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Blues People: Negro Music in White America Paperback – January 20, 1999
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Top Customer Reviews
Recently, I found this book in the upper shelves of my library, having completely forgotten about it in spite of my infatuation with the blues for the better part of the last two decades. It was a most welcome surprise for me, as it contained a compact but comprehensive introduction to the time period from the first Africans came to America to the 1920s when their music was first recorded, and laid the groundwork to how this music evolved in a sociological context. The rural lifestyle, the reflections of the exodus from the south on the music and subsequent refined, urban sound are discussed in this framework.
Although it would not really appeal to the casual reader and listener, "Blues People" is invaluable for the serious blues and jazz fan for setting the music into the general context of social life and external effects that made this music what it is today.
As Baraka concentrates on the process, he does not put any emphasis on names and details of the musicians. The book is not in any way a list of "who's who in Blues or Jazz".
The book is critical of American mainstream culture, describing it as shallow and un-creative. Baraka observes that Blacks who have tried to belong to the mainstream (white) society have not been able to produce any music of value. He believes that their rejection of their Blues (slavery) roots made them too as shallow and un-creative as the society they wanted to join.
Baraka is most knowledgeable of Bebop and its developments up to free Jazz, as they are the closest to his generation. He is admittedly less connected to country blues, which for him expresses the first stage in the post slavery black society.
The book is magnificent in its originality and boldness. I think it is essential reading for anyone interested in African American music and/or culture.
What it is, is a social history of how black music both responded to and developed in relation to black culture and black self-perception from a time of bondage into an era where there was a nascent black middle class. Baraka's perspective is necessarily insular and dated, he's not interested in ideas of cross cultural assimilation/appropriation or multicultural influences (which to be honest, are concepts that didn't really fully develop in these kinds of analysis until decades after this was written). He is only interested in black people as they relate to themselves and as their music relates to them. Of course it's more or less common knowledge now that rock and roll and by extension almost all popular music in America is traced right back to the blues and the R&B that came out of it, but this is one of the books that took the trouble to really exhaustively point out that connection and to trace back its genealogy.
Beyond this, Baraka points out one of the most salient points of cultural musical analysis: a form or style is invented, disseminated, popularized, then at some point people get sick of it and change it into something new. That's a HUGE, brilliant observation. And with regards to popular music, its not a huge over-generalization to say that the people who are usually responsible for those transformations are almost always black.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I picked up the 1963 first edition of Blue People in a used bookstore. Many of the themes running through Baraka's book still feel relevant in the 21st century as we face down... Read morePublished 2 days ago by Hike Mogan
One of the most miraculous books ever written. However the introduction from the first edition, which was brilliant, was omitted and the new one wasn't anywhere as percipient as... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
They gave us the blues, and what did we give them, not a lot great readPublished 15 months ago by Warrenselby-jones