Learning Adventures in Citizenship
Episode 5Topic 3
Sing the Blues

The high energy, irreverence, and improvisational spirit of the 1920s inspired writer F. Scott Fitzgerald to dub the era "The Jazz Age," after the popular music of the time. Jazz music was greatly influenced by "blues," an African-American musical style that many believe was developed by slaves in the southern U.S. On plantations, slaves used wailing improvisational songs known as "field hollers" to communicate with each other in their oppressive environment.

The blues became popular in the 1900s, when a bandleader named W.C. Handy published songs such as "Memphis Blues" (1912) and "St. Louis Blues" (1914). These early hits gave Handy the nickname "the father of the blues." In this activity, you are going to study some lyrics to "blues" songs, then create your own.

Find Out What Makes A

Blues songs almost always express loneliness, hardship, or sorrow. However, the tone of the song sometimes involves humor or a defiant reaction to these troubles and life in general. Early blues lyrics focus on topics such as financial worries, lying or cheating spouses, political injustices, and so on. W.C. Handy said, "The blues comes from nothingness, from want, from desire."

Most blues lyrics consist of stanzas containing three or four lines. The first line sets up the problem. The second line restates or embellishes on the problem, often using the same melody as the first line. Lastly, the third and sometimes fourth line comment on the problem, or offer a humorous or defiant take on it.

Here's an example of the blues format, sung from a kid's point of view:

Mom woke me up this mornin': "It's time to go to school!"
Yeah, she woke me up this mornin'! How could she be so cruel?
She says I'd better study. Well, I'd rather take a snooze.
I've got the early-morning-still-asleep blues!

In addition to finding some blues recordings at your local library, look at these Web sites for other examples of blues songs.

Blues Lyrics On-Line -- Home Page

The Blus Bar - Index of artists

Write Your Own

After you have an understanding of the "blues" form, work with another student, or in a small group, to write your own blues song about something in your life.