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Trapped - and yet free

Bessie Smith, Robert Lee Johnson, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon - they are the heroes of the blues. But in front of these brightly shining stars there were many small lights that laid the foundation for the blues in the mid-19th century.

Slaves from Africa had to toil in the cotton fields of the large landowners in the southern United States. They sang songs in the fields to better endure the monotonous and hard work. The work provided the rhythm, the sequence of the same movements over and over again. Love, sorrow and longing - that was what the cotton pickers sang about.

The songs reminded her of her home on the other side of the Atlantic. The genre of music owes its name to the melancholy mood: Anyone who feels "blue" is sad or melancholy.

Music meant a lot to the field workers. It enabled them to feel free even in captivity. It gave them a cultural identity. Although the whites in the USA despised this music, the simple melodies prevailed.

The blues revolutionized the music world sustainably - and still influences rock and pop music to this day.

With washboard, cigar box and harmonica

In 1865 the American Civil War ended - and with it officially slavery in all US states. The African-Americans gradually began to emancipate themselves. A scene for black music was created. But the former slaves and their descendants were far from having equal rights.

From now on, however, they should be able to develop more freely than before - at least a little. Given the previous yield and suppression, this was an improvement. Before 1865 they had toiled for free as serfs, now they should receive wages for their work.

Those who could afford it bought a musical instrument from the savings. And those who were skillful enough built a guitar from the garbage of the wealthy, the sound box of which consisted of cigar boxes, for example. Disused washboards were converted into rhythm instruments. Harmonica from Germany were also affordable - and therefore very popular.

The musicians developed the simple worker songs and knitted popular songs from them. So many bands formed. Wooden stacks and barns were used as concert halls. This primordial blues music enjoyed growing popularity.

The Chicago blues scene

The blues comes from the rural southern United States. In the course of industrialization, many workers migrated to the industrial metropolises of the north, especially to Chicago. The city on Lake Michigan was bursting at the seams due to population growth.

The hustle and bustle in the big city, the noise and the hustle and bustle shaped not only the people, but also the music. A new blues scene was born in Chicago. This was very different from the traditional blues of the south. Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red or Sonny Boy Williamson I. brought the clubs to a boil.

The three musicians came from the south of the USA, all three were born around the turn of the century. All three were signed by a clever music manager who realized there was money to be made in the blues.

Black music became socially acceptable among the whites. The first songs from the blues area became hits of the fledgling record industry.

Sonny Boy Williamson I. wrote the piece "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl". A classic that was later interpreted by some representatives of the white rhythm and blues guild, including Rod Stewart, Van Morrison, Alvin Lee and Huey Lewis.

Blues musicians discover the electric guitar

In the 1920s, the first musicians began to use electrically amplified guitars. The new sounds gave the blues of the north new impulses.

After the Second World War, this development accelerated decisively. Muddy Waters in particular became one of the most influential and popular musicians on Chicago's modern blues scene.

The popularity of this new trend attracted other musicians as well. Howlin 'Wolf, Jimmy Reed, and Willie Dixon were all southerners but went to Chicago.

In 1954 Dixon wrote his classics here like "Hoochie Coochie Man" or "I just wanna make love to you". Both songs were first recorded by Muddy Waters and released on record.

To this day, the city of Chicago has great importance for blues music. The stylistic differences between the blues from the north and those from the south have been preserved.

The blues from the north sounds more urban, while the sound from the south has retained its originality - and, with a few exceptions, is dominated by Afro-Americans. The important blues metropolises in the south include cities like New Orleans and Memphis.

Workers' music is taking over the mainstream

The popular blues influenced and fertilized many other styles of music. He paved the way for jazz, soul, funk and rock'n'roll. It mingled with the respective folklore music that came to the United States with immigrants from all over the world. And he founded a new style of music, the rhythm 'n' blues (R'n'B, pronounced "Ar-n-Bi").

The R'n'B sound inspired many white musicians, not just in the United States. A large R'n'B scene developed in Great Britain in the 1960s. The R'n'B musicians here wanted to differentiate themselves from the commercial beat sound. They chose the blues veterans from the States as their role models and idols.

Musicians like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Alvin Lee and bands like the Yardbirds, Ten Years After, Cream and last but not least the Rolling Stones were representatives of this R'n'B community in Great Britain. Their music was very well received in the home of the blues.

In the 1960s there was a downright blues invasion by the British in the USA. Instead of indulging in the hype, the US musicians remembered their roots - and thus black music.