An Introduction

“Blues is the roots; everything else is the fruits.”

Blues is a name given to both a musical form and genre. It has deep roots in American history…but more specifically African-American history. Blues is the original American music.  As bluesman Willie Dixon has noted, “Blues is the roots; everything else is the fruits.”  Its origins trace back to southern plantations of the 19th century, where the early originators of the blues were often slaves, ex-slaves and the descendants of slaves. The blues used as its base spirituals, field hollers, work songs, shouts and chants, as well as narrative rhymed ballads.

The blues form can be found in jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll. The form is also characterized by specific chord progressions and the “blue note,” which is sung at a slightly lower pitch than that of a major scale for expressive purposes. Blues lyrics also have a traditional form dependent on structured repetition and often voice "personal woes in a world of harsh reality: a lost love, the cruelty of police officers, oppression at the hands of white folk, and hard times." The history of the blues, its many legendary figures and varied styles are rich, well documented and extensively studied. There are numerous sub-genres and styles of blues from country and urban blues to Chicago, Delta, Piedmont, Saint Louis, Memphis, Louisiana styles and more recently electric blues and blues rock. This initially American form of music has spread across the globe and continues to be a source of inspiration to generations of new musicians.

This exhibition is not intended as a comprehensive overview of the giants who laid the foundation of the blues nor of those musicians who carry on its legacy today. Rather, it is meant to inspire viewers to dig deeper into the blues’ rich history and its masters, to relish a century’s worth of extraordinary recordings and to “let the spirit move them” at the many live concert opportunities there are to hear the blues masters of today.


© 2013 City of Gainesville Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department