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Blues People: Negro Music in White America

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Perhaps not the best book for the blues initiate, but probably one of the best you could read on the subject, with a non-obnoxious, somewhat sociological slant on the theme.

The effectiveness of Negro music and dance is first recorded in the journals and letters of travelers but it is important to remember that they saw and understood only that which they were prepared to accept. By the twentieth century the blues divided and became, on the one hand, a professionalized form of entertainment, while remaining, on the other, a form of folklore. Perhaps this explains why Jones, who is also a poet and editor of a poetry magazine, gives little attention to the blues as lyric, as a form of poetry. S., leading to an ongoing (and often fraught) cycle of musical appropriation and reinvention; and 3) that black music differs most crucially from its white reproductions (and ultimately transcends them) because at its best it possesses an inborn "blues" impulse which can only ever be imitated by white performers, never fully embodied. It also stops at around the time that blues music was taking off into some very interesting and different directions, especially in regards to the late-60s with Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, etc.When conditions have changed, when the black middle class has entered mainstream America, and the urban underclass is wrapped up in hip-hop, gangsta rap culture, which is relentlessly commercialized by the powerful media, talking about the blues may seem a matter for historians or ethnomusicologists. s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), both in its more instrumental use of nonviolence and in its stated preference for grassroots, rather than charismatic, leadership. At its most incisive, Blues People told the history of jazz as the history of a hybrid music, the sound of creative social antagonism. Baraka’s liner notes argue that these jazz stars’ shouting style and audience engagement, sometimes deplored as mere entertainment, was actually part of an African-American thread of community bonding.

The following is an excerpt from the book's introduction: "As I began to get into the history of the music, I found that this was impossible without, at the same time, getting deeper into the history of the people. Technique was then, as today, the key to creative freedom, but before this came a will toward expression. Or, let me say, the reaction and subsequent relation of the Negro’s experience in this country in his English is one beginning of the Negro’s conscious appearance on the American scene.And I make my analogy through the slave citizen's music—through the music that is most closely associated with him: blues and a later, but parallel development, jazz. It took me a decade to find that those records told a story: Every voice, every title is telling you the story of Afro-American history.

Blues People argues that in their art, Louis Armstrong, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and countless other black bards confronted the forces of racism, poverty and Jim Crow.Perhaps this is only another way of saying that, whatever the degree of injustice and inequality sustained by the slaves, American culture was.

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