Blues evolution and history – Hey guys! In this article we’ll have a look at the conditions after the end of the American Civil War when all slaves had gained their freedom (what happened before, please see at proto-blues). In this transitional period from slavery to sharecropping, living conditions changed for former slaves, as they were forced to live alone or in small numbers in isolated farms, where social interaction was reduced to the radius of farming communities.
Blues evolution and history – Black families worked the land as owners, hired laborers, sharecroppers or share-renters, and lived under constant economic and social pressure. Throughout the late 19th century racial tension grew in the United States, especially in the Southern parts. People were blaming their financial problems on the newly freed slaves that lived around them and lynching was becoming a popular way of resolving some of the anger that whites had towards the blacks. So, marginalized by restrictive legislation, cut off from white society, African Americans began to revitalize their own culture. It was a period of social upheaval that inspired a revolution in their culture and led to the development of Gospel, Ragtime, Jazz and of course the Blues. So let’s see how the music of this era evolved into these music styles.
Fisk Jubilee Singers (Gospel)
Blues evolution and history – As we’ve seen, Negro Spirituals was the religious musical expression of black slaves in the United States, which also continued to exist after the Civil War. This tradition though, was not yet popularized among whites, who had only heard the black caricatures in Minstrel shows. In 1871 the African-American vocal group “Fisk Jubilee Singers” toured for the first time performing Spirituals and Slave songs. Although the first collection of Slave songs had been presented to the world four years earlier these students had learned these songs from their parents. Another publication of Spiritual Songs came in 1874, when Phillip P. Bliss edited a revival song-book titled “Gospel songs” intended to be used in evangelical campaigns. It was the first published occurrence of the term Gospel to describe this kind of music. “Fisk Jubilee Singers” continued touring through the 1870s preserving the Spirituals, but also changing them. It’s natural during the process of oral transmission, a song that passes from generation to generation, to be adapted to the musical taste of both performers and listeners. Spirituals continued to evolve and later gave birth to the commercial Gospel music we know today after blues pianist Thomas A. Dorsey turned to religious music in 1932 and became the first publisher of Gospel music. OK, now let’s see another music business blacks started getting more involved with.
Minstrel Show and Vaudeville
Blues evolution and history – After the Civil War black artists started participating in the Minstrel Shows as it was the only way into the theater for them. Keeping up with convention, they still corked their faces, dressed in ragged “slave clothes” and acted like the expected stereotypical rural black. They mostly sang and played popular minstrel songs but also included their own Spirituals and Cakewalks in their performances. In the 1880s Vaudeville replaced Minstrel shows as the most popular form of entertainment. It was less offensive but still dealing with ethnic resentments. It included jokes, juggling, coon-songs, entertaining songs and dance routines. It provided an opportunity for blacks to continue performing, in the blackface style of Minstrels shows, and be a part of the music and entertainment scene of that period. Vaudeville helped to spread out the African American music tradition and led to one of the first recordings of a black artist in 1890. By 1895 George W. Johnson’s “Whistling [ __ ]” and “The Laughing song” were the best-selling recordings in the United States.
Ok that’s the blues evolution and history about gospel, minstrel and vaudeville. In the next episode we’ll talk about the development of Ragtime, Jazz and other popular music in the late 19th century. Keep in touch! .