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Bessie Smith

Article: Hear With Your Eyes: Jazz and Art
Romare Bearden makes music with his art. Learn how to “hear” a painting
Blues, Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Visual Arts

Jazz trumpet

Collection: Jazz & Blues Resources
Foot thumping rhythms, crooning voices, soulful melodies – jazz is a music with a history as rich as its sound. Follow the great migration that lead African Americans to Harlem, meet jazz icons such as Bessie Smith and Charlie Parker, and stop by the Cotton Club and Apollo Theater on a journey through the past of this American art form.
America, Blues, History, Jazz, Music

Fife & Drummer

Collection: America
Discover the multicultural heritage and history of America through explorations of immigrant life, the lives legendary pioneers like Lewis and Clark, the modern political system, and significant works of American music, including our National Anthem.
America, Blues, History, Jazz, Military, Rock & Roll, Space, Native America

African-American Boy

Collection: African-American History
Learn about the African American experience through the arts — and discover the contributions of African Americans to the history and culture of the United States.
Africa, America, Folklore, Geography, History, Jazz, Music, Playwrights & Plays, Dance, Blues

Writing lyrics

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Learning From Lyrics
Students research contemporary songs (alternative, country, metal, pop, rap, and rock music) to study current social issues.
History, Hip-Hop, Rock & Roll, Folklore, Language, Popular Culture, World Cultures, Blues

Dancers in silhouette

Grade 5 Lesson: Lift Every Voice and Sing
Explore and analyze Lift Every Voice and Sing, a poem by James Weldon Johnson.
History, Music, Poetry, Blues, America

The Great Migration

Grades 3-4 Lesson: The Great Migration
In this lesson, students will learn about the migration of African Americans to Harlem
America, Blues, Geography, History, Jazz, Music

Blues Journey

Audio Series: Blues Journey
Out of the hardships of Black Americans at the turn of the 20th century came the blues, a music that helped ease their suffering.
Rock & Roll, America, Blues, Geography, Music, Popular Culture

Gulf Coast Highway

Audio Series: Gulf Coast Highway
The music of the Gulf Coast provides a microcosm of the cultural diversity and richness of the United States. Hear the music and the experience of the musicians as Artsedge takes you from Houston, Texas to Jacksonville, Florida, on a musical road trip across US-90.
Music, America, Blues, Jazz, Geography, Rock & Roll

Willie from Blues Journey

Audio: Blues Journey: Page to Stage
Join playwright Jerome Hairson and director Scot Reese as they bring the story of Blues Journey from page to stage, developing the original book of blues lyrics into a fully realized play, rich with musical performances. Blues Journey follows the life of a blues performer as he learns to play, finds fame, and witnesses the blues evolve into rock-and-roll in this world premiere Kennedy Center original production based on the children's book by Walter Dean Myers.
Blues, Music, Theater, Jobs in the Arts, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Musicals, Backstage

James

Audio: Delta Blues: James "Super Chikan" Johnson
The Delta blues style continues to be characterized by raw vocalizing and rhythmic intensity. In addition, Delta blues musicians often employ slide techniques, meaning they move a glass or metal tube called a slide along a guitar's strings to change the notes.
Music, America, Blues

arts quote

Arts Quotes: B.B. King
"We all have idols. Play like anyone you care about but try to be yourself while you're doing so."
America, Blues, Music, Music Legends

arts quote

Arts Quotes: Ray Charles
"Music to me is like breathing - I don't get tired of breathing, I don't get tired of music."
Music Legends, Blues, Music, Rock & Roll

Chuck Berry

Arts Days: October 18, 1926: The Father of Rock and Roll
There’s good reason why Chuck Berry was the very first inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Berry not only defined the rock and roll sound, he created it. His 1955 song “Maybellene” was, in many ways, the first song of this musical genre, and its debut proved a pivotal moment in music history. Like many of his contemporaries, Berry began by playing the blues.

But audiences responded most enthusiastically when he played what was at the time considered “hillbilly” music: the rollicking infectious rhythms born of bluegrass. Berry added his own twists, like electrifying guitar playing, clever wordplay, and, above all, a vitality that made his audiences want to get up and dance. The resulting music was irresistible to young people and caught on like wildfire.
Composers, Music Legends, Blues, Music, Rock & Roll, Innovators & Pioneers

Mahalia Jackson

Arts Days: October 26, 1911: An Amazing Grace
Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson had a powerful contralto voice even as a little girl. She would sing around the house, sing at the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church in her hometown, and sing in various choirs or as a soloist. She landed a series of recording deals, starting in 1937 with Decca Records, eventually moving to Columbia Records, where she really hit her stride as a spiritual singer with broad commercial appeal.

Jackson’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show brought gospel to a whole new set of listeners, as did her performance at the inauguration of President Kennedy in 1960. This granddaughter of slaves was the first gospel singer to sing at Carnegie Hall, and the first gospel singer to be featured at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Music, Blues

B.B. King playing the guitar

Arts Days: September 16, 1925: The Thrill is Born
It’s been decades since B.B. King, the “King of Blues,” stood on a street corner playing for dimes. In 1947, he hitchhiked to Memphis to soak up the knowledge of other, more seasoned musicians and further hone his own sound. Just one year later, he got a chance to play on the radio, which led to regular jobs—and soon, a record deal.

King’s rich and expressive singing, coupled with his vocal-like string bends have made him a cherished example for every electric guitarist that has followed. He has made more than 50 records and was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995. While this reigning King can claim a long list of hits and awards, he is best associated with his 1970 classic, “The Thrill is Gone.”
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Blues, Musical Instruments, Music

Jimmy Reed

Arts Days: September 06, 1925: Bluesman Jimmy

With his harmonica slung around his neck and his electric guitar in his grip, Jimmy Reed sang the blues like nobody else had before. Like the words he typically sang in his distinctive singing style, his music kind of loped along, even as it set listeners’ toes tapping.

Writing songs covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Reed captured everyday people’s joy and pain in songs like “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” and “Bright Lights, Big City.” These tunes, simple at first listen, hooked you with their melodies and with the emotion with which Reed delivered them. His music, honest and catchy, brought the blues to a whole new audience.


America, Blues, Music, Music Legends

James Brown

Arts Days: December 07, 2003: The Godfather of Soul
Rhythm and blues, funk, gospel, jazz, rock and roll—James Brown took all of these genres and melded them together into an unmistakable blend of music all his own. Dubbing himself “The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business” along the way, he certainly earned that title for his incredibly demanding performances.

During his legendary shows, he did splits, yowled, danced, fell to his knees—and oh yeah, he sang the whole time, too. Brown’s classics include “Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag” and “Living in America,” to name just two; over the course of his 30-year career, he racked up 98 singles on Billboard’s R&B charts. Of those, 17 of them went to number one.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Blues, Music, Popular Culture

W.C. Handy

Arts Days: November 16, 1873: Father of the Blues
William Christopher Handy, who composed “Beale Street Blues” and “St. Louis Blues,” among many others, was one of the first professional musicians to play the blues, a distinctly American musical genre. But he did more than most to elevate awareness of the blues; he helped popularize the sound beyond its traditional African American roots to a wider, commercial audience.

When Handy and his band moved to Memphis, Tennessee, his career took off, especially with the release of “Memphis Blues,” a tune he published in 1912 that many consider the first blues song. During the 1920s, Handy formed his own music publication company, a business that proved quite lucrative and also brought him great fame.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Blues, America, Music

Robert Johnson

Arts Days: November 27, 1936: Deal with the Devil
Revered amongst blues musicians and rock stars alike, Robert Johnson lived a life far too short to accommodate his ample talent. What’s more, there are few, if any, letters or other documents to give us a clear picture of the man. One thing is for sure: When the 25-year-old recorded this song, he fueled a powerful legend with which his name has long been associated.

Some say the song is about a pact Johnson made with the devil to give up his soul at a metaphorical crossroads in exchange for his amazing blues guitar skills. But other historians point out that the song is actually about the dangers a black man faces, walking alone after dark in the Deep South of the early 20th century, when the horrors of lynching were all too common.
Music Legends, Blues, Music, America, Musical Instruments, Folklore

Mississippi John Hurt

Arts Days: March 08, 1892: Guitar Hero
Not long after the nine-year-old John Smith Hurt picked up his first guitar, he was in demand at barn dances. His style of playing is called finger-picking, which means the strings are plucked using fingers, not a guitar pick, and that the thumb provides the steady bass rhythms on the lower strings.

Hurt was an excellent self-taught player who went on to make several blues and old-time recordings for Okeh Records (which gave him his nickname); but when the Great Depression drove the record label out of business, Hurt returned to Mississippi and worked on farms, playing occasionally at parties.

But a musicologist named Tom Hoskins loved Hurt’s records so much that he tracked him down in Mississippi decades later, persuaded him to come back north and play a few shows, including the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The second act of his musical career began from here.
America, Blues, Music Legends, Music, Musical Instruments

Ma Rainey

Arts Days: April 26, 1886: Mother of the Blues
She was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett Rainey, but it was as Ma Rainey that this Southern singer became one of the first professional blues singers ever, and certainly one of the first to make records. She started performing in vaudeville when she was still a teenager. Once, hearing another girl sing a sad song, Ma Rainey noticed how attentively the audience listened, so she began developing an emotional, world-weary singing style, a style she claims to have dubbed “blues.”

People loved it, and Rainey sang live at shows for decades before she recorded for Paramount Records. From 1923 to 1928, Rainey recorded about 100 songs, including “Jelly Bean Blues” and “Bo Weevil Blues,” a song partly about the beetle that destroyed cotton crops across the U.S. in the 1920s, but also about disappointments in love. In fact, many blues songs sung by Ma Rainey and other blues artists to this day have double meanings.
Blues, Music, Music Legends

Billie Holiday

Arts Days: April 07, 1915: The Lady Sang the Blues
Although vocally untrained, Billie Holiday possessed talents and characteristics far more critical to singing the blues—a natural ear for music and a life of turmoil and sorrow. Holiday changed the art of pop vocals with her smoky voice, unique word phrasing, and dramatic interpretations of classic songs. Her poignant renditions of love songs and ballads are considered classic; no one “carried a torch” like Holiday.

Discovered singing in a jazz club in the early 1930s, Holiday soon signed a record deal and began collaborations with musicians like Artie Shaw and Lester Young (who nicknamed her “Lady Day”). She shattered racial barriers by being the first black woman to front a big band composed of white musicians and by singing about lynching in the haunting “Strange Fruit.” Songs Holiday wrote with others, like “God Bless the Child,” rocketed to the top of the charts. Sadly, Holiday’s struggles with drug and alcohol addiction led to her untimely death at the age of 44.
Art Venues, Blues, Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture

Muddy Waters

Arts Days: April 04, 1915: The Father of Chicago Blues
While growing up in the deep South, Muddy Waters dabbled with the harmonica, but it was when he started learning to play the blues guitar that things really got cooking. Waters basically invented a whole new type of blues music, called “Chicago Blues” named for the city where he made his biggest mark. His unique performing style combined country blues with rock and roll electrification. He sang about hard times in the Mississippi Delta, heartbreak, and other subjects.

The “bottleneck” style of guitar playing that Waters mastered was more commonly known as slide guitar. It was dubbed so because Waters slid a piece of glass (sometimes from a bottle, hence the name) or other material against the strings. This created a whole new range of sounds for Waters. In Waters’ case, this sort of playing almost made the instrument an extension of his singing voice, complete with growls, slurs, and screeches.
Blues, America, Musical Instruments, Music Legends, Music

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