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Stylistic origins: Spirituals, work songs
Cultural origins: late 19th century Southern United States, especially the Mississippi Delta
Typical instruments: Guitar - Piano - Harmonica - Bass - Drums
Mainstream popularity: Some, mostly in more rock-based styles
Derivative forms: Rhythm and blues Rock and roll
Classic female blues - Country blues - Delta blues - Jazz blues - Jump blues - Piano blues
Blues-rock - Soul blues
Regional sounds
African blues - British blues - Chicago blues - Detroit blues - Kansas City blues - Louisiana blues - Memphis blues - Piedmont blues - St. Louis blues - Swamp blues - Texas blues - Western blues
Other topics
Musicians - Blues scale

Blues is a vocal and instrumental musical form with its earliest stylistic roots in West Africa, which evolved from African American work songs. A form of American roots music, blues has been a major influence on later American and Western popular music, finding expression in ragtime, jazz, big bands, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and country music, as well as conventional pop songs and even modern classical music.

Early forms of the blues evolved in the Southern United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, using simple instruments such as acoustic guitar, piano, and harmonica. Songs came with many different forms of structure, although the twelve- or eight-bar structure based on tonic, subdominant and dominant chords became predominant. Melodically, blues music is marked by the use of the lowered third and dominant seventh (so-called blue notes) of the associated major scale. The blues scale is frequently used in non-blues musical forms.

What is now recognizable as the standard 12-bar blues form with A A1 B form is documented from oral history and sheet music as appearing in African-American communities throughout the region along the lower Mississippi River during the decade of 1900s (and performed by white bands in New Orleans at least since 1908). One of these early sites of blues evolution was along Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.

Lyrically, verses of early blues songs tended to consist of a single line repeated two or three times before, such as:

Woke up this morning with the blues down in my soul
Woke up this morning with the blues down in my soul
My baby gone and left me, got a heart as black as coal

Blues music frequently takes the form of a loose narrative, often with the singer reciting his or her many misfortunes. Contrary to much of the music being recorded at the time, many of the oldest blues records contain gritty, realistic lyrics. In, perhaps, one of the most extreme examples, Down In The Alley by Memphis Minnie is about prostitution, where the singer describes having sex with several men in succession in an alley. Music such as this was called "gut-bucket" blues. The term refers to chitterlings, a soul food dish prepared from pig intestines, then associated with slavery, deprivation and hard times. Gut-bucket blues and the rowdy juke-joint venues where it often was played, earned blues music an unsavory reputation. Proper, church-going people shunned it, and preachers railed against it as sinful. And because it often treated the hardships and injustices of life, the blues gained an association in some quarters with misery and oppression.

Raunchy, yes, but blues lyrics could be raucous and funny, as well.

Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me,
Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me,
It may be sending you baby, but it's worrying the hell out of me.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, W.C. Handy took the blues across the tracks and made it respectable, even "high-toned." Born in Florence, Alabama, in 1873, the formally trained African-American musician, composer and arranger became a major player in the popularization of blues music. Known as the "Father of the Blues," Handy was one of the first to transcribe and then orchestrate blues in an almost symphonic style, with bands and singers. Extremely prolific over his long life, Handy's signature work was the "St. Louis Blues".

Jazz bands often recorded blues tunes from 1917 on. In the 1920s the blues became a major element of American popular music. With the rise of the recording industry, there was increased popularity of country blues singers and guitarists like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake, who recorded for Paramount Records, and Lonnie Johnson who recorded for OKeh Records. Son House, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Mississippi John Hurt are a handful of musicians who greatly influenced the blues and many later "rock" artists. These recordings came to be known as "race" records, since they were targeted almost exclusively to an African-American audience. In addition, women blues singers were extremely popular in the 1920s, among them Mamie Smith, Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Victoria Spivey.

In the 1940s and 1950s, increased urbanization and the use of amplification led to electric blues music, popular in cities such as Chicago and best exemplified by such artists as Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters. Electric blues would eventually give rise to rock and roll.

In the 1960s and 1970s artists such as Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix influenced by both early and electric blues musicians brought the blues to a new, younger audience. This was a development of the earlier folk & blues revival;. Through these artists and others both earlier and later, Blues music has been strongly influential in the development of Rock and Roll.

In the 1980s the film The Blues Brothers helped increase awareness of mid-20th century style urban blues among a younger audience.

Since then blues has continued to thrive in both traditional and new forms through the work of Robert Cray, Bonnie Raitt and others.

Performers in the blues style appear virtually in almost every musical genre. See List of blues musicians for more information.

See also: List of genres of the blues

Blues dancing

Blues is also the name for an informal type of swing dancing with no fixed patterns and a heavy focus on connection, sensuality and improvisation, often with body contact. Although usually done to blues music, it can be done to any slow tempoed 4/4 music, including rock ballads and "club" music.


American roots music
Appalachian | Blues (Ragtime) | Cajun and Creole (Zydeco) | Country (Honky tonk and Bluegrass) | Jazz | Native American | Spiritualss and Gospel | Tejano