Exploring the Melancholic Genre: The Origin of Blues Music

The name of this great American music probably originated with the 17th century English expression “the blue devils”, referring to the intense visual hallucinations that can accompany severe alcohol withdrawal. Abbreviated over time as “the blues”, it came to mean a state of agitation or depression. In the 19th century, the English phrase blue devils referred to disturbing hallucinations caused by severe alcohol withdrawal. Later, it was abbreviated as blues, which described states of depression and malaise, and was later adopted as the name of the melancholic songs that the musical genre encapsulates.

The etymology of the word blues alludes to sadness and its musical style reflects this emotion through the use of vocalizations and instrumental interpretation. One of the main characteristics of blues is the inclusion of regrettable moments with the guitar. When songs include vocalizations, musicians interpret them in the form of laments, dialogue, or call-and-response patterns between two or more singers that complement each other's voices. The use of 12-bar units, known as blues chords, characterized the musical structure of blues and they are composed of three chords.

This structure would later influence other musical styles, popularly rock and roll. Later, gospel music was added and blues was played in churches where black workers worked under the orders of white landowners. Many elements, such as the call and response format and the use of blue notes, can be traced back to music from Africa. Among the most outstanding, Mamie Smith was the first African-American woman to record blues songs in the 1920s.

In the early 1920s, blues gained popularity in the United States and several African-American blues artists began recording records and performing before a wide audience. The spiritual or religious songs of the African-American community are much better documented than the lowest melancholy. Blue notes (or worried notes), usually thirds, fifths, or sevenths flattened in tone, are also an essential part of blues sound. Female blues singers such as Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi, Sue Foley and Shannon Curfman also recorded blues.

In the 1920s, blues became an important element of African-American and American popular music, and it also reached white audiences through the arrangements of Handy and classic female blues performers. World War II marked the transition from acoustic to electric blues and the progressive opening of blues music to a wider audience, especially white listeners. The blues emerged as a fusion of religious music and songs from farm work, blending with English, Irish and Scottish lyrical traditions. The form of blues is omnipresent in jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll, and is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale, and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common.

Several scholars characterize the development of blues music in the early 20th century as a shift from group performance to individualized interpretation. British and blues musicians of the early 1960s inspired several American blues rock artists, such as Canned Heat, Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter. J. Bebop classics such as Now's The Time by Charlie Parker used the blues form with pentatonic scale and blue notes.

Alberta Knapick
Alberta Knapick

Freelance pizza fan. Beer scholar. Subtly charming zombie maven. Certified pop culture buff. Extreme food enthusiast. Freelance tv aficionado.

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