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Blues People: Negro Music in White America Paperback – January 20, 1999

4.7 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

""Blues People "is not only a fresh, incisively instructive reinterpretation of Negro music in America, but it is also curcially relevant to Negro-White relationships today."--Nat Hentoff""Blues People "is American musical history; it is also American cultural, economic, and even emotional history. It traces not only the development of the Negro music which affected white America, but also the Negro values which affected white America."--"Library Journal"

From the Publisher

This extremely pertinent work will make a valuable addition to the musical and sociological collections of public and academic libraries. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (January 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068818474X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688184742
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By N. Guven Ilter on August 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
I actually purchased the first paperback edition this book a long time ago, and I learned that it had been out of print for quite some time. It was a time when I was a casual listener of blues and jazz, and didn't think about the roots of the music I was listening to. The book was interesting enough, but it didn't have information about more contemporary stuff, as it was printed in 1963.

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.
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Format: Paperback
This book is probably the greatest ever written on the early history of black music in America. With rare clarity and glowing intensity, Baraka traces the evolution of black forms such as blues and jazz back to Africa, and presents the reader with genuine insight into the world of the creators of these important 20th century art forms. The book is as gripping as any novel you will ever read, and also crammed with facts and mindboggling lines of thought. Anybody with even the slightest interest in modern black music needs to read this book, and consider its contents thoroughly.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Amiri Baraka (aka Leroy Jones) wrote a book about the move from Africa to slavery and from slavery to citizenship, and from "African to Negro" in his words. As music was the most profound artistic expression of this move, Baraka analyses each stage of social change through the music it produced.
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.
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Format: Paperback
The other day a friend rashly claimed that art and music were equally hard to describe in words. I asked him to tell me about a certain painting of Picasso's. He did, but claimed it wasn't accurate. "OK," I said, "you're right, but now tell me about Mozart's Jupiter Symphony." He opened his mouth, closed it, looked at me, and said, "Yeah, I see what you mean." Writing a book about the blues would be equally hard, it seems to me. So, LeRoi Jones did what he could, back in 1963, to tie the indescribable to the more concrete. He wrote a social history of African-Americans in the USA through the prism of music or---maybe on the principle of red and yellow tile floors (are they red with yellow designs or yellow with red designs ?)---he wrote a book on African-American music through the prism of social history. It is one of the most important books on American music (and American society) that you can find. It has stood the test of time. He begins from the Africans who came to North America as slaves bearing very different cultures, confronted by an absolutely different view of the world emanating from their new masters. Here he tries to show how African music became transformed into African-AMERICAN music and then American. He continues then up through the generations of slavery, to Emancipation, migration to the cities, World War I, the Depression, World War II and the bebop age of the Fifties. The book is pre-Civil Rights movement, pre-Martin Luther King. Jones may have looked down on the NAACP and its allies as "white liberal supported organizations", I'm not sure, but they don't appear. The times are symbolized by the use of "Negro" throughout. I agree, the tome is dated, but don't reject it, don't pooh-pooh the man. This is a very intelligent, very worthwhile book.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
While I have major reservations about a lot of Amiri Baraka's ideas and statements as expressed in his poetry and elsewhere, I have to acknowledge that Blues People is mostly excellent. It's not really a musical history of the jazz/blues, so anyone looking for lots of discussion of musical theory and the compositional development of those styles will probably need to look elsewhere.

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.
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