Category: Blues

  • Intersectionality: Beyoncé Feminism

    “When the Levee Breaks,” Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy (1929): “When the Levee Breaks,” Led Zeppelin, 1971: Beyoncé samples the Zeppelin version in “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” off Lemonade (2016): She also samples a 1962 speech by Malcolm X: In the official video for “Formation,” we see what happens when the levee actually breaks: Beyoncé […]

  • The Blues Mode and 12-Bar Form (examples)

    A collection of some of the musical examples referred to by Peter van der Merwe in your reading. As you listen, think about the similarities in these musics from across cultures. What makes them blues or blues-like? Charley Patton, “Tom Rushen Blues”. You’ll be reading more about Charley Patton later. For the moment, pay attention […]

  • The Happy Heaven of Harlem

    Many artists moved to Harlem, where they were free to cultivate the inner life. Langston Hughes, the most famous poet of the Harlem Renaissance, reading his poem “I, Too”: The Harlem Renaissance was the artistic flowering of the Great Migration. As Duke Ellington wrote in “Drop Me Off in Harlem”: I don’t want your Dixie,You […]

  • Some Motor City History

    Blind Blake (1896-1938) recorded “Detroit Bound Blues” for Paramount in 1928. It’s a kind of miniature record of at least some of the impetus behind the Great Migration. I’m goin’ to Detroit, get myself a good jobI’m goin’ to Detroit, get myself a good jobTried to stay around here with the starvation mob I’m goin’ […]

  • Stagolee Shot Billy

    Content warning: explicit language, racial slurs (including the n-word) in original sources. Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, dedicated his 1968 book Seize the Time, to his wife, Artie, and his son, Malik Nkrumah Stagolee Seale. Malik’s third name, as Seale explains it, derives from the lumpen proletarian politically unaware brothers in […]

  • JumpJim’s Southern Journey

    Some of the music JumpJim describes hearing on his trip to buy old blues records with Chester Bly — a trip that has many unintended consequences. JumpJim describes: Chester, knocking on doors, asking his monomaniacal question. Got any records? Under your porch, maybe? Pay a dime a piece. Here are some of the records the […]

  • Captain Jack

    In the novel White Tears by Hari Kunzru, which is about the haunting of a 21st-century sound engineer by the ghost of a forgotten early-20th-century bluesman, the allegorical figure of “Captain Jack” appears early on, in a quoted song lyric. The lyric is from Son House’s “County Farm Blues” (1941): Down South, when you do […]

  • The Voices That Have Gone: Blues Ghosts

    The only known photograph of Delta bluesman Charley Patton. Hari Kunzru based his portrait of mid-twentieth-century collectors of early blues recordings on a loosely-knit real-life group of blues enthusiasts — made up almost entirely white men — who called themselves the “Blues Mafia.” The character of Chester Bly in particular was inspired by the legendary […]

  • Roll and Tumble

    White Tears begins with an epigraph: I rolled and I tumbledCried the whole night longWoke up this morningI didn’t know right from wrong The earliest recorded version of these lyrics are from Hambone Willie Newbern’s “Roll and Tumble Blues,” on a 1929 Okeh Records 78. Alan Lomax recorded Delta blueswoman Rosa Lee Hill singing a […]

  • Girls in Cars

    Aside from the cheerful candy-colored queer eroticism of Janelle Monae’s video for “Pynk,” one of the things that strikes me is the way Monae flips the trope of women in a car into a narrative of black female pride and empowerment. Women in cars are, of course, a well-worn visual feature of many rap music […]