Joseph Machlis says that the blues is a native American musical and verse form, with no direct European and African antecedents of which we know. (p. 578) In other words, it is a blending of both traditions. Something special and entirely different from either of its parent traditions. (Although Alan Lomax cites some examples of very similar songs having been found in Northwest Africa, particularly among the Wolof and Watusi. p. 233)
The word 'blue' has been associated with the idea of melancholia or depression since the Elizabethan era. The American writer, Washington Irving is credited with coining the term 'the blues,' as it is now defined, in 1807. (Tanner 40) The earlier (almost entirely Negro) history of the blues musical tradition is traced through oral tradition as far back as the 1860s. (Kennedy 79)
When African and European music first began to merge to create what eventually became the blues, the slaves sang songs filled with words telling of their extreme suffering and privation.
(Tanner 36) One of the many responses to their oppressive environment resulted in the field holler. The field holler gave rise to the spiritual, and the blues, "notable among all human works of art for their profound despair . . . They gave voice to the mood of alienation and anomie that prevailed in the construction camps of the South," for it was in the Mississippi Delta that blacks were often forcibly conscripted to work on the levee and land-clearing crews, where they were often abused and then tossed aside or worked to death. (Lomax 233)
Alan Lomax states that the blues tradition was considered to be a masculine discipline (although some of the first blues songs heard by whites were sung by 'lady' blues singers like Mamie Smith and Bessie Smith) and not many...