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

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween56/blues-singers-came-songsters/

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COMMENTS (28)
  • LaurenT-1
    2/13/2015 - 06:54 p.m.

    Newly freed African American slaves often became "songsters", whom preformed on street corners with many tunes that laid the basis for blues. These songsters also played other types of music, such as square dancing music. Songster style is now coming back, thanks to young African American artists.
    I think that it is important for past culture to be revived and respected. These songs are a great way for people to celebrate their culture.

  • carolinep102
    2/15/2015 - 11:53 a.m.

    I did not know that most singers that sang "blues" were freed slaves, but it makes sense. I know that some were found in the northern area but not as much as in the southern area including Louisiana and Florida. I have always wanted to see a real "blues man" at one of these locations or somewhere else. I personally like blues music as well as my family. It is good to know the history behind things because sometimes it can help you understand things better, or right for the first time. This is a interesting article, however I would like to know how the freed slaves would find instruments or a way to make their music other than singing in general.

  • FloresSara-DiB
    2/16/2015 - 01:51 p.m.

    In the 1900, the blues became a part of the African American cultural heritage. For many years now, it has been a part of the boarder historical reclamation process and the songsters music seems to have been overlooked by younger musicians . By the late 1950s, blues had become the primary form of African American musical expression. People say that in the old times, the blues were the most popular party and dance music within the black community. Songster music laid the foundation for the popular music that eventually became known as the "blues,"

  • LucasU-5
    2/16/2015 - 02:13 p.m.

    This article is about the group of African American musicians known as the "songsters" that had made music that somewhat resembles the blues.Most early songsters were slaves that had to make a good amount of money to survive so they took up music. This type of music was probably one of the most important parts of African American history.

  • kenneth.holmes08
    2/17/2015 - 12:46 p.m.

    This is very interesting. I never knew that before "blues" there were "songsters". Blues is my favorite type of music to play on my guitar because of all the bends and when you play it right, it sounds awesome!

  • AaliyahC1-Gan
    2/20/2015 - 01:17 a.m.

    When I found out R&B stood for rhythm and blues, it kind of confused me because when I think of that genre of music I don't think of blues. The more I listen to music, the more I hear samples from an old blues song and don't realize it until I hear the original version.

  • briannar-DiB
    2/20/2015 - 09:11 a.m.

    why because of the money and the songs they were making in the 1870s thats why they were able to travel the world for free for the rest of there lives and it was also fun for them to travel .

  • jacobf-1
    2/20/2015 - 03:37 p.m.

    On street corners songsters played different tunes before the Blues. They made money from people who walked by. Songsters were a common part of African American life during the early 19000s. They have been around since the 1870s. The songs ranged from square dance music to vaudeville music from the early 1900s. I think its a cool form of expression.

  • LundyG-3
    2/20/2015 - 06:42 p.m.

    Before the "blues," "songsters" played varied tunes on street corners. The traveling musicians made money from patron on the streets until the early 1900s. They first appeared during the 1870s, mainly consisting of newly freed slaves. The songs played included blues songs, but also songs from the African American tradition. The term songster, referring to a younger black musician, are becoming prominent in the in the recording business.

    I thinks its good that new people are continuing history and making music. Music is part of many daily lives, whether its for dance, fun, or just for background noise. Music will never leave the American tradition because it's everywhere.

  • LaurenT-5
    2/20/2015 - 07:18 p.m.

    In the early 1700s in daily African American life, songsters were a big hit. Thy played tunes on street corners. Freed slaves could travel around playing music as their lifestyle. Songsters laid the music that soon became the blues, which appeared in the early 1870s. The music includes square dance music and parts of vaudeville, which is theatrical entertainment including all types of things. Then in the 1950s the blues became an important part of people's lives. It became the most popular music and dance songs. The word 'songster' is beginning to be used more often now as new musicians are rising. I think it is cool how the blues became so popular and still is in our world.

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