Friday, February 20, 2015

Black History Month: Chicago Blues

African-Americans from all over the South migrated Northward during
"The Great Migration" during the first half of the Twentieth Century.  The Illinois Central Railroad carried people from the Mississippi Delta to Memphis and then on to Chicago, where musicians played for newly employed factory workers in South Side clubs.

In Chicago, the blues grew from a soloistic medium to a group endeavor, with piano and "harp" (harmonica), and a more powerful electrified guitar often taking the place of the acoustic guitar.  There was often a saxophone in the mix.  Chicago blues greatly influenced early Rock n' Roll and Rhythm and Blues.

Muddy Waters
In 1947 Chess Records began recording blues musicians from Memphis and Chicago, including Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. Radio play and the 1950s folk music revival disseminated the Chicago blues style around the world.  Young British musicians took to the medium and made the blues an integral part of rock 'n' roll.  The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Cream (fronted by Eric Clapton) covered many songs by Chicago bluesmen.

Chess Blues:
Compact Disc 11957

Robert Johnson, the quintessential Delta Blues musician who never actually lived in Chicago, composed "Sweet Home Chicago"  and recorded it in Texas in 1936.  It has become a standard of Chicago blues since then.  Even President Barack Obama sang it at a White House celebration of the blues (with Buddy Guy and B.B. King):

Some of the most famous performers are:

Muddy Waters (1913 or 1915 - 1983) grew up on Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi under the influence of Son House and Robert Johnson.  He moved to Chicago in the 1940s and his influence continues to be felt.  His first recordings were made by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress.  In Chicago he recorded for the Chess Brothers on the Aristocrat label.  He is considered the "father" of Chicago Blues and is credited with the change from acoustic to electric guitar.  His 1950 song "Rolling Stone" inspired a young British Rock group to name themselves The Rolling Stones.

Big Bill Broonzy (1893-1958) grew up in Arkansas, across the river from the Mississippi side of the Delta.  After moving to Chicago in the 1920s, he began recording with his acoustic guitar and changed to electric in the 1940s, but played acoustic for folk music revival tours of the 1950s.  He inspired other blues musicians such as Muddy Waters, as well as early rock and roll guitarists.

  • Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy  ML 420 .B78 H68 2010
  • Big Bill Broonzy Sings Folk Songs, recorded in 1958 by Moses Asch during the folk music revival of the 1950s.  Compact Disc 6324
  • Legendary Country Blues Guitarists (two songs).  DVD Video 11591

Willie Dixon (1915 - 1992) was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi and moved to Chicago in 1936.  After World 2 he began recording for Chess Records and later became a producer for them.


Buddy Guy (b. 1936)   He was born in Louisiana and moved to Chicago in the 1950s.  He learned the blues on a diddley bow and later played guitar.   He was a session guitarist for Chess Records and broke out as a soloist in the 1980s.  Today he is one of the best-known blues musician, playing rock-tinged blues.  He has collaborated with Eric Clapton.

Albert King (1923 - 1992) was born in Indianola, Mississippi and spent part of his childhood in
Arkansas.  He moved to Chicago in the 1950s, but then left for St. Louis and finally settled in Memphis.  He influenced rock and blues guitarists alike.

In Session (With Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1983)
Compact Disc 12022

Sonny Boy Williamson (The Second) (ca. 1912 - 1965) was born Alex Miller but known as Sonny Boy Williamson despite another well-known harmonica player having the name first.  He was born in Mississippi and traveled the Delta absorbing the blues sound.  He recorded for Chess Records' Checker Records label in the late 1950s and early 1960s.   He famously recorded an album with the British Invasion rock band, The Yardbirds, which featured Eric Clapton.

The Real Folk Blues
Compact Disc 12168

A Diddley-Bow
Bo Diddley (1928 - 2008) His stage name is a play on the diddley-bow, a folk instrument associated with the blues.   He is credited with transitioning blues into the rock idiom.  He is one of the famous blues musicians to record with Chess Records.

His Best
Compact Disc 15114

For more information, check out these books:
To hear more Chicago Blues performers, check out:
Soundtrack to "Chicago Blues" (1970)

Soundtrack to "The Blues Brothers"
Compact Disc 21975

Friday, February 13, 2015

Black History Month: The Delta Blues

Mississippi Delta
(in green)
One of the quintessential and perhaps most influential styles of American music is known as "The Blues."  "The blues" denotes depression and sadness in everyday parlance, but in music it means that and much more.

After the turn of the Twentieth Century, the descendants of slaves who had worked the cotton fields of the Northwest Mississippi (The "Delta") were free to leave the agricultural life.  Many migrated North to factory jobs.  Many turned to the trades to make a living.  And some became entertainers. Musicians playing the blues could play "juke joints," street corners or house parties.  As they traveled through the South, they spread the style that would be known more generally as "the blues."  During the definitive, Depression Era, years, the guitars were acoustic, but some musicians went on to play electric guitars, developing the Chicago Blues style.

Although the musicians were typically rural farm kids, Memphis and other cities became meccas for both performing and recording.

Classic blues lyrics depicted unrequited love, poverty, or the itinerant travels of the bluesmen.  They  could also be raunchy songs about sex, which did not endear the genre to the religious communities of the South.   It was considered the "devil's music" by more proper, church-going Mississippians, and some of the lore of the Blues embraces the idea.

The Delta Blues experienced renewed interest when Alan Lomax, of the Library of Congress, and other researchers recorded folk musicians around the world.  These recordings reached as far as England, where they influenced the development of rock n' roll.  Artists such as the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton counted Delta blues musicians among their musical heroes.

For more about the Delta Blues, check out these resources:
The Hidden History of Mississippi Blues
ML 3521 .S76 2011

Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues
ML 3521 .G58 2009

The Land Where the Blues Began, by Alan Lomax
ML 3521 .L64 1993

DVDs in the Educational Technology and Resources are of Bracken Library:
Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey (Compact Discs and DVDs from the television series)

Blues Masters: The Essential History of the Blues
DVD Video 3813

Legendary Country Blues Guitarists
DVD Video 11591

Delta Blues Musicians:

Charley Patton (ca. 1890 - 1934) was one of the first Delta bluesmen to be recorded.  He influenced many of the younger generation of performers as a mentor and teacher.  Check out Screamin' and Hollerin the Blues:  Compact Disc 12986, which includes recordings from 1929-1934 and interviews.

One of the most famous of Patton's protegés was Robert Johnson (1911 - 1938).  He only made a few recordings in 1936 and 1937, but the songs are enduring classics. Eric Clapton's "Crossroads" festival is named for Johnson's song, Crossroads Blues. The complete recordings are available on Compact Disc 12686  Clapton first performed Crossroads in the 1960s while a member of the band, Cream.

Guitarists can emulate Johnson thanks to Robert Johnson: The New Transcriptions, transcribed by Pete Billmann.  Whether you read staff notation or TAB, it's all there:
M 1630.18 .J665 R6 1999

Mississippi John Hurt (1892 - 1966) was a self-taught musician who was one of the first recorded blues singers, recording a session in 1928, but his influence was more widely felt when he recorded his music at the Library of Congress in the 1960s.  His songs have been performed by modern blues and rock musicians.  For more information, check out:
Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues
ML 420 .H986 .R37 2011

"Son" House (1902 - 1988) was one of Charley Patton's protégés, and he in turn influenced Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.    Like Mississippi John Hurt, he recorded for the Library of Congress.  His recordings continue to influence modern country, rock, and blues musicians.

Howlin' Wolf (1910 - 1976) learned to play guitar from Charley patton and he also played harmonica, Chess Records, he moved to Chicago, as did many bluesmen.  For more, see:
with Robert Johnson, Son House or other guitarists backing him.  After scoring a recording contract with

Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf
ML 420 .H72 S44 2004

Muddy Waters (1913 - 1983) began his career in the Mississippi Delta, emulating Son House and Robert Johnson.  Alan Lomax traveled to his plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi to record his music, and from then on he became one of the biggest stars of the blues.  He was one of the first to amplify his guitar, developed a Chicago blues style.  He recorded and performed until 1982, keeping the Blues alive for younger generations.

John Lee Hooker
in The Blues Brothers movie
John Lee Hooker (1917 - 2001) was also from Clarksdale, Mississippi.  He learned the blues from his stepfather, but in the 1930s his home was Memphis, where he performed on the famous Beale Street.  He performed throughout his life, and appeared in the Blues Brothers movie, singing his hit, "Boom Boom."

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Operatic Tenors

Enrico Caruso
Traditionally, the male romantic lead in an opera is portrayed by a man with a rather high voice: a tenor.  Because of this, many tenors have become stars with international and crossover appeal.  Follow the links below to find CDs and DVDs featuring these operatic tenors:

Historic Tenors:
Carlo Bergonzi
Jussi Björling
Enrico Caruso
Nicolai Gedda
John McCormack
Richard Tear

Jon Vickers
The Three Tenors:
Domingo, Carreras, Pavarotti
Fritz Wunderlich

20th Century Tenors:
Andrea Bocelli
José Carreras
Plácido Domingo
Luciano Pavarotti

The New Generation:
Marcelo Alvarez
Lawrence Brownlee
Juan Diego Flórez
José Cura
Juan Diego Flórez
Vittorio Grigolo
Jonas Kaufmann
Ramón Vargas
Rolando Villazón