Beverly Andrews, the writer of our newest Workin Process musical, Crossroads, takes a look at what the blues are and where they came from. You can catch Crossroads, and the full Night of the Blues, next week at the Actors’ Church!
What are the blues? A musical voice of liberation by former slaves during the early days of emancipation has gone on to become one of the world’s most influential musical art forms. A musical genre, which acts as the basis for most popular music produced today.
So what are the blues? A fusion perhaps of traditional African music, work songs and religious spirituals, fused together and used as a literary tool through which artists can comment on life.
From the stripped down delta blues, which was usually played by solo artists, to the more sophisticated orchestral early recordings by the genre’s first superstars in the form of female singer songwriters of the age Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.
The blues is a musical form, which in the beginning was often dominated by women, who in many cases did not receive the credit they deserved. It also became a vehicle through which artists could concentrate on the world around them and write songs about subjects society often considered taboo.
Be it love and sexuality, a topic which blues legend Son House felt was the root of all society woes, or the largest economic migration which took place at the turn of the last century as a result of the civil war, as southern African Americans sought for better, brighter economic futures in America’s northern states. All these subjects served as fertile ground for the blues kings and queens to explore in their songs.
One artist once said that the blues is when life strips you down to your very core and it’s there where you have to face who you really are, that’s the moment you are truly ready to write the blues. Picasso, after the accidental suicide of his best friend, Carlos Casagemos, found in his despair the only paintings he could paint were in a monochromatic blue. Reflecting the despair he felt in his art, those paintings ultimately were the making of his career. As they reflected his internal despair he ultimately was able exorcise his demons and carry on with his life. Perhaps ultimately that is what the blues is really about, the songs are a kind of musical exorcism which once sung allowed their creators to move on, and carry on with their lives.
A Night of the Blues takes place on Friday 16th February 2018 at St Paul’s Church. You can find more information and tickets here.