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A Short History Of The Blues

2265 words - 9 pages

The late 19th century marked a great deal of change in the United States as well as the rest of the world. World war one had begun and reeked great havoc on the entire world. Nikola Tesla and the fathers of communications had made major scientific breakthroughs in the communications field and modern radio programming was right around the corner. Slavery had been abolished for over thirty years but segregation was still an enormous factor amongst the African-American people in the U.S. One of the most segregated states in the entire country, Mississippi, was on the brink of one of the most influential forms of modern music that the world had ever seen or heard: the blues. What the blues did for music is reflective in almost every piece of modern music heard throughout the world today. From rock and roll to country music, all the way to hip hop, the blues is deep down inside shining like a beautiful light that makes that music glow forever. Weather a person is happy or sad, compassionate or indifferent; the blues will always be there to light the way. Right at the turn of the century a man by the name of W.C. Handy was about to stumble upon a sound that would change the world of music forever.
The year was 1903. The summer sun was beating down ferociously and a man named William Christopher Handy, who happened to be catching a train heading north, found himself in a town called Tutwiler Mississippi which lies smack-dab in the middle of the Mississippi delta between Clarksdale Mississippi and Greenwood Mississippi. Handy, a former bandleader of “a black orchestra that mostly plays dance music and popular standards of the day, is a learned musician who understands theory and the conventions of good, respectable music’’ suddenly realizes the train is late (12). Handy begins to doze off when out of the blue he is awoken by a sound that is very new to his well-trained ears. A man sitting across from him is playing the guitar in a way that Handy has never seen. As Robert Santelli explains in his article A Century of the Blues, “He doesn’t finger the strings normally, instead, he presses a pocketknife against them, sliding it up and down to create a slinky sound…” (12). This technique, called slide guitar, would later become a staple of the most beautiful sounds of the pioneers of blues music. But not only is Handy amazed with the triumphant sound of the guitar, he is also mesmerized by the heart pounding words and eerie sound of the vocals coming from this dreadful looking specimen. This is the earliest known observation of the blues in the history of the world but not quite the birth of it. Santelli clarifies, “What Handy did on that railroad platform in Mississippi a century ago was witness the blues, not give birth to it” (13). Sadly enough, the birthplace of the blues is fairly uncertain. As Santelli makes clear, “ethnomusicologists didn’t become interested in the blues until later. Thus missing prime opportunities to document the origins...

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