Social Analysis of the Blues Music in the American Society
The blues, or blues music, has been considered an important and popular music genre in the history of American music. Its history goes back many years ago, during the black slavery period in the American history. Blues music was said to have traced its roots in the cotton plantations commonly found in the South, and that blues music sang by the African-American slaves were their forms of protest against the slavery system that the white American society encourages. However, blues music did not proliferate and became prevalent among the black and white American society until after the Emancipation period, wherein most African-American slaves were now freed from bondage to slavery legally, and slavery was now abolished and prohibited to practice in the society, especially in the white American community.
The blues is defined as a "musical style created in response to the hardships endured by generations of African-American people... And originated in the rural Mississippi Delta region..." The musical form of the blues is described to have the "distinguishing characteristic of text, harmonic structure, and melodic shape," while blues lyrics often consists of a line that is repeated throughout the song, and a final line is 'concluded,' wherein this line is characterized as a reinforcement of the song's message. Also, blues music has a "bittersweet emotional impact" to its audience (Herman 2000).
Throughout history, blues music has developed into various forms, which includes Country blues, Classic blues, and Electric blues. The Country blues is also called the country or delta blues, which obviously derives its name from the genre's place of origin, which is the Mississippi Delta. Country blues are usually accompanied by musical instruments such as the guitar and harmonica, and generally talks about "love, freedom, sex, and sorrows of life. Classical blues, meanwhile, developed from 1910-1930s. The Classical blues is more individualist than the Country blues, which are usually sung collectively by African-American farmers/planters. Classical blues are performed by individual male or female singers, and are more audience-oriented, since singing blues music became a form of professional work for these African-American blues singers. Also, Classical blues are often performed with a "piano or whole jazz combo," and this type of blues music paved the way for the blues genre to become well-known in the American (even English) music world. Classical blues are usually accompanied with vaudeville acts, which are popular forms of entertainment during this period.
Popular artists of this blues music type are Billie Holiday and Lightnin' Hopkins. Lastly, Electric blues was a fusion of blues and jazz melody and music accompanied with electric musical instruments, such as the electric guitar. Electric blues have the appearance and similarity of form with rock and roll, but the sentimental melody and bittersweet tone and message is still retained. Among the popular artists of this type of blues music are Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Holly. This blues music type became prevalent during the 1950s, wherein blues music began emerging as a commercial and popular music form of rock and roll, and the Electric blues "paved the way for the explosion of rock music and the reintroduction of blues into the equation" of the music world (Herman 2000).
Blues music also served various functions for the people, especially the African-Americans, who initially introduced and became avid patrons of this kind of music. Blues music served as reflection of the way of life of black slaves, and became the 'personalized' form of music among their race. Aside from being a personalized form of music for the slaves, the blues music also served as an 'introspection' process for the people, since it is through singing that the slaves were able to express their inner feelings, which are communicated directly to the hearer ad singer of the song. After the Emancipation of black Americans, blues music became a popular form of entertainment for the black Americans, and most of them no longer sought entertainment in the church (through gospel singing) and in the plantation areas (as a form of protest), but rather, blues became a music genre solely made for entertainment purposes. Aside from the being a form of entertainment, blues music became an established culture for the African-American slaves, and as stated by Lawrence Levine, author of the book "Black Culture and Black Consciousness," "Negroes became acculturated... psychologically, socially, and economically," and blues music became both a form of "secular as well as religious music" after the abolition of slavery (About.com 2002).
The emerging popularity of blues music as the new musical genre of the 20th century led also to the development of various myths and perspectives that aims to explain the social relevance and primary reason why blues music prevailed in America and also in the English society. Several 'myths' that discuss and aim to explain the "general explanations or interpretations of the blues" were thoroughly analyzed in an article by David Evans, entitled, "Demythologizing the Blues" (1999). In the article, Evans analyzed two prevailing myths that interpret the growing popularity and prevalence of blues music. The first myth is called the myths of origin and evolution. Evans defined myths of origin as "the place of beginning of the blues in some earlier time, place, or social situation."
Through the myth of origin, blues music is explained to have emerged "in the era of slavery" and that blues is associated "as a melancholy feeling, with blues as a genre of musical expression." It also supports the historical claim of modern historical studies that blues music emerged and developed during the beginning of the 20th century. In summary, the myths of origin and evolution simply state that blues music began and developed during the period of black slavery in the American history.
The second prevailing myth of blues history and interpretation aims to explain the social relevance of blues music, which is the ideological myth. Ideological myths state that blues music began as a form of 'social protest,' which reflects the general claim of ideological myth, which is defined as the "search for meaning in the blues... based on the study of the lyrics of blues songs or the lives of blues singers..." (Evans 1999). The ideological myth is the prevailing explanation of how blues music began to emerge and develop. Blues music as a form of social protest will be illustrated through a close study of the lyrics of some blues songs from Billie Holiday, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Jimi Hendrix. Two of the songs are classified as Classical blues (by Billie Holiday and Lightnin' Hopkins) and the song by Jimi Hendrix is classified under the Electric blues.
One of the most talked about blues songs is Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" because of its social and personal impact in every African-American who have experienced discrimination and injustice in the American society. Some of the controversial lyrics of the song are as follows:
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
Blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is a strange and bitter crop"
Billie Holiday clearly describes how the practice of lynching led to dreadful images in her song, "Strange Fruit." Double conscience is evident in this song because of the implied message of the cruelty of the society to the black Americans, and this message is extended through the use of imagery and symbolism in the said song (referring to the 'strange fruit' as a black American who was lynched). Another song was Lightnin' Hopkins' song entitled, "No Education." In this song, the illiteracy issue among black Americans is discussed, as well as the frustrations that African-Americans encounter after the abolition of slavery and they were at last given (and accepted) with the society's social privileges. In his song, Lightnin' Hopkins laments the difficulty that he (and the black Americans in general) encounters when they were introduced to literacy and education: "Got not an education, I'm just a fool in your town / I can't read, can't even write my name / Ain't it a shame, way things happened to me / I went to school only one day and I didn't learn my ABC's..." "No Education" is a perfect characteristic of blues music form, since it uses repeating lines and a final reiterating line that emphasizes the point the song intends to give the audience. Lastly, Jimi Hendrix's song entitled "Red House" is reminiscent of the broken family ties that black Americans experienced because of slavery. The lines "There's a red house over yonder / I ain't been home to see my baby / In ninety nine and one half days," show how black American families are torn apart because of slavery, where adults are separated from their children and families to work on plantations and be servants of the white Americans.
It is evident that double conscience is a recurring theme in these songs, and all of these…