How have the blues helped shape the sound of 20th century popular music?

6 Answers

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    One way is structure. The Blues is based on a three-chord pattern: I-IV-V (1-4-5), and usually through a progression of eight or twelve measures/bars. This framework can be heard in the popular music throughout the 20th Century.

    The Blues has also influenced popular music in form, usually taking the form AAB and call-and-response. Many cultures from around the world use call-and-response, as well as in West Africa. In the United States, it was first heard in church music and field hollers, which also had an influence on the Blues. A preacher or a lead field hand would call out a verse, and then the congregation or laborers would repeat the verse back. A strict interpretation would be:

    I, A, Call

    I, A, Repeat/Response

    IV, A, Call

    IV, A, Repeat/Response

    V, B, Response

    Another way is the the use of "blue" notes. Typically, they are described as flatted thirds, fifths, and sevenths (from the major scale), but they really are lowered by semitone. Semitones are not found in Western music, but are prevalent in West African music (an influence of Blues music) so Blues musicians found other means of achieving them: by use of the human voice, bending the sound pitch of a harmonica, bending the strings of a guitar, or by use of a slide on the neck of a guitar. Blue notes are so widely used, and are part of the popular music language, they sound perfectly normal, and usually go unnoticed.

    Up until the 1950s, featured instruments were usually piano, saxophone, or clarinet. The guitar was a band instrument, rather than a solo instrument; however, with the popularity of musicians like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, and electric Blues musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and BB King, the guitar became the driving force behind popular music.

    I'll post this for now, and probably come back to it later....

    Up until the first half of the 20th Century, music was segregated the same as the country. Records made by African Americans were called "race" records, and played only on radio stations also defined by race. Even big bands of the Pre-war Era were not integrated, and white was marketed to the general population, while race records and black bands were marketed only for the black market; however, that did not stop many whites from getting the records. That might seem like a strange statement now, but back then, a white kid from Brooklyn would have to go to Harlem in uptown Manhattan to purchase black music or see black bands perform. This was actually the case of my father.

    The real crossover began with Sam Phillips who had a record label in Memphis called Sun Records. The short story is that Sam was a big blues fan, and wanted to find a white singer that sounded black--meaning, someone who could sing and perform in a blues style, yet be white and appealing to whites. He found that exact performer in Elvis. This opened the door for a flood of music, black and white. Many black artists were sought-after by record labels, and white record-buyers, too. They were looking for music by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley, but the music was still classified by race, just as it was in the decades prior to the 1950s.

    Record companies started recording hit black music but covered by white performers. They knew that kids were buying the black music, but wanted to cash in on the larger, mainstream market. However, to paraphrase Little Richard, the white kids had Pat Boone's versions of "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally" out in the open, but his records under the bed.... until mom and dad went out.

    But by the close of the 1950s, popular music was once again changing, and many black musicians found themselves without contracts, ripped off, and very broke. At the beginning of the 60s, many blues, rock n roll, and r&b artists began playing in Europe, and influenced all of the early British Invasion bands, to include The Beatles, The Animals, The Rolling Stones, Them, The Yardbirds, The Pretty Things, etc.

    Source(s): Musicologist
  • 1 decade ago

    There was a song by Muddy Waters called "The Blues Had a Baby and They Called it Rock and Roll". That pretty much sums it up; each generation inherited the blues from the previous one. The early rock and roll musicians (such as Chuck Berry) played mostly blues-based riffs sped up and amplified. These rock and roll artists of the Fifties in turn inspired the pop bands of the Sixties (such as The Stones, The Who, The Yardbirds, The Beatles and The Kinks), who (possibly less so with the Beatles) themselves listened to a lot of Delta blues and combined the older blues style with the raucous sound of rock and roll. Led Zeppelin are one of the most influential bands of all time, and Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were both serious blues music collectors. They and the other Sixties bands mentioned are considered amongst the greatest modern musicians, and they then passed the baton onto younger bands still. There are still a lot of bands out there in the twenty-first century obviously modelled on and inspired by the 60s and 70s greats.

  • 1 decade ago

    The blues has deep roots in American history, particularly African-American history. The blues originated on Southern plantations in the 19th Century. Its inventors were slaves, ex-slaves and the descendants of slaves - African-American sharecroppers who sang as they toiled in the cotton and vegetable fields. It's generally accepted that the music evolved from African spirituals, African chants, work songs, field hollers, rural fife and drum music, revivalist hymns, and country dance music.

    The blues grew up in the Mississippi Delta just upriver from New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. Blues and jazz have always influenced each other, and they still interact in countless ways today.

    Unlike jazz, the blues didn't spread out significantly from the South to the Midwest until the 1930s and '40s. Once the Delta blues made their way up the Mississippi to urban areas, the music evolved into electrified Chicago blues, other regional blues styles, and various jazz-blues hybrids. A decade or so later the blues gave birth to rhythm 'n blues and rock 'n roll.

    No single person invented the blues, but many people claimed to have discovered the genre. For instance, minstrel show bandleader W.C. Handy insisted that the blues were revealed to him in 1903 by an itinerant street guitarist at a train station in Tutwiler, Mississippi.

  • 1 decade ago

    Wallflower's answer is a great one. But I would like to add, that for a large part of the 20th century popular music was blues music. And the shape of popular music for a time was the shape of blues music.

    Blues music is a great way to overview the history of the 20th century. Blues music came into being as a national genre probably in the 1920's, songs by musicians like Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson I, chronicled World War I and the hard times of the 1920's and 30's and reached national attention.

    Because the roots of blues music is African American slave songs, country music, folk music, gospel music and popular music. It is only natural that blues music would also inform all these other types of music. One way to look at it, is that blues music is a style that other music forms can be played and performed in. So you get country blues, and gospel blues, and blues rock. Which are also popular forms of music.

    As time rolled on, and we get to the post WWII time frame, the late 1940's, we find the post war bluesmen. These guys were part of the great migration that African Americans experienced as they moved from the rural south to the urban north. Consider Muddy Waters and others move from Mississippi to Chicago. This is probably the period where blues music and popular music overlapped the most.

    By now we are into the 1950s and you have bluesmen, like Muddy Waters crossing the ocean, going to Europe and inspiring British musicians. Also during this period Jimi Hendrix and others change the blues and infuse it with rock music. And you get some of the British Invasion musicians bringing their blues influenced rock back to America (see Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Cream, Eric Clapton, etc).

    Which probably catches us up to the late 20th century, late 1960's to 2000. You have many popular blues musicians making combacks and we see the folk music scene revival. Blues musicians like B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, and others make impact on popular music.

    And today, you have popular musicians like the White Stripes, the Black Keys, Allison Krause and Robert Plant, and many more then I have room to name playing blues music, winning Grammy awards, and being right in the center of popular music.

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  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    Actually some of the Lennon-McCartney songs will endure. They were quite prolific song writers and some will have staying power through the years to come. Same for many other writers as well. The songs and the music for some are quite good and can be redone by many more singers in the future and of course will be called classics by the hundred years time. As the population who have listened to these songs in their lifetime die off the music will not have as much of an audience but they will not all stop being played. We still play music originally written in the 1600s and the 1700s so what's to say that some of todays music won't survive. Some of it will and more generations of music lovers will listen to it.

  • 1 decade ago

    These have all been great answers, informative and well thought out as well as being well written. However, one key link was missing. The path from blues to rock and roll is easy to see and well reported. there is also a strong link between blues and rap. Chuck D, for example, cites Muddy Waters as a big influence.

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