Blues music was born in America. Its greatest influence was from rural African Americans. The blues grew out of old “field songs” and work songs from the time of slavery. Some blues music also emerged from prison songs and chain-gang chants. The rural “Delta blues” (the “Delta” refers to the Mississippi Delta) began in the South, but quickly began to migrate north. By the mid-20th century, a new style known as urban, electric, or Chicago blues emerged.
Delta blues was first transformed from rural to urban style in Memphis, Tennessee, where it was popularized on radio broadcasts. The music later moved up-river to St. Louis and Chicago, where it underwent additional changes and evolutions, particularly through the use of electric instruments. While the Delta blues songs of such early performers as Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson were mostly performed on acoustic instruments, the blues played by Memphis legend B.B. King and Chicago musicians Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters used electric instruments.
The classic form of a blues tune is a 12-bar. The form consists of 12 bars (measures) with four beats per bar. Often in traditional blues lyrics, the first line in a stanza takes four bars, and then that lyric is repeated for the second four bars, leaving a third lyric line to complete the stanza with the final four bars.
Not all blues lyrics follow this 12-bar format, but it is the most basic blues style. If you listen to a variety of blues music, you will begin to notice some variations. For the most part, blues songs express dismay at the difficulties that life brings. However, there are some blues songs that do not seem very “blue” or depressing at all, and some that are even humorous.
“I Sing the Blues,” the song performed in the segment, was popularized by singer Etta James (1938-2012), whose work bridged the blues, soul, R & B, rock and roll, and jazz styles.