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Sounds of the American Blues

In the 1890’s, a new musical genre began to become popular. Its name was “the blues”. This style emerged from African American communities in the southern part of the United States and began to spread to larger cities, finding a home in Chicago, New Orleans, and New York City. Usually sung in the first–person, the blues describes the ups and downs of daily life. The songs typically follow a ballad in form, with repeated versus without a defined chorus. The words were often derived from work songs, and the music is characterized by great melodic, timber, and rhythmic freedom and forceful delivery. They often follow the same format of one line of verse, repeated twice and a new third line that rhymes with the original. The blues form became a fundamental aspect of the development of both American Jazz and Rock & Roll music, among other styles. Listen to a small sampling of Smithsonian Folkways collection of the blues.