The Blues

I Have A Voice Intro

Spirituals

The Blues

Gospel

From Blues to Blue Suede Shoes

Soul

Who Can Sing the Blues

 

 

 

Blues music developed from work songs, hollers, and spirituals sung by slaves on plantations in the South. After emancipation and Reconstruction, blues singing gave blacks a means to vent their frustrations over oppressive Jim Crow segregation laws and also from the heartache of a “lover quitting you.”
William Christopher (W. C.) Handy and his Memphis band. (1918). Courtesy of Preservation & Special Collections Dept., University Libraries, University of Memphis
William Christopher (W. C.) Handy and his Memphis band (1918).
Courtesy of Preservation & Special Collections Dept., University Libraries, University of Memphis
 
The blues had been around for years as folk music before W. C. Handy heard a black musician slide his knife along the strings of an acoustic guitar while waiting for a train in Tutwiler, Mississippi, about 1903. The man’s song spoke of “Goin’ where the Southern cross’ the dog,” referencing local railroad lines. “Trains” in blues became a metaphor for escape. Handy, a trained musician, wrote down the first blues he ever heard, with its chord structure and melody with mournful-sounding, flatted “blue notes” of the major scale.
 
After Handy moved to Memphis in 1909 this blues form became his tune, Memphis Blues. Since its release in 1912, it has been considered the first published blues, giving him the title, the Father of the Blues.
 
Sheet music for “Memphis Blues” by W. C. Handy, 1912. 78.6.11a
 
 
 
 
Moses Williams, from Mississippi, playing slide guitar on a diddley bow, Waverly, Florida, 1970s.
 
Photograph by Peggy A. Bolger, Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
Memphis delta blues artist Bukka White, 1967. <br>Photograph by F. Jack Hurley, 2011.2014
Memphis delta blues artist Bukka White, 1967.
Photograph by F. Jack Hurley, 2011.2014
 
 
Black musicians playing for tips by a stable.
 
Courtesy Library of Congress
 
They are both playing kazoos,
often a lead instrument in jug bands.
Jug bands included string instruments
and often someone blowing
across the top of a jug for a bass line.
Black musicians playing for tips by a stable - Courtesy Library of Congress They are both playing kazoos, often a lead instrument in jug bands. Jug bands included string instruments and <br /> often someone blowing across the top of a jug for a bass line.
The folk blues that black musicians brought from the Mississippi Delta combined with the skilled techniques of Memphis musicians to form the Beale Street Blues sound epitomized by artists like B. B. King and Howlin’ Wolf.

W. C. Handy (1873-1958) published
his most famous composition,

Saint Louis Blues, in Memphis in 1914,
and later, the
Beale Street Blues.


“If Beale Street could talk, if Beale Street could talk, married men would have to take their beds and walk, except one or two, who never drink booze, and the blind man on the corner who sings the Beale Street Blues,” from lyrics of “Beale Street Blues,” W. C. Handy, 1916.
Lillian Mae Glover, aka Ma Rainey II, singing the blues at a club in Memphis, about 1980 
Lillian Mae Glover, aka Ma Rainey II,
singing the blues at a club in Memphis, about 1980.
Photograph by Jim Hagens, courtesy of State of Tennessee Photographic Services
 
Glover had performed as Ma Rainey II since 1939, after the legendary blues singer whom she emulated and had died that year. She ran away from her home in 1920 to join a traveling medicine show, saying later, “I wanted to sing the blues, but my father was a pastor, and the blues were looked on in those days as dirty music. And for me to stay in Nashville would have been a disgrace for my family.”
This is kind of how the blues began – out of feeling misused, mistreated. Feeling like they had nobody to turn to.
-B.B. King
 
 
Beale Street, Memphis, early 1950s. 
2010.233.1.69

 
Tennessee State Museum
505 Deaderick Street
Nashville, TN 37243-1120
FREE ADMISSION
 
Open: Tuesday - Saturday:
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Sunday: 1 to 5 p.m.
Closed: Mondays and four holidays: New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.
(615) 741-2692
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tn4me
Tennessee State Museum
505 Deaderick Street
Nashville, TN 37243-1120
FREE ADMISSION
 
Open: Tuesday - Saturday:
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1 to 5 p.m.
Closed: Mondays and four holidays: New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.
(615) 741-2692
TOLL-FREE: 800-407-4324
museuminfo@tnmuseum.org

 

 

 

 
 
tn4me