Mapping the Blues Genes


Early Blues Music: 1900-1930


Text Box:



Text Box:


An Illustrated Essay:

(click here, PDF 1.7M)


This essay examines the mutations of the "genes" which led to the expression of the early blues. Imbedded in the text are numerous examples of lyrics and cover-art from 1904-1928. This painting of the early blues— in colors of green, black, brown, tan, red and white— consists of historical and anecdotal prose, poetry, excerpts from primary sources, and unique items reproduced from the Sunday editions of two superb Negro newspapers of that period— Chicago Defender and Indianapolis Freeman.

Clippings from Billboard, Amsterdam Times, Messenger, Crisis and New York Age— written by performers, composers, song-writers, theater-managers, and luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance restore some of the faded views of blues' history.

This essay also stresses the impact of new technologies such as the phonograph, the radio, and the row-crop-tractor; as well as the intra- and inter-racial tensions, fiscal fluctuations, boll-weevil invasions and societal upheavals which mutated the blues genes.

And whatever resulted— It Is Our Blues.


When and where did our Blues grow fine?

Why and how did they cross the line?

Don't stand back Black, stick around Brown;

In move White and there's Green all 'roun !

Some players died, other just cried,

A few met fame, all had a ride!

But pay no ‘tention to their hues,

They all needed to play our blues.

(segued from Big Bill Broonzy, Black, Brown, and White Blues)


Ray Dessy