Blues vs. Rock and Roll
“You can’t play the blues, until you’ve paid your dues” (Spencer 41), said by the originator of the blues W.C. Handy. The blues is a music style that influenced America in many ways eventually coming to create rock and roll. The true originators of the blues go back to African slaves brought to America to work on plantations. As these slaves gained freedom and acceptance in the big cities blues developed its own unique style. This unique style gained popularity amongst the white community creating an opportunity for record labels to make a profit. Once the blues went nationwide white musicians took the blues style and techniques creating rock and roll. Some argue that rock and roll was only a lame attempt at duplicating the blues which could never be understood in the white community. Others argue that rock and roll artists stole the creativity of blues musicians to make their own profit. My argument is to find out whether or not the blues was stolen from African Americans and whether the blues was the property of African Americans not to be used by whites. Whatever the case, the blues changed how other’s viewed music and brought a whole new vibe to its white listeners. To settle the argument over whether or not the blues was something that belonged to blacks we must find out where the blues came from. If you want to find the origin of the blues you must look back to West Africa before its people were introduced to the European and American society. African Natives were isolated from the rest of the world, because it was too early to have technology for travel. Due to this isolation they created their own unique form of speech and music. The key element of West African music was rhythm, not melody and harmony. Instead of the European melodic harmonies, West African music was surrounded by rhythm. “The core of European music was to embellish a melody with a number of melodic instruments, and incidentally set a rhythm. The European aspect of rhythm was only specified by vague terms such as “adagio” or “allegro.” The core of West African music was to color a rhythm with a number of musical instruments, and incidentally dress it up with a melody” (Scaruffi 2) Rhythm was the foundation of the blues which the early whites never used. It can be concluded that the concept of rhythm was something that was created by African Americans belonging to their culture. Once the concept of rhythm came to America the technique of melody would fall behind becoming a less important aspect of music. In the 17th century America discovered Africa and enslaved the “Inferior race” (Guralnick 98) to work as cotton and wheat pickers for Southern plantation owners. As African slaves were shipped off to America they brought the musical aspect of rhythm that would lay the foundation for blues music. African slaves brought to pick cotton and wheat would use rhythm to set a pace for work. “Black slaves developed a "call and response" way of singing to give rhythm to the drudgery of their servitude. These "field hollers" served as a basis of all blues music that was to follow” (Scaruffi 1). These work songs were the original form of blues. They would express the harsh conditions of slavery. Africans brought new emotions and techniques to produce music. None of these emotions could be understood by whites because slavery was not an issue for them. “Whether ecstatic (religious), mournful (work) or exuberant (party), it was much more emotional than white folk music. The combined effect of the hypnotic format and the emotional content created loose structures that could extend for indefinite periods of time, in a virtually endless alternation of repetition and improvisation” (Guralnick 13). The conditions were harsh and brutal working on the Southern plantations. These harsh conditions were a major focus in the lyrics of African slaves and influenced the future theme of blues music. “The songs of a Negro were the diary of his life...
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