How the Blues Really Began

Many rock ‘n’ roll groups, including the Beatles were inspired by the blues. Guitarists Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix had a blues foundation behind their rock sound. Where and how did the blues sound begin?

What is the blues?

The blues is music about the pain and suffering of African Americans sung and accompanied by trumpets, piano, and woodwind instruments. There are basically to types of blues: Folk -blues and Delta-blues. Folk-blues is about preliterate and literate rundown black communities. Delta-blues is about revisionists of the 1960s.


In the beginning learning the blues was like first learning family history or old songs, word of mouth. The blues really began in the 19th century on southern slave plantations where African American slaves used to sing while they picked cotton or tilled the soil. The original blues tunes died with the sharecroppers who lived near the Mississippi Delta river.

The Publishing 

The first published blues sheet music happened in 1908. The sheet music includes chord progression, twelve-bar blues notes. After the blues music was published the music was played in tent shows, by comedians, musicians, and at the circus. Traveling blues bands played the blues on trains and sidewalks. The wandering songsters made the blues tunes more upbeat so people could dance to it.

The Founding Father 

The credit for 20th century blues goes to WC Hardy. William Christopher Handy was an African American songwriter born in Florence, Ala in 1873. Handy, a former music teacher, was known as the Father of the Blues. Being raised in a strict religious household that had forbidden musical instruments to be played because his family considered them tools of the devil. Handy sneaked practice time for a guitar and his trumpet. In 1903, the members of his band appointed him the bandleader of Knights of Pythias.

The Founding Mother 

Ma Rainey is thought of as the Mother of the blues. She was born Geraldine Pridgett in Columbus ,Ga. on April 26, 1886. When she was only 12, Pridgett made her singing debut at a local talent show. At 16, she joined her parents’ travelling musical show. In 1904, Geraldine Pridgett married Will Rainey. The two performed as Ma and Pa Rainey , even though the couple had no children. In Clarksdale, Miss., Ma Rainey heard a young woman sing a song about a lost love. She quickly memorized the song and decided to use it as the last song in each of her acts. Ma Rainey began to perform with such performers as Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. By the end of her career, she had sold out to packed houses and had sold millions of records sold. She continued to perform until 1935. The blues continued to gain momentum.

1930s to 1940s

Boogie Woogie became a popular form of the blues in the 1930s and 1940s. Boogie Woogie actually started to become popular during the 1920s. It is typically played on the piano and is a form of rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly. In the 1940s, there was a trio of singing sisters who wanted us to believe that that a certain trumpet player from the Chicago area could play boogie woogie style on his trumpet. When he was drafted into the army during World War II, he woke the men up with a boogie woogie style version of “Reveille ” and put them to sleep with a boogie woogie version of “Taps.”


The transition from country blues to urban blues began in the 1920s. the electric blue that is blues played with electric guitar became popular around 1948 in Chicago. The blues became rhythm and blues, the precursor to rock music. R& B became a popular genre that was usually performed by black singers and musicians most notably, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Chuck Berry, and others. One of the first people to transition rhythm and blues into rock ‘n’ roll was Elvis Presley singing “Steamroller Blues” and “Mess of Blues ” to honor the blues music genre in 1957.

1960s and beyond 

Eric Burdon of the Animals in 1964 honored Halley and the Comets when they performed “Shake Rattle, and Roll. Eric Clapton sang at least six songs that pertained to the blues. B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone ” is a favorite of many 1960s and 1970s rock stars. Trio Manal made Agentine blues sung Castilian in poetry . There is a band out there today that is playing new arrangements of blues music.