Monday, May 18, 2015

Weekly Playlist: Lady Sings the Blues

I have always thought and felt that there is something powerful  about a woman singing the blues.  In his book, “The Land where the Blues Began,” the great American music folklorist Alan Lomax recounts his travels collecting stories and recordings of and  from some of this country’s earliest blues singers  in the Mississippi Delta region. It is both a beautiful and heartbreaking book, showcasing  the rich cultural history of this country, alongside some the harshest and most horrible pages of that same history.  I don’t have any thing close to answers, but I find it interesting to think about why and how beauty can come from deep suffering, and why art can be a survival mechanism.  Huh. But, circling back to the Lomax’s book, in one of my favorite passages, he talks about how The Blues were a popular form of worship in the poor rural churches, and it was the women in the audience that would spontaneously start singing when they were moved to. There are just some sorrows that you can’t keep inside. They are just some pains that you have to sing, lone words just can’t reach some depths.  Then the idea of organized gospel choirs and their mostly male choir leaders came into fashion, and well, women singing The Blues from the pews faded out.  But women singing The Blues didn’t die out. In fact, in many cases, they got moved into the national spotlight. In the first half the 20th century, there was a whole slew of amazing women Blues singers, singing of all the complexities of life, aka, not all women are saints sitting in church pews. Here is just a few of my favorites: 

  1. St Louis Blues—Bessie Smith. This is actually one of favorite all time ever Blues songs. Bessie's  sad, deep roar, matched by the moan of the trumpet, it all gets me every time.

  2. Crazy Blues—Mamie Smith. If you ever been in love with someone who is bad for you--your heart has beat to this song.

  3. Lady Sings the Blues--Billie Holiday. This song is pretty much flawless. THE END. 

  4. Crazy Cryin' Blues--Memphis Minnie. Not only could she sing like the best of them, but she could also play the guitar like the barn was on fire!

    5. Deep Moaning Blues--Ma Rainey. Ma Rainey was one of the earliest Blues singers and is often referred to as the Mother of the Blues. Her booming voice and dynamic stage presence really set the stage for so many after her and also the foundation for so much of our modern music. 

1 comment :

  1. In a blue mood today. These tunes were just perfect!