History
 


Origins

Blues has evolved from the spare music of poor black laborers into a wide variety of complex styles and subgenres, spawning regional variations across the United States and, later, Europe, Africa and elsewhere. What is now considered "blues" as well as modern "country music" arose at approximately the same time and place during the nineteenth century in the southern United States. Recorded blues and country can be found from as far back as the 1920s, when the popular record industry developed and created marketing categories called "race music" and "hillbilly music" to sell music by and for blacks and whites, respectively. At the time, there was no clear musical division between "blues" and "country," except for the race of the performer, and even that sometimes was documented incorrectly by record companies. While blues emerged from the culture of African-Americans, blues musicians have since emerged world-wide. Studies have situated the origin of "black" spiritual music inside slaves' exposure to their masters' Hebridean-originated gospels. African-American economist and historian Thomas Sowell also notes that the southern, black, ex-slave population was acculturated to a considerable degree by and among their Scots-Irish "redneck" neighbors. However, the findings of Kubik and others also clearly attest to the essential Africanness of many essential aspects of blues expression.

Much has been speculated about the social and economical reasons for the appearance of the blues. The first appearance of the blues is not well defined and is often dated between 1870 and 1900. This period coincides with the emancipation of the slaves and the transition from slavery to sharecropping and small-scale agricultural production in the southern United States. Several scholars characterize the development, which appeared at the turn of the century, as a move from group performances to a more individualized style. They argue that the development of the blues is strongly related to the newly acquired freedom of the slaves. According to Lawrence Levine, "there was a direct relationship between the national ideological emphasis upon the individual, the popularity of Booker T. Washington's teachings, and the rise of the blues. Psychologically, socially, and economically, Negroes were being acculturate in a way that would have been impossible during slavery, and it is hardly surprising that their secular music reflected this as much as their religious music did."

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