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The Blues: An American Art Form

Welcome to The Blues: An American Art Form. This course is intended for those who want to learn more about the history of the blues, as well as those who want to learn to play the blues themselves!

This course is drawn from the lectures of Dariusz Terefenko, presented by the University of Rochester through Coursera. You must create a FREE account with Coursera to view the videos for this course. You must be logged in to Coursera to watch the videos for this course! Days marked with an asterisk (*) have something to print.

Along with history, this course includes practical jazz theory and is intended for students who play an instrument.

Day 1

1. Watch the introduction to the course.
2. Before we proceed to the nuts and bolts of the blues, we are going to spend some time learning about the history of blues in America. Today, listen to “Got Them Blues: A History.”

Day 2*

1. Print the Blues Family Tree*. (Keep this page for later.)
2. Watch the video about the origins of the blues in the 16th and 17th century. If you have difficulty understanding the accent of the narrator, turn on the subtitles. They are of good quality.
3. Add “African Work Songs/Field Hollers” after #1 on the Blues tree. These styles are the basis for the music to come.

Day 3

1. Watch the video about the evolution of blues in the 18th and 19th century.
2. Watch the (much shorter) video about gospel and minstrelsy and vaudeville.
3. It is important for you to know that minstrel shows and ‘blackface’ (a white actor painting their face to appear black) are both considered extremely racist today.
4. Today you have some songs to listen to. These songs are called “spirituals.” Some of these recordings are more modern, but it will let you hear examples of this style of music.

Listening:

Day 4

1. Watch the video about ragtime and jazz.
2. Watch the video about “proto-blues” music.
3. Add “Blues” after #2 on your Blues Family Tree.

Listening:

Day 5

1. Watch the video about the blues in the early 1900s. NOTE: A racial slur appears in this video in the title of a music publication. When studying this topic it is important to remember that some of the language that was used 100 years ago is unacceptable today. That doesn’t mean we can’t study it. We just have to remember the context of our history.
2. In the video they referred to “Downhome Blues.” They are also known as country blues, backwoods blues, folk blues, and rural blues.
3. Add “Rural Blues” to your Blues Family Tree as #3.
4. There were many different offshoots of rural blues. We are only going to list “Delta Blues” (#5), “Memphis Blues” (#6), and “Texas Blues” (#7). Add them to your blues tree.
5. Unlike the singers of rural blues, who were usually men, blues singers in big cities tended to be female. Add “Urban Blues” to your tree as #4. Add “Chicago Blues” as #8.

Listening:

Day 6

1. Watch the video about blues in the 1920s.
2. Choose a blues artist from the list below. You will be writing a one-page biography about them that we will finish tomorrow.

  • Charley Patton
  • Mississippi Fred McDowell
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • Lonnie Johnson (If you choose him, make sure you research the musician and not the inventor of the Super Soaker.)
  • Arthur “Blind” Blake
  • Son House
  • Big Bill Broonzy

3. Today begin writing your biography. Be sure to gather information such as when and where they were born, any notable events in their life, songs they were known for, and when and where they died.
4. Today’s listening list is long, but you can listen to it while you write!

Listening:

Day 7

1. Today, finish your biography of the 1920s blues artist you chose.

Listening:
Find some more music by the artist you chose to write about and listen to it.

Day 8

1. Watch the video about the evolution of blues in the 1930s.
2. Add “Boogie Woogie” to your blues family tree as #9, and “Big Band Blues” as #10.
3. You are going to write another one page biography! Choose one of these artists from the 1930s to write about.

  • Howlin’ Wolf
  • Robert Johnson
  • Skip James
  • Thomas A. Dorsey (Georgia Tom)
  • Charlie Christian
  • T-Bone Walker
  • Lead Belly
  • Eddie Durham

4. Today begin writing your biography. Be sure to gather information such as when and where they were born, any notable events in their life, songs they were known for, and when and where they died.
5. Today’s listening list is long, but you can listen to it while you write!

Listening:

Day 9

1. Finish writing your biography today.

Listening:
Find some more music by the artist you chose to write about and listen to it.

Day 10

1. Watch the video about blues in the 1940s.
2. Add ‘Jump Blues’ to your blues family tree as #11. Add ‘Rhythm and Blues’ as #12.
3. Choose a blues artist from the list below. You have today and tomorrow to write a one page biography about them.

  • Muddy Waters
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Lightnin’ Hopkins
  • Louis Jordan
  • Little Walter
  • Hank Williams
  • B.B. King
  • Otis Rush

Listening:

Day 11

1. Finish writing your biography today.

Listening:
Find some more music by the artist you chose to write about and listen to it.

Day 12

1. Watch the video about blues in the 1950s and how it helped create rock and roll.
2. Add ‘Rock and Roll’ to your Blues Family Tree as #13. Add ‘Electric Blues’ as #14.
3. Choose a blues artist from the list below. You have today and tomorrow to write a one page biography about them.

  • Elmore James
  • Junior Wells
  • Hubert Sumlin
  • Freddie King
  • Albert King
  • Ray Charles
  • Magic Sam
  • Sam Cooke
  • George “Buddy” Guy

Listening:

Day 13

1. Finish writing your biography today.

Listening:
Find some more music by the artist you chose to write about and listen to it.