

Today, the blues are enjoyed by people all over the world. Many famous musicians got their start playing the blues, including Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. And the tradition continues with modern performers like John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr.

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