What Is a Blues Musician?

A blues musician is a singer, songwriter, or instrumentalist who performs blues-style music. At the turn of the century, African-Americans in the southern United States pioneered this style of music. The most common identifier of a blues musician is the use of emotional lyrical content that emphasizes themes of sadness or depression. Blues music is also defined musical arrangements that use a 12-bar blues chord progression. Blending African-American and European musical traditions is a skill that musicians have mastered.

A key practice of the blues musician is to draw on the call-and-response tradition in African-American spirituals. Musical and lyrical phrases are usually repeated four times for emphasis. Blues songwriters strive to make emotional connections with their audiences, who may join in with their own vocalizations.

Blues singers use musical notes in a unique way, often drawing them out to emphasize the emotion they are conveying. Singing is frequently used to express the melancholy expressed in the lyrics. A blues guitarist might hold or “bend” notes in a way that evokes a similar feeling of melancholy. This effect is achieved flattening the fifth and seventh notes of the major scale. Similarly, European harmonic structures can be found in blues music.

The blues, as this genre of music is commonly known, is widely regarded as jazz’s influential forerunner. There is still enough crossover between the genres that a contemporary blues musician could also be referred to as a jazz musician. Rhythm and blues musicians are another term for blues musicians. A blues musician can come from any cultural or ethnic background, and blues can take many different forms or styles.

A blues musician is frequently recognized for his or her virtuoso electric guitar playing. Until the second half of the twentieth century, musicians would have mostly performed acoustic music in juke joints, which were known for their lively performances and late-night dancing. Touring and playing in clubs are still common ways for blues musicians to make a living today. The numerous annual blues music festivals are also good places for new and veteran blues musicians to get their music heard.

W.C. Handy, Mamie Smith, Ma Rainy, Mississippi John Hurt, Bessie Smith, and Blind Willie McTell were among the most influential and well-known early blues musicians. Son House, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King are some of the more notable later musicians. Many of them were vocalists as well as instrumentalists.