“The blues is like a planet. It’s an enormous topic. You can’t ignore the impact that it has had and continues to have on the whole musical culture. It’s a tree that everyone is swinging from. Without it, I don’t know where I would be. It’s indelible and indispensable.”

Tom Waits

If American music is unique, it is largely due to its bedrock foundation of blues and gospel music, two forms of music that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century. Anchoring the sounds of African America, these styles underlay the musical innovations of the century: jazz, rhythm and blues, rock, soul and hip hop. They are known and cherished around the world and in every corner of the U.S. It would be impossible to imagine American music without them.

The story of black music is also the tale of the enduring social struggles of American history. Blues and gospel, the secular and sacred songs of everyday black folk, are both bound up in sorrow, loss, despair, hope, redemption, resilience and dreams. While remaining recognizable over many decades, the spirit and musical forms of these styles have influenced much of the American music that has followed.

The “blue notes” that are characteristic of the form became prominent in country music, rock and roll and jazz. The simple 12 bar A A B form of blues became the template for the first rock and roll songs, from “Good Rockin’ Tonight” to “Rocket 88″ to “Hound Dog” to “Johnny B Goode”.

And the world wide interest in American blues inspired such musicians as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and others abroad to not only take up their own instruments, but to re-influence American popular music, borrowing the beat, the form and the sound of the blues and infusing them with new sensibilities.

Blues music characteristically features musical tones that differed from the Western diatonic scale (do re mi). The blues features notes that fall between the intervals of the scale, microtones that flattened the pitch of conventional music, creating powerful tensions and resolutions. The blues also feature a heavily accented and often irregular beat.

Simple blues forms follow an A A B structure over twelve bars; a form that has become the bedrock of jazz, pop, country and rock and roll over the years. Blues music drew on numerous African American sources. In Southern plantations, lumber camps, prisons and fields, black work songs, field hollers, chants, and ballads all combined to shape a unique new music with strong ties to African antecedents.

Blues artists became heroes and legends in the black community. One of the most enduring tales concerns the elusive bluesman Robert Johnson. Johnson’s music was so powerful, many of his listeners believed the myth that he had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for it. Similar tales of other musicians made clear that African Americans saw music as a spiritual, deeply powerful art.

Such tales resonated with African stories and myths kept alive in the black community, and were embraced as well by a wider world eager to understand the source of blues music’s appeal.

Similarly, gospel music’s deep connection to religious faith often transported both performers and audiences: trances, speaking in tongues and ecstatic emotional outbursts often accompanied the gospel music and services. This music could and did change lives.

Let’s see now the top six blues musicians:

6. B.B. King

Riley B. King (September 16, 1925 – May 14, 2015), known by his stage name B.B. King, was an American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, B.B. King is known as “The King of the Blues”, and one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar” along with Albert King and Freddie King. Truly, B.B. King’s career was not just one of longevity but ongoing tireless performances averaging over 200 concerts per year well into his 70’s; King died at the age of 89 in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 14, 2015.

B.B. King started singing in the gospel choir at Elkhorn Baptist Church in Kilmichael. Some say that at the age of 12 King purchased his first guitar for $15 while others indicate he was given his first guitar by Bukka White, his mother’s first cousin (King’s grandmother and White’s mother were sisters). A self-taught guitarist, B.B. King wanted to become a radio musician and so he did performing on Sonny Boy Williamson‘s radio program on KWEM in West Memphis, where he began to develop an audience. King’s appearances led to steady engagements at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis and later to a ten-minute spot on the Memphis radio station WDIA, as a result, the radio spot became so popular that it was expanded and became the Sepia Swing Club.

5. Robert Johnson

Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938) was an American singer-songwriter and musician. Johnson died at the early age of 27, and a legendary Faustian myth (pact with the devil) evolved about his rise to success being at the crossroads where he sold his soul for achievement. While Robert Johnson had singing and guitar skills along with songwriting talent, he had little commercial success or public recognition in his lifetime.

Johnson’s musical influence begins to evolve years after his death with the reissue of his recordings in 1961, on the LP King of the Delta Blues Singers, that his work reached a wider audience. Johnson is now recognized as a master of the blues, particularly of the Mississippi Delta blues style after which to present day he is credited by many rock musicians as an important influence (Eric Clapton has called Johnson “the most important blues singer that ever lived”) and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early Influence in their first induction ceremony in 1986. Later in 2010, Johnson was ranked fifth in Rolling Stone′s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

4. Jason Simon

Jason Simon’s band the Dead Meadow formed in the late nineties in Washington, DC. They produce a sound that’s vaguely psychedelic, and steeped in blues. If the first Black Sabbath album were to somehow mate with the first Led Zeppelin album, and if this bluesy-hard rocker child had been put in the foster care of Andrew Stockwell of Wolfmother …well, you get the idea.

Simon’s sound is one that is self-consciously (but unapologetically) derivative of vintage-sounding heavy blues. They had one notable collaboration with Anton Newcombe from the Brian Jonestown Massacre, who recorded and produced their album Got Live If You Want It. Their album Feathers offered a richer and more distinct sound than their previous outings, there is still something to be said for their 2000 self-titled debut, which packs quite the punch, despite the simplicity of their sound.

3. Jack White

He’s one of pop music’s most enigmatic figures, from the famously ambiguous nature of his relationship to White Stripes band mate Meg White, to the accounts of his violent temper, to his music itself. Hailing from the Detroit music scene, White became a household name after the White Stripes album White Blood Cells spawned the hit “Fell in Love With a Girl” which had it’s own Michel Gondry directed music video featuring an animation done with Legos.

Jack also achieved success with The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather. While he has demonstrated his technical proficiency as a guitarist throughout his body of work, Jack likes his music sparse raw, and he’s a stickler for analog recording over digital, and typically doesn’t like to do more than one take of his songs. He’s shown time and time again that he values authenticity over technical virtuosity.

2. Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith was born in 1894, as one of ten children. Both her parents were dead by her eighth birthday. Her 1923 “Down Hearted Blues” recording session sold more than 780,000 records in six months. Unfortunately, by the 1930s, her Classic Blues style went out of popularity. The Depression and excessive alcohol affected her career as well. After a performance in 1937, Smith and her manager were driving down Highway 61 when their car struck an oncoming truck. Bessie was severely injured in the accident and taken to the hospital, where she bled to death.

1. Muddy Waters

Originally named McKinley Morganfield, Waters came to be in 1915 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. His mother died when he was three, and he was raised by his grandmother. His name came from his love of playing in the water of nearby Deer Creek. By thirteen, he was playing harmonica at local gatherings. At 17, he had saved enough money from sharecropping to buy a guitar, and he taught himself how to play.

He traveled around Clarksdale playing parties, juke joints, dinner parties, and anywhere else with somebody around who would pay him. He later moved to Chicago, and hit it big on radio.

Thank you for reading our article about this musical form, which gave so much inspiration to people all over the world.

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