I’m a big fan of the blues, but I’ve been noticing one thing when I go to live concerts: the audience is almost entirely white.
This may be due to my location, which has a fairly small Black community. This also may be due to the fact that the blues never was a massively popular type of music, so African Americans may not be any more exposed to it than anyone else.
Still, when it comes to music prefered by Blacks, it usually seems like rap/hip hop/soul are what’s in. Are the blues now white music?
Black fans are not into the blues because black blues musicians can make a better living doing other forms of music, and black audiences and musicians both follow newer trends. But the musicality of the blues is so primal I’m glad somebody’s keeping it alive.
George Michael once said in the late 80’s that the biggest measure of his success was not on the pop charts, but that his singles – “Faith” and most especially “Father Figure” – topped urban black music charts.
Author Nelson George gets into this more in his books, “The Death of The Rhythm And Blues” and “Hip-Hop Nation” but his contention is that white audiences and musicians have always co-opted and assimilated black music, from gospel to r&b, and that black audience’s obsessions with cultural assimillation have allowed this to happen. Oddly enough when a music form grows too popular with white audiences, we’ll go do something else. Blues and rock are now white, R&B is not the cultural force it used to be and hip-hop is now a growing global multicultural phenomenon.
My own observation is that only a small, insular, materialistic and pathological subset of hip-hop can be called authentically black (gangsta rap and Dirty South rap.) My hope is that Philly’s neo-soul movement continues to grow along with traditional hip-hop artists and contemporary r&b (which, far from being soulful music, are more explicit sex songs these days.)
The progenitors of the blues will always have its origins in the black Mississippi Delta, but yeah, its practitioners and fans are overwhelmingly white now.
At the bus stop where I get off, closest to work, there is a house on the corner where some black people live. Every day, it seems, they have a bunch of friends over, sitting out front having a drink and listening to the blues on a boombox. It gives me hope. I don’t personally know any black folks who listen to the blues, or even early R&B, but I also don’t know anyone who has more blues or R&B records than I do.
I came to the south, where the blues were born, hoping to experience some of them first hand, but the only blues being played around here is by white kids, if they get played at all. It’s disappointing, really.
Y’all are going to the wrong places. Go to where the dives are in your city. Follow some nicely dressed older Black gentleman. You will see and hear Black Blues. Mainstream for Blacks in general? About as much as Country, I would say (iow, nope). Still, I can’t deny the evidence of my own eyes.
I will say there does seem to be an influx of black blues musicians these days.
Back in the 60s, you had the older black blues performers, with the younger white ones. The last big concert I went to – the Front Porch Blues tour – had Elvin Bishop and Charles Musselwhite (both white) as the older generation and Corey Harris, Henry Butler, and Deborah Coleman (all blakc) as the younger.
Yeah. To carry over the discussion from the country thread, blues, like jazz, has been neutered into comfy white coffee-table music: yet if you listen to and read the lyrics from original black acts from the 20’s and 30’s, they’re pure filth. Drinking, drug-taking, shooting, stabbing, pimping and the perfidy of women a-go-go, and more sexual innuendo then you can shake a Benny Goodman fan at.
Interesting thread, especially since just today while at the gym, I heard a rap song that had bits of Ray Charles’ I’ve gotta woman sampled into it. It was pretty good actually; the RC part blended in perfectly with what the rapper was doing.
Though of course, early RC was really more R&B than straight blues.
I’ve lived in and around Chicago my whole life. And I’m also a blues fan. So I’ve been known to frequent the Blues Fests that we have here every year on the first weekend of June. Chicago does have a large black population, and the majority of the crowd at these events (that is actually listening to the music rather than walking around trying to hit all the beer tents) is black. It’s not a significant majority, mind you, as there are a lot of white people enjoying the constant music too.
I also headed down to Memphis a couple of years ago. They were having some festival down on Beale St. and they had a blues band playing in the park across from B.B. King’s place. The band was all black and my wife and I were only two of the maybe 10 or so white people in a crowd that nearly filled the park.
I’ve never been to New Orleans, so I can’t comment on that city before it got ravaged, but in my experience, two of the largest cities known for the blues still have a large black following. Granted, they were mostly older men but not that old. Maybe they were kids when Muddy Water was at his peak.
Yeah, it’s a Kanye West song. I think some of the singing might be Jamie Foxx imitating Ray, I’ve never heard it. I’m pretty sure I’ve Got a Woman is a 12-bar blues, even though the sound isn’t very bluesy.
I listen to live blues bands at least once a week and would say that it plays more to an older audience. The ratio’s of race have changed but how you look at it falls into the “glass half full/half empty” category. You could say less black people listen to blues today or you could also say more non-black people listen to it. “Back in the day” when it was the cutting edge of music (and black culture) it was taboo beyond the demographic from which it sprang. The money didn’t follow until later and by that time Swing music overshadowed it.
IMO, if the blues had started in the era of rap music it would have grown much larger than it did without the stigma of being “black” music.
Also, from my observations, Jimi Hendrix retro-bands bring in as many older black patrons as do the old-school blues. The crossover from blues to rock is more seamless and culturally accepted than I had imagined. And for anyone who likes Hendrix/blues I would include the CD entitled “blues”. Lots of good artists on it.
On a final note, I see as many young (under 25) black patrons as I do white patrons. Beer, Blues and 9-ball seem to go together.