To participate in discussion, read these thoughts below, including the instructions “DISCUSSION ASSIGNMENT” below— and then click on “Post New Entry” above to begin your participation in this conversation.
The “Country Blues” playlist contains songs performed by country blues musicians in two major categories of performance practice. The first practice is typified by Blind Willie McTell, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller. Sometimes called “Piedmont-style” fingerpicking, the style is influenced by ragtime music, and usually involves a lot of syncopated rhythm. The singing and choice of melodies is influenced by Anglo-American folk music, popular ‘parlor’ songs, and ragtime compositions that were popular in the late 19th century.
The second practice, called “Delta Blues Style”, originated in Texas, Louisiana, and tributary regions of the Mississippi Delta. Son House, Tommy Johnson, Skip James and Charley Patton are good examples. The style involves a steadier strumming beat, and a style of singing that more closely resembles the well-known blues styles of later periods: gruff, declamatory singing, using simple melodies that facilitate more extensive improvisation. (Don’t be confused by nicknames — “Mississippi John Hurt” was a versatile folk musician and his style of guitar playing reflects the more complex “Piedmont” finger-picking style. The nickname “Mississippi” was given him by Okeh records, without regard to the delta blues style that would later be associated with Mississippi and neighboring states.)
DISCUSSION ASSIGNMENT (Due October 15 — or submit by October 10 at noon to get TA guidance toward an essay):
Choose one recording from the “Pre-war Country Blues” playlist and analyze what you hear. Treat each of the elements of the song separately. How is the guitar played? (You could just say “Piedmont Style” or “Delta Blues Style” — but I’ve already given you those answers! Instead, try to listen to the whole song and identify specific sounds within the recording. Use lyrics as place markers, or describe time intervals in relation to your formal analysis.) Does the style change in some way? How would you describe the change, and is it related at all to a change in the meanings of lyrics, or the expression of a singer?
Your initial post (submitted through the “Post New Entry” button above) should be about two paragraphs, about 200 words. Once you’ve posted, please read your classmates’ posts and begin commenting on them…your TAs will contribute to the conversation as well. Full participation requires you to comment on your classmates’ posts and try to keep the conversation going!
ESSAY ASSIGNMENT(Due October 15 — if you choose to write an essay in this unit):
In light of last week’s readings, consider the differences in expression and style between two different blues singers in the “pre-war country blues” playlist. Choose one recording from each of the two performance styles listed above, or two different artists in one category. Although this is not a research paper, feel free to speculate a little on questions related to the history and diasporic experience of Americans in the Deep South. What aspects, in particular, of each song, reflect an African, or African-American diasporic experience? In considering this issue, remember that diaspora is a process of interaction between cultures, and not just the legacy of a single culture. Can you hear the influence of Euro-American folk or art music in the performances that you have chosen? How do those musical attributes influence the music’s emotional expression?
(You don’t need to answer all of these questions—and you may choose to focus on just one or two. But consider them carefully as you plan your comparison of the songs.)
To write your essay, carefully follow our instructions on the “How to do the essays” page.
Your finished essay (due before noon on Thursday, October 15) should be between 600-800 words long, about the length of four double-spaced pages. Please keep in mind your peers will want to respond to what you say, so make your thoughts intelligible, organized, and easy to read. When you are finished, post the essay to the Country Blues Essays page, under Unit 1 in the discussion section of the website.
When you are done, please take time read your peers’ posts and essays, compare and contrast your thoughts, and continue discussion.