Blues Women: First Civil Rights Workers

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The African voice inspired instrumentalists.  Vocalese was a dialogue between vocalists and instruments.  Each person had an individual sound and instrumentalists imitated the voice’s cries, growls, moans, slurs, whispers, shouts and wails.  Blues was the element of American subculture created by enslaved Africans, singing European music.  Considered crude by classical listeners, Blues liberated singers from precise pitch and calculated rhythms of European music.  Black singers emerged from Spirituals and Blues to develop Jazz.  Their free-spirited songs delivered messages of liberation, signaling to Africans in America that they could be free.  Blues women were the first civil rights workers because their songs symbolized liberty in its rawest form by tapping into the human spirit.  Angela Davis recounted Marx and Engles’ observation that art as “a form of social consciousness [awakens] . . . those affected by it to . . . transform their oppressive environments” (Davis, 1999).  Blues were popularized by Gertrude “Ma” Rainey (Columbus, GA, September, 1882 – December 22, 1939), The Mother of the Blues (Cartwright, 2008, p. 9).  A spokesperson for black people, she was a hero to them.  She recorded hundreds of songs on Paramount, putting that recording company on the map.  The most popular Blues singers established a rapport and rhetoric with the crowd.  Ma Rainey took Bessie Smith under her wing and Blues tradition developed as one followed another.
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This book Amazing Musicwomen has lots of information about Billie HolidayElla FitzgeraldDinah WashingtonMarian McPartland, Peggy Lee, Toshiko AkiyoshiAlberta Hunter, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and other Musicwomen. Musicwoman Radio and Musicwoman Magazine tell the stories of Amazing Musicwomenwho paved the way for vocalists, song stylists, singers, composers, and instrumentalists. Their songs are from The American Song Book that includes original songs like Alberta Hunter’s “Downhearted Blues”, “Handy Man”, and “Rough & Ready Man” plus songs of Broadway composers of the early 1900s, Duke Ellington, Billie Strayhorn, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Fats Waller, and Broadway composers Michel LeGrande, Stevie Wonder, Burt Bacharach and Isaac Hayes. [NOTE, after Alberta Hunter, the absence of women composers. Who were they? Does anybody know?] OK, Barbra Streisand, Carol King, Carly Simon, Roberta Flack, and who else? www.lulu.com/spotlight/divajc

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References

Cartwright, J. (2008).  Amazing Musicwomen.  FYI Communications, Inc.

Davis, A.Y. (1999).  Blues legacies and black feminism. New York: Random House.

©2014 Joan Cartwright, M.A.

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