Before blues singers came songsters (Thinkstock)
Before blues singers came songsters
Lexile

Before the "blues," "songsters" played varied tunes on street corners. These traveling musicians made money from passersby. They were a common feature of African American life in the early 1900s.

Songsters first appeared during the 1870s. Newly freed slaves became able to travel widely and play music for a living. They included artists such as Big Bill Broonzy and Mississippi John Hurt. Songster music laid the foundation for the popular music that eventually became known as the "blues," says Barry Lee Pearson. He's a scholar of African American music at the University of Maryland.

A songster's repertoire may have included blues songs, says Pearson. But it also contained varied songs African Americans were singing at the time. These songs ranged from square dance music to vaudeville hits from around beginning of the 1900s.

By the late 1950s, blues had become the primary form of African American musical expression. The "songster" had become "the blues man." Examples include musicians Robert Johnson, John Jackson and Lead Belly. They became prominent as the recording industry began seeking out blues musicians. In time, the blues became the new most popular party and dance music within the black community, says Pearson.

The term songster is now coming back. Younger black musicians are seeking out and performing the pre-blues songster music. Performers such as the Carolina Chocolate Drops are drawing from this part of the African American cultural heritage. For many years songster music seems to have been overlooked by younger musicians, says Pearson. "It's part of a broader historical reclamation process."

Critical thinking challenge: Why were songsters free to travel in the 1870s?

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COMMENTS (28)
  • MGallagher
    2/13/2015 - 10:29 a.m.

    songwriters used to play at street corners. in the 1870 until now, they can travel and sing for a living. The exprssion songster became their title. It then became the Bues Man. The term songster is now coming back.

  • camzycam
    2/13/2015 - 12:17 p.m.

    songwriters used to play at street corners. in the 1870 until now, they can travel and sing for a living. The exprssion songster became their title. It then became the Bues Man. The term songster is now coming back.

  • camzycam
    2/13/2015 - 12:18 p.m.

    songwriters used to play at street corners. in the 1870 until now, they can travel and sing for a living. The exprssion songster became their title. It then became the Bues Man. The term songster is now coming back.

  • MahmoudBeverly-DiB
    2/13/2015 - 12:21 p.m.

    By the late 1950s, blues had become the primary form of African American musical. The songster had become the blues man. Examples include musicians Robert Johnson, John Jackson and Lead Belly. They became prominent as the recording industry began seeking out blues musicians. In time, the blues became the new most popular party and dance music within the black community, says Pearson.The term songster is now coming back. Younger African Americans musicians are seeking out and performing the pre-blues songster music.

  • ce2001blue
    2/13/2015 - 01:04 p.m.

    They first appeared during the 1870s. Newly freed slaves became able to travel widely and play music for a living. These traveling musicians made money from passersby.

  • TR2001Blue
    2/13/2015 - 01:04 p.m.

    songsters were free to travel in the 1870s probably because they were newly freed slaves and were able to perform and play music for a living. That is what I think why they were free to travel in the 1870s.

  • madisonm-Sch
    2/13/2015 - 01:57 p.m.

    This a persuasive text. Its cool that it was first for african americans. The "blues" is some of the best music ever. They are one of the best kind.

  • coadyc-Sch
    2/13/2015 - 02:00 p.m.

    This article is all fact. There is no opinion at all. Nothing is trying to explain why something is better. Or why not to choose something.

  • BenB10
    2/13/2015 - 02:29 p.m.

    Before the blues came songsters ho played music on street corners, and were a common feature of african american life in early 1900's. These wee traveling groups that made money off of passerby's. They first appeared in the 1870's. By the 1950's the Blues had become the primary form of african american music. This article discusses the how african american music has evolved over the las 150 years.

  • ImanB-1
    2/13/2015 - 06:15 p.m.

    Before the, "blues", there was "songsters". They were traveling musicians that played for money. It was common in African American life around the 1900s. They first appeared in 1870, newly freed slaves would make a living by singing of the streets. It become very popular, and it was later called the blues. I wonder what their music would have sounded like.

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