Teaching Students About the History of the Blues

The blues is a genre of music that tells the visceral stories of human struggle and emotion. Its mournful melodies and rhythms have captivated audiences for decades, and its origins hold significant historical and cultural value. As an educator, teaching students about the history of the blues is essential for fostering a well-rounded appreciation for music and its impacts on society. To help you create an engaging and informative lesson, use this guide to explore some key topics to cover in your class.

The Origins of the Blues

African musical influences: Teach students about how African musical traditions played a critical role in shaping the blues genre. Rhythms from West African drumming, call-and-response vocal patterns, and tonal blue notes all contributed to forming the basis of early blues music.

The Great Migration: Discuss how the Great Migration in the early 1900s brought southern black people, including their blues music, to various northern cities like Chicago and Detroit. This migration had a profound impact on America’s cultural landscape as musicians shared their talents in new environments.

Slavery and oppression: Help students understand that the emotions conveyed through blues music come from deep roots in African-American history. For many artists, it served as an emotional catharsis and form of communication when facing oppressive conditions.

Iconic Blues Figures

Robert Johnson: Often called “the King of Delta Blues,” Robert Johnson’s iconic guitar playing heavily influenced generations of musicians that followed him. Despite his relatively short life and mysterious death at age 27, his work remains legendary in music history.

Muddy Waters: Another crucial figure in blues history, Muddy Waters helped popularize electric guitar techniques like bottleneck slide guitar that are still prevalent today.

Bessie Smith: Introduce your students to Bessie Smith, the “Empress of the Blues,” and discuss her powerful and influential singing style, which helped pave the way for other female blues artists.

III. The Evolution of Blues Music

The Chicago and electric blues: Teach students about the impact of the Great Migration on blues music, as it transitioned to a more urban setting in cities like Chicago. The introduction of electric instruments transformed blues into a louder, more ‘urban’ sound that eventually gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll.

British blues invasion: Show your class how American blues musicians were rediscovered by British bands like The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds, who drew heavily from their styles to create their own unique brand of rock music in the ’60s.

Contemporary influence: Foster an appreciation for the ongoing impact of blues music by demonstrating how its themes and techniques can still be heard in modern genres such as R&B, hip-hop, and even pop.

Choose your Reaction!