The Blues and his unsung heroes

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With the great migration, from 1910 to 1970, lots of African Americans left the south of the USA, where racial prejudice and discrimination were still present in society,  in order to go to the North. They searched for a job in cities such as Chicago, New York, Detroit and Philadelphia and an outcome of this movement was the Harlem Renaissance.

This was a literary, artistic, and musical movement that arose a new black cultural identity and  took its name from Harlem, which is a district of New York where it started and then branched out in USA. This Renaissance bring the idea of the “New Negro”, whereby a person could overwhelm racism trough the artistic production.

Blues is a kind of music that remembers the hard times of African Americans, indeed its inventors were slaves, ex-slaves and the descendants of slaves: African American sharecroppers who sang while they worked in the cotton and vegetable fields. Lots of blues artists were common people so they remain unknown until now even if they have been playing music for all their life.

For example the song Everyday I have the blues was first sung by B.B. King but probably people know it because it was sung for over  50 years  by lots of artists: the first one was Joe Williams, then blues artists such as Johnnie Ray, James Brown; rock artists like Carlos Santana, Lou Rawls, The Marshall Tucker Band, Elton John and nowadays artists like John Mayer and many others.

The lyrics are brief but they say: “Yes I’m gonna pack my suitcase, move on down the line where there ain’t nobody worried and there ain’t nobody crying”, so maybe it hides the idea of this movement from south to north America, where they think they would have found comfort and no racial prejudice.

Another bluesman that has an unordinary history is Robert Brown, better known as Washboard Sam, because of his talent in playing this instrument, a drums’ ancestor. His songs were written to fight against discrimination and injustice and he became rapidly famous thanks to his strong and wonderful voice. With electric blues his blues appears antiquate, then has again a little bit of fame with famous groups such as the Rolling Stones and Animals who brought back again the real blues but he soon died. Washboard Sam was buried anonymously, only years after big artists of this genre decided to raise funds to give a respectable burial to one of the most important bluesmen.

After all this words spent about this guy if you want to discover him there’s a playlist dedicate to him where you can finally listen to his beautiful voice.

Martina Rappa (VF)

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