Learn how the diverse styles of blues, choral music, cajun, zydeco, brass band, border music, and gospel meet and mingle in the Gulf Coast region.
Got Them Blues: A History
As black slaves toiled in the fields, they often sang to communicate with each other and pass the time. These work songs, spirituals, and field hollers formed the basis of blues music as it became an important sound of the American South in the early 20th century. In the 1930s, faced with extreme poverty and laws that discriminated against and segregated them, thousands of African Americans migrated to northern cities, taking the blues with them— where both the songs and the singers adapted to their new urban environment.
A Blue Melody, a Shufflin' Beat
Blues is a vocal and instrumental form of music based on the use of blue notes—a note that is sung or played at a lower pitch than the rest of the song that gives the blues its characteristic, often sad sound. The lyrics usually have a predictable rhyme, and the music also has a repetitive pattern that typically follows a twelve-bar structure. While the blues may tackle serious subjects, it also brings joy to the singer and audience.
Spreading the Joy of the Blues
The blues sound was captured by Alan Lomax, who was among the first to record folk songs in the 1930s. Because of Lomax's recordings, people across the country could hear the unique music of blues artists like Huddie Ledbetter ("Leadbelly") and Muddy Waters for the first time. In addition to Lomax's work, the rise of the commercial recording industry (particularly Chess Records) and advances in recording technologies allowed blues to have a wider distribution and as a result, gain a larger audience.
A Lasting Legacy
Blues musicians who moved north tailored their music to reflect their new urban surroundings. Acoustic guitars gave way to electric; drums and standup bass rounded out the sound. This "new" blues had a huge impact on modern music - influencing early rock and roll artists like Elvis Presley and 60s British artists like the Rolling Stones. Today, the innovative adaptations of the blues can be heard in the music of artists as diverse as Cat Power and Gnarls Barkley.
September 9, 2019
Learn about the African American experience through the arts — and discover the contributions of African Americans to the history and culture of the United States.
Foot thumping rhythms, crooning voices, soulful melodies – jazz is a music with a history as rich as its sound. Follow the great migration that lead African Americans to Harlem, meet jazz icons such as Bessie Smith and Charlie Parker, and stop by the Cotton Club and Apollo Theater on a journey through the past of this American art form.
Learn the basics of jazz music and how the art form works. Along with his band, Jason Moran shows you how jazz is more like skateboarding and football than you would think, as well as plays original and classic jazz standards.
Renée Fleming and colleagues from the vocal fields of classical, musical theater, jazz, gospel, country, and pop lend their talents and expertise to an unprecedented journey of vocal discovery aimed at educating young singers and seasoned vocalists alike.
Featuring Kim Burrell with Dr. Cedric Dent, Richard Smallwood, Dr. Deborah Smith Pollard, and Rev. Nolan Williams Jr.
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