History of the Blues – 1920s

We are beginning this year in years 7 & 8 with the Blues, probably the most important American music in the 20th century. It gave rise to Jazz and later, in the UK the great Blues revival of the 1960s when British musicians started to play the Blues. They made the music popular in the USA, in fact, because of the racial divide in America, most Americans were unaware of this important part of their musical heritage.

In the 1920s country  blues emerged from the spiritual songs often heard among the black field workers in the southern states of America. There were no electric instruments – the blues often used any available instrument, often a guitar or an out of tune piano. With no formal music education, the writers and performers learned and played by ear, just like folk musicians all over the world.

Guitars were often home made, like the one below, using any available materials – in this case a metal cigar box.

Some people even used their wooden shack or a plank of wood as a soundbox for a primitive Diddley Bow like this one.

Here is a short introduction to a few of the artists who sang and played in the 1920s.

Blind Lemon Jefferson

“Blind” Lemon Jefferson (born Lemon Henry Jefferson; September 24, 1893 – December 19, 1929) was an American blues singer and guitarist from Texas. He was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s, and has been titled “Father of the Texas Blues”.

Charley Patton

Charley Patton (died April 28, 1934), also known as Charlie Patton, was an American Delta blues musician. He is considered by many to be the “Father of the Delta Blues”, and is credited with creating an enduring body of American music and personally inspiring just about every Delta blues man

Blind Blake

Arthur “Blind” Blake (1896 – December 1, 1934) was an American blues and ragtime singer and guitarist. He is known for his series of recordings for Paramount Records between 1926 and 1932 and the mystery surrounding his life.

Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith (April 15, 1894 – September 26, 1937) was an American blues singer.

Nicknamed The Empress of the Blues, Smith was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and, along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on other jazz vocalists.