Sunday, May 10, 2015

Can White People Play the Blues ?



What is the blues? Life. Life as we live it today, life as we lived it in the past and life as I believe we will live it in the future.
-- B.B. King



I have a question.  Can white people play the blues?  Does anyone and everyone who call themselves white have the right?  Does it matter?  I say that it most definitely does.  Your answer depends on where you stand in the debate.  Those who have no personal stake in the debate and those who have a clear understanding of history will answer the most honestly.  But those who have invested their energy into the art form while denying the history of the music and the people will always aggressively defend their privilege to play the music and will fight with all their might like a prospector guarding his claim in Native land.  This is not about policing the music-making of white people, nor is is about giving out permission slips or licenses to perform the blues. Does the prospector worry about losing his claim if it was never really his to begin with?  This is neither about ownership, since everyone knows that blues is Black music, the product of Black survival despite a system that worked overtime to snuff out Black lives.  There would be no blues without Black people, and Black people still set the standard by which all other players and singers are measured.  This is about being able to tell the difference between the blues of Eric Clapton and B.B. King.  Some people are offended by the question, calling it racist.  The knee jerk reactions will always be expected, especially in a nation that is in full denial of its past.  Any uncomfortable discussion is immediately called 'racist' by those who are comforted by this denial. This isn't about race, but the culture and the history of a people.  This is about why it matters.

In reality, white people around the world already play the blues, by the millions.  There are blues festivals around the world where the appearance of a Black artist from the US is a novelty or even a rare exception to the usual all-white roster.  There is no doubt that these white artists are doing it because they love the music.  They may even have some personal connection to the music.  But none of them ever asked permission from any Black person to do so.  In fact, they never had to.  In the USA  an around the world, a white man did what he pleased to a Black person.  So when did white people ever ask to play the music of another culture?   This is not how history works.  In truth, just as they have laid claim to lands across the globe without asking the original owners of the land, white people have had the privilege of playing whatever music they want to play.  When they do, the music they make is often promoted (by white people) as being the same thing.  But just as klezmer music performed by a Black man may be great entertainment, it can never be the same as when a European Jew plays it.  Why?  Without culture there is no music.  Music is the voice of a culture.  Separate the two and the music can never be the same.  Of course, it may be in the same style as the original, but the meaning of a song such as Son House's 'My Black Mama' will always be changed with a different performer.  This is especially true if the performer is not from the Black culture that gave birth to the blues.

Some people say that the culture of the performer (aka 'race') it doesn't matter.  They say that everybody gets the blues, music is universal.  Anything other than acceptance of this position is attacked as being 'divisive'.  It is obvious that this position serves non-Black people well, opening the door wide open for anyone and everyone.  More disturbing is that being Black is seen as incidental or meaningless - an insane position in an art form that Black people created to bring meaning to their experience.  It is curious that whenever white mainstream culture develops an affinity for a particular type of Black music, this music suddenly becomes 'universal'.  Now, Black people and white people who value genuine Black expression are all told that the 'race' of the performer doesn't matter.  There is even a popular t-shirt that reads, "Not White, Not Black, just blues."  The Black blues player wonders to himself, 'well damn can't Black folk have nothing?'  The fact that Black people do not play traditional blues popularly as they did during the golden era of the music (20s, 30s, 40s, 50s) means that many white players actually believe that they are somehow 'keeping the blues alive' because Black folk don't like it anymore.  In fact, it was the blues that kept Black folk alive, giving them a pressure valve for the stress of living in Babylon.  The truth is that Black folks never stopped playing music, but the musical culture demands change in reaction to the present times.  The blues kept growing and spawning new forms of music.  Freshness in style is highly prized among Black folk and this has always kept the music moving forward.

But what is 'the blues?'  It means different things to different people, depending on their history.  Mainstream white America (and many Black people) has typecast the blues as the sad music of broke down old Black folk.  By this measure, to play the blues means to them that one must have suffered.  But how much?  Is it only about suffering?  No, but in this way people who have no connection with Black folk from the south can feel free to claim their 'right' to play the blues based on the pain that they or someone in their family or their people may have felt due to mistreatment.  Many of these arguments are based on who suffered more in human history, when the music was never only about being sad and lonely or meeting some quota of pain.  It was deeper than that.  The blues is a book of the life of Black people.  There are happy blues, love blues, homesick blues, preaching blues, east coast blues, west coast blues, gospel blues, jump blues, and uptown blues.  There is a blues for everything under the sun.  As the saying goes, 'the blues is news you can use.'

Blues existed in a particular space and time.  That time is now clearly gone.  From the days of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton to the era of Muddy Waters and B.B. King was definitely blues time.  Blues was the popular music and the lowest common musical denominator.  The blues of the thirties, forties and fifties, the way it was played and sung - can never be recreated, no matter how many modern blues fanatics rehearse the old songs.  Blues is still relevant, but now more as a reference point within other styles of Black music that it spawned and not as a predominant style.  Blues endures in Black music.  It is our musical home.  But it is a home that is always under renovation.  It was once said that Black people didn't have the blues until we stepped onboard the slave ship.  The sound of this ongoing tragedy imprinted itself in the music and the memories of the people.  How could millions of people be stolen from their ancient civilization and thrown into the belly of the beast and it not matter?  How could the experience of a people who lived the blues not matter?

 The blues was the voice of Black people's lives.  It still is.  The only difference is that it has never stood still, it has never stopped evolving and changing.  Whatever happened to Black people, happened in the music.  And since Black culture is obsessively fresh, as soon as the new influence became standard, a new standard was applied.  Black music is that tree that is always growing.  Africa is the root, the blues is the trunk and the other styles from jazz to gospel, rock n' roll and hip-hop are the branches.  This is what white people who are always asking, 'why don't Black people play the blues anymore' simply don't understand.  Many white blues fanatics and players not only adopt the music, they adopt 'blues' ways of dressing and speech in a way that can seem like a trip down a memory lane that they never really knew or understood.  Though Black culture is fresh and innovative, what white culture is presenting as blues is often no more than nostalgia for a time they never knew.  As one white interviewer once told me, "you recreate the old blues so well.  Don't you wish you lived in nineteen thirties Mississippi?"  My answer: HELL NO!!!  There is a tendency among white blues fans to forget that blues was a reaction to the brutality Black people experienced daily at the hands of the white power structure.  People lived and died the blues.  Though there were good times, the music was a tool to overcome oppression and depression.


 The 'blues' was originally an English term for a kind of Black music that included particular song forms, scales and ways of singing that were alive before the advent of sound recording.  To put it simply, the music existed in Africa and in America long before the white man called it the blues.  They just didn't know what else to call it.  In the early days, white colonials and their descendants in the United States wrote of the 'strange', 'eerie', or 'wild' sounds the Africans sung during work, recreation or praise.  It frightened them, but they were attracted to it, tantalized by it.  Even the most virulently racist slaveowner or overseer were regular visitors to the Africans' quarters, to listen to the music and have a 'good time'.  Africans who could play the fiddle well were favored and hired out by their masters to play for whites.  These white people could still comfortably despise Black people and be mesmerized by their music, all at the same time.  This saga of attraction and repulsion, love and hate, desire and disgust, characterizes white mainstream America's perception of Black people, from colonial times to the present day.  By indulging in Black music, by playing it, white people could enjoy all that they love and are attracted to in Black music and at the same time ignore whatever distaste they may have for Black people.  They can adopt the style of Blackness with none of the pain.  They can cross the color line and slip back to comfort and safety before nightfall.

Of course we are all free to play whatever styles we enjoy playing.  Music is truly universal in the sense that all human beings respond to its language.  But saying music is universal does not mean that all people feel the same piece of music in the same way.  It doesn't mean that all music is the same.  Neither does it mean that anyone can play it in the same way as those who have a blood connection to the culture.  Just as a chinese man may love to play mariachi music does not mean that it has the same meaning to him as to a Mexican.  Newsflash: playing and singing the blues are two vastly different things.   This is why many very technically proficient white blues players do not attract large numbers of Black blues fans.  Singing, with Black inflections has traditionally been the primary standard in blues.  Early ads promoted singers who accompanied themselves on the guitar, in the days before the guitar-hero pyrotechnics that now pass for the blues.  There was no such thing as a bluesman who did not sing the blues.  Yet today there are scores of white musicians who have become famous only of for their playing.  They do not sing.  But for Back people, the blues is traditionally a vocal craft first and an instrumental craft second.

The way that Black people sing blues lyrics has been imitated since the first white man dared to play the music.  Many blues fans, Black and white, cringe when they behold some white blues guitar slinger who twists his face up in his best Black blues voice impression as he plays a carbon copy performance of 'Hoochie-Coochie Man'.  There are many players who can play very well in the style but find it difficult to sing.   Many white singers have embarrassed themselves by serving up cheap imitations of what they think Black vocals should sound like.  They seem to ignore that they also have a voice that can sing.  The fingers can imitate riffs on a guitar, but the voice is much harder to imitate.  But isn't it the voice that makes the blues what it is?  Instrumental blues is entertaining, but the heart of the art form is the singing and the storytelling.  The greatest blues performers were great singers, without exception.  Legends like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Louise Johnson, Texas Alexander and literally hundreds of other Black men and women wrote the rule book on how to sing the blues.  While they often did play an instrument, if they did not sing they could not move a Black audience.  The concept of the 'guitar hero' is a purely white introduction into the music, a product of an individualistic culture which is the opposite of the communal nature of Black music.  This is the 'rock star' approach where all the credit is given to the 'frontman.'  This is totally alien to traditional blues where lengthy solos were not common and the interplay between the players was more important than highlighting one individual.

White people already play blues and many play well in the style.  While there are many singers who have found their voice in the blues style, it will always be an imitation of the real thing.  It is true that because of their love for the music (and the profits that they have made), many white players throughout the years have demonstrated their love of the music with gestures of acknowledgement of even financial support.  When Stevie Ray Vaughn looked at Albert King during an interview and said he had taught him "everything I know."  Albert King laughed and said "I taught you everything YOU know.  I didn't teach you everything I know!"  Stevie Ray Vaughn could play some guitar, but he was no Albert King.  No one is losing sleep over white people wanting to play the blues.  Playing music is a good thing.  The real problem is the claim that culture and history don't matter.   That the sounds of 400 years of tragedy and triumph make no difference in the music.  Everyone may feel sad in life, but not everyone gets the blues in the same way as Black folk. This does not mean that white people can't play the blues.  It simply means that it is not at all the same thing when they sing it.  White blues lovers who want to sing and play in the style should stop trying to sound Black.  Keep it real and sing like who you are!  Be true to yourself!  Express yourself, not your imitation of someone from another culture.  This is what true artists do.  We all have a message, according to who we are.  No, we are not all the same, and that is a very good thing.  A white singer can never sing the same songs as a Black singer and have the songs keep the same meaning.   The reverse is also true!  Why?  Culture.  Black people come in all complexions, so it is not even a question of skin color.  Black people in America have inherited a long history of cultural progress in reaction to real life shit.  That shit still matters.  Culture and heritage is the dirt that the blues grows out of.  That culture and heritage is Black.  The blues is Black music!

217 comments:

  1. It isn't about skin color at all. It's about what experiences one brings to the table. Do we think that a prisoner in solitary confinement doesn't know the blues? How about the 9/11 widow? Note that color of skin or ethnic history has no impact on that. Was this spectacular art form started by people of color in the fields and in bondage? Yep, without question. But to say that folks of other backgrounds can't authentically participate in that art form is like saying "If you aren't a caveman you can't really know the wheel."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did you comprehend what the author stated? Read it again AND again because it is obvious, you don't understand what the author is stating. In REALITY, EVERYTHING is about skin color. How is "Black music" NOT about skin color. A White blues artists has the potential to get more shows, make more money AND get more respect from a concert promoter than a Black blues artist. Secondly, around what table and with whom did you sit with to decide; "It's about what experiences one brings to the table." Do you have an experience that you can share that will make me say?: "You know, PJ is right." Thirdly, most of the White blues "aficionados" I know personally, and who have hundreds of blues albums in their homes, don't have very many Black friends and/or acquaintances and I comment about it all the time. In Caucasian-dominated societies around the world, the "truth" is easy to brush aside because it makes Caucasians feel various degrees of intimidation, guilt, and other negative feelings the same way the discussion concerning "Black on Black Crime" makes Black folk shift in their chairs and is the first thing a White person will bring up to ease the culturally-shared guilt of police brutality towards Black people. Wake up and smell the brown coffee and expand your gray matter.

      Delete
    2. "Black people come in all complexions, so it is not even a question of skin color." .. from the author, just sayin...

      Delete
    3. The phrase by "Thr", "In REALITY, EVERYTHING is about skin color." is sad on so many levels.

      Delete
    4. Personally I loved the article . Express yourself in your voice song your song, but I am so sick of this yes some white people were and still are evil twisted fucks who like to deny history and pretend that white people never held other men ,other human beings as property. I myself do have white skin, I done understand entirely but I know I detest racists and revisionists. On the other hand though white people did not pop up from the bowls of the earth and grow horns . There is a very real very sick disgusting reason for slavery and that is the ugliest color of them all green, money and greed drove peoples who lived together as one for thousands of years prior. Yea we have had a bad past 500 yrs with each other but just like baseball and basketball the bluea is american by birth just like jazz and blues had a baby and named it rock n roll I'm sure two African music forms formed the basis for southern black blues. Much love and respect to all but I think we can still acknowledge history and learn from it and move on as one people's. Much love to the author , Thanks for making me think jah love

      Delete
    5. The Blues clearly originated from African music, listening to traditional African music tells anyone with ears that, for instance from Mali and Senegal. They have since listened to European music like rock n roll and incorp[orated it without anyone saying 'that's white music, you can't do that'. But Rock'n'Roll came out of the cultural mixing of America and combines European foll music as well as blues, so to argue that any one of the genres belongs to one race is ludicrous and racist. America has been a melting pot, there are hundreds of tonal variations of skin colour as well as hundreds of variations of musical styles, where does Bluegrass [Irish, Scottish folk music originally mixed with a number of other sources] finish and Blues begin? Some 'blues' artists sound pretty country and some country musicians can sound pretty bluesy.
      Any attempt to separate and label one thing black is racist, stupid and musically illiterate.
      And sorry, but without being a revisionist, Thunder Death 2 [really? don't you have a real name?] I want to educate you about slavery, which you appear to think white people invented. There was inter-tribal slavery in Africa for centuries before the Europeans discovered the continent. Tribes kept slaves from other tribes, and sold the surplus to Arab slave traders, who then were instrumental is selling to the new buyers who, yes, were out to make money. Just remember, it was the Arabs, Muslims, who were the slavers, who ranged across the contionent capturing people from villages and working in the fields. NOT, the white men, who actually didn't get that far from the coast initially, where slaves were brought to be sold and loaded onto ships. The writer of this blog could do well to study history instead of writing such racist ignorance.

      Delete
    6. IT'S A DIFFERENT TYPE OF BLUE.....SURE ALL HUMANS EXPERIENCE THE "BLUES", BUT THIS IS ABOUT AN INTIRE RACE OF PEOPLE, WHO WERE HORRIFICALLY STOLIN FROM THIER COUNTRY, TORN FROM THIER ROOTS....IT'S NOT ONE PERSON SITTIN IN PRISON FEELING SORRY FOR HIMSELF.....GET REAL......


      THE BLUES AIN'T REALLY ABOUT MUSIC EITHER. . . .YA'LL, IT'S ABOUT THE SOUL!


      Delete
    7. U do realise slaves where bought from there not stolen the tribes they where bought from stole them.

      Delete
  2. I agree with you 100%. There's a bunch of people out there that believe blues is just a music genre. I'm from Argentina: same thing happens when a japanese comes to play tango or it would happen to you if you wanted to play flamenco in Southern Spain. You can play, you can sing (this, more difficult in my opinion) but culture is something more, has to do with environment & personal experiences, history and heritage. One can enjoy, join & promote, but can never be one of 'em. Thanks Corey for writing it as clear as you did.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you were blind, you couldn't tell what race a talented musician was playing in any genre. Sorry folks, proven fact. Did several experiments at LAAC. Genre is the only element that is culturally based and purity was lost hundreds of years ago when opposing genre's were introduced. So to suggest anything later than about 1625 is pure is kind of dishonest with the exception of undiscovered tribal peoples that yet have to be discovered.

      Little is known about the exact origin of the music now known as the blues. No specific year can be cited as the origin of the blues, largely because the style evolved over a long period and existed in approaching its modern form before the term blues was introduced and before the style was thoroughly documented. Ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik traces the roots of many of the elements that were to develop into the blues back to the African continent, the "cradle of the blues" and found those elements consistent with American Blue Grass which was empirically blended to perhaps offer melodic structure. One important early mention of something closely resembling the blues comes from 1901, when an archaeologist in Mississippi described the songs of black workers which had lyrical themes and technical elements in common with the blues

      Delete
    2. I was told by my deceased grandmother (who was a musically-gifted, classically trained half-breed): "The music was called "the blues" because of the skin color of the people who sang it." My guitar playing cousin said: "The blues eased the pain of being Black." A Caucasian friend, college english professor and author told me : The blues is a product of slave communication in the field because singing was the only way slaves could get news of missing relatives and friends. Sometimes slave-griots could sing the news of the day without the overseer giving a damn...as long as cotton bales piled up at the end of the row. You will NEVER hear any professor teach that.

      Delete
    3. Another racist who thinks a race can own music. Clearly not a musician, they don't have the racist none, they don't see skin colour, they see fellow musicians, period.

      Delete
  3. You are 100% wrong just like this asshat,the blues is just "a good man having a bad day" and any style of music can be played by someone from outside of that region and to expert levels just listen to people who have done it and their are white guitarist that play the blues better than some black guitarist.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bravo Mr. Harris. The Blues is Black music.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just jealous nonsense..
      Never heard of you..
      Wonder why?
      All blues legends...ALL of them...cite SRV as legendary..with a total understanding of blues.
      B.B. King...Albert King..Albert Collins...Buddy Guy...and on and on...
      You sir...are delusional

      Delete
  5. I have to admit, when I forst started reading I was thinking, "Oh boy, here we go again." but as I read I began to understand your point more clearly. I am a white guy from Canada, what the hell do I know of the black experience? Nothing! I have played the blues for 30 years but lay no claim to it as I own nothing of it. I merely try to pay my respects by doing so in my own voice. I could never understand the struggles of a people over hundreds of years and I truly hope I don't offend anyone in the process of my playing as that is never mu intention. Much peace Cory.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh stop grovelling, he's a racist, he doesn't understand music, go on playing and thinking free.

      Delete
    2. "Grovelling"? It's called respect. You miss the point.

      Delete
    3. "Grovelling"? It's called respect. You miss the point.

      Delete
  6. Here we go! Whiteman can't play blues, jazz, gospel, etc because it's the Black Man's music. Blackman can't play classical, folk, country, etc because it's the White Man's music. We've taken MUSIC - the purest form of creativity and communication (and by the way, my religion: my way of praising the creator) and we've turned it into just an other method of separating us from each other... CONGRATULATIONS !!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. NO offense meant, Vinny, and I don't agree with Corey 100%, but you speak like a typical white guy, criticizing one who's culture was enslaved, co-opted and totally fucked, for pointing it out, as though they were creating a problem instead of speaking to it.

      Delete
    2. I'm wondering... Should we ban Yoyo Ma from playing Mozart, because he's not European? How could he possibly understand the European experience, the existential pain and angst that went into the Fifth Symphony?

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  7. arguing about this is a tremndous waste of time

    ReplyDelete
  8. The blues is the music of afroamerican of USA, nothing to do with color of the skin. The black people from other countries play his own music. The white people can play the blues but never play it like afroamerican people, is his own culture, tradition and heritage. White people can play guitar, harmonica and everything but when is the hour to sing, man, your can see the difference

    ReplyDelete
  9. I agree with Corey and thank you for writing this. I don't believe that this article will cause separation if anything it will bring more understanding of other people's culture.
    Separation ends when understanding begins.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I agree with Corey and thank you for writing this. I don't believe that this article will cause separation if anything it will bring more understanding of other people's culture.
    Separation ends when understanding begins.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "There's no imagination in the blues" from the song "I'm gonna love the Hell outta you" by Silver Jews frontman David Berman.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Music isn't a club that requires someone's permission to enter.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  14. There is too many outrageous things you wrote here to list them!
    You put any white blues musician almost on the same level as slaveowners and overseers.
    And one could think you just scared that people would forget the roots and history of the blues because very few black musicians have lust to carry it. But I understand you are well educated men who knows exactly what you are doing and saying here, and that is what i find scary.
    Did all the white boys and girls buying your lessons at Sonic Junction or your DVD's have asked permission to play the blues are you just an hypocrite?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you should go back and SLOWLY reread the article, because you are taking a very different message from it than what the writing communicates. I understand a visceral reaction to the statement "blues is black music" but Harris is mainly on target here.

      Delete
    2. This is a great article and this comment is very far off-base. SURPRISE...... not everything is race-based.

      Delete
    3. "There is no doubt that these white artists are doing it because they love the music. They may even have some personal connection to the music. But none of them ever asked permission from any Black person to do so. In fact, they never had to. In the USA an around the world, a white man did what he pleased to a Black person". Here for exemple, Corey Harris put all white person playing blues on the same level as all those white people abusing and stealing black people through history. And there is much more here, for exemple just taking up two facts in a article or a speech without explaining the correlation between them, is a way to establish parallel between those facts, like talking about almost exclusive white posters in blues festival and then talking about that even the worst and most virulent slaveowners also enjoyed have a good time with blues... I actually read this article 5 times before I posted. I couldn't believe it, didn't want to believe it, especially as I enjoy Corey Harris music. But maybe you should read it again

      Delete
    4. I understand that educated Black people are very scary to those who want to control the whole narrative. Why be scared? What is the threat here? I think that your defensiveness makes it impossible for you to consider a Black person's point of view. So I will leave you to your opinion. As I said in the article, "no one is handing out permission slips" for white people to play the blues. No white person ever had to ask because the USA was built upon white supremacy. This is a fact.

      Delete
  15. Johnny winter saved muddy waters career,and if wasn't for people like him carrying the torch the blues would have burned out years ago

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Johnny Winters did NOT save Muddy's career. He extended it a little but can Muddy's grandchildren benefit from Muddy's legacy today? AND maybe attend college? Muddy got f%*^$ by the Chess family the exact same way Little Walter and Bo Diddley did. AND, as long as there is paper money, the blues will never burn out. You heard it here Adam.

      Delete
  16. Sort of like a black american from the suburbs trying to play reggae... Corey.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You hit the nail on the head. Harris is a joke. It's not a racial thing. Harris went to Bates Colleg! That's a school for rich privelaged people. Harris is a phony through and through and his music and his whoe style is a joke. Some rich kid from Colorado that went to some fancy northeastern snob school. You are a damn joke Harris. You have absolutely no right to turn it into a racial thing. I'm from Chicago. If you aren't BLACK you stand little chance of being taken seriously as a blues musician. You think Muddy Waters would have anything in common with your sad ass. You damn phony joke and your sad ass superficial style.

      Delete
    2. You hit the nail on the head. Harris is a joke. It's not a racial thing. Harris went to Bates Colleg! That's a school for rich privelaged people. Harris is a phony through and through and his music and his whoe style is a joke. Some rich kid from Colorado that went to some fancy northeastern snob school. You are a damn joke Harris. You have absolutely no right to turn it into a racial thing. I'm from Chicago. If you aren't BLACK you stand little chance of being taken seriously as a blues musician. You think Muddy Waters would have anything in common with your sad ass. You damn phony joke and your sad ass superficial style.

      Delete
    3. Dave Robinson, one question: can u play? What's the point of mentioning that u r from Chicago if u caint. That's what u call a sad superficial.

      Delete
  17. I agree with Corey. Commenters who feel threatened or insulted should read the piece again.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Stevie Ray was only a quarter of Albert s age what if he lived on,how bout roy buchanan hands down the greatest tele player ever and awesome voice,what if he lived another 30 years.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I guess the Carolina chocolate drops,should not and really don't understand mountain music,but they are damn good"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know the Drops are adopted by the mountain community. The are at their core a "String Band". Rural Blacks in my area played the same songs as the rural whites with a different bend. There is some argument that Bluegrass was adopted from the blacks as well. The black banjo player stereotype was so disgusting after the minstrel era that a whole race of people abandoned an instrument. But every stereotype has a root in some truth.

      Delete
  20. Corey, interesting post! As a white boy raised listening to lots of blues (live and recorded) in the late 50's and early 60's, in a radical civil-rights active family (S. Side Chicago & D.C.) with people constantly around me that included many radical African American activists and musicians, I have always striven to be conscious of cultural appropriation and theft, minstrelism, "culture-fucking" and the persistent historical currents of enslavement, slavery, and cultural dominance/subjugation. And my roots and history in white culture and the vast benefits and and over-arching privilege it affords me.

    And I love playing blues, jazz, folk, rock, etc.. When I finally left home for good at age 14, I found a harmonica and took it to play while hitch-hiking, hopping freights, etc. I didn’t try to play the blues, I just played what I liked. And I had great adventures, always aware that my race (and gender) saved my life many, many times.

    I can’t sing worth a damn, and I’m a half-assed harp sucker, lucky enough to play with some good folks, some that are seriously fine blues players. And I never forget I’m a white man (often) participating in blues music; not a member of the culture that evolved it.

    So, as for permission from African-American blues players , well, I can claim it, I suppose, but I probably don’t deserve it, especially for my playing, however I’m gonna keep playing. Anyway, that pre-supposes what I play is “blues,” which is indeed the trunk of the tree which I musically hug. I know I’m a visitor, Corey, and I try to not only keep that in mind, but keep that in the conversation around blues.

    And the truly obnoxious bullshit of would-be blues-players affecting southern accents and costume and fake back-stories is just another example of (attempted) cultural appropriation, which I hate, and am unafraid to call it out. The guitar-hero phenomena you mention is largely just that, too, also masturbatory narcissistic self-indulgence, but I digress. Anyway, in my opinion, blues is more about sharing the story, the experience, than the melody or “awesome” chops, although good musicianship is no vice.

    I too am fed up with would-be blues players who don’t honor its roots and origins, and who treat it as simple american party music, sometimes even with the stars and bars on behind! But respectfully, I submit it’s a matter of honoring the roots and playing what’s real, today, illuminated by an awareness of the past. Honesty and principle in playing doesn’t negate cultural
    theft, but it maybe

    As to your reference to klezmer, and mine to stars-and-bars: if a non-jew/non-eastern european played klezmer with respect and awareness of its roots, that’s one thing; if a Nazi played it, that’s another.

    So, Corey, of course you’re right, but I hope more blues music, however it evolves, is played by people who at least honor and respect its roots, and if it means more euro-americans playing it, I don’t see a big problem, SO LONG as the story of the roots of blues is always shared with it. Because it’s the story of our society: racism, slavery, white supremacy, jim crow, cultural theft, oppression and apartheid, all still evolving along with the music it engendered.

    Defensively yours,

    Dave Fertig (proud member of BullFish, Jetstream, and the New Ash Grove Players)

    ReplyDelete
  21. A few years back, I posted on my Facebook page my thoughts on "WHAT IS THE BLUES?", in which I wrote that I DO feel that there IS a racial/ethnic foundation to the blues (which led to a firestorm of over 200 comments, many of which mis-characterized my words to suggest that I advocated that only African-Americans could perform blues music). When I speak of a "racial/ethnic foundation", that doesn't mean that people other than African-Americans can't perform the blues, but only that an aspiring blues musician should understand the historical, cultural, and social aspects of the black experience in America that gave rise to the genre. Certainly, one should, at least, know some of the traditional blues standards--it is learning a language, after all--and go from there. Of course, the phrase "the blues is a feeling" is true, in so much as pretty much ALL genres of music CAN express "feelings", though not all performers focus on that component. I suppose that an example of what I mean by connecting the blues with its antecedents is to compare "current country music" with "traditional country music"--most of the current stuff really doesn't seem to acknowledge the traditional roots and winds up sounding like generic pop music. So maybe the current style is still CALLED "country music"--but I don't think Hank done it this way. . .

    ReplyDelete
  22. The author makes many valid points. His problem is he draws the wrong conclusion, along the lines of the "All Men are Socrates" argument (All men are mortal. Socrates was mortal. Therefore all Men are Socrates).

    No one "owns" a genre of music. It is a gift you give humanity; the original "open source". You throw it out there and you let it live its life and you see what other people can do with, add to and derive from it. Sometimes it goes to very predictable and safe places but the *REAL* fun happens when it goes to places you never dreamed it would.

    Are the Blues a product of black culture? Undeniably. Does that mean only black performers are capable of creating within the media? No.

    And thank goodness for that. Look at what has been derived from the Blues: jazz, rock and roll. Does that happen if the Blues are constrained to black American artists? I'm going to argue that it doesn't.

    The fact that the Blues resonated across cultural lines with musicians does not for one moment diminish the contribution of black America, nor should it be an affront to black America (or anyone for that matter) when someone of another color steps in front of a mic and sings in that style from their soul.

    Now if the argument is that the music industry exploited African Americans, yes. But you're talking about an industry that rather than change with the times started suing 13 year olds in answer to the digital revolution. Who *HAVEN'T* they exploited? If they thought they could get away with it they would be harvesting organs out of the folks in the audience (not funny BTW, happened to me at a Who concert back in the seventies. It's all Rock 'n Roll till someone loses a spleen).

    ReplyDelete
  23. Corey,
    You say a lot here and for the most part you’re spot on in that real art arises from a cultural context as a genuine expression of the life within that culture. However, culture flows in many directions and I wonder if you place a little too much importance on ethnicity, to the effect of being exclusionary.

    What is blues when played by whites? Is it blues or something else? What does it mean to play a style of music that is an expression of a earlier time? Are Corey Harris’ blues the same as Son House’s blues? Yes and no. The deaths of Freddy Gray and so many others that are part of an unbroken parade of horror stretching back 400 years would say yes. At the same time, your life experience is vastly different than House’s. What does it mean when you sing his music?

    Human potential is almost limitless. Django Reinhardt, with a badly damaged hand, made enormous contributions to guitar and jazz in general. You can quibble about whether it’s jazz or not but that misses the point. Kathleen Battle, Ray Charles and Concha Buika are three others who’ve made great contributions to music coming from outside their ethnic culture. I doubt anybody in the opera world would say that Battle wasn’t “the real thing” and opera audiences won’t stand bullshit any more than the Apollo Theater would.

    The first blues “guitar hero” in America was probably Hendrix, who was influenced by Bob Dylan as much as Buddy Guy. Stevie Ray Vaughn took a lot from Albert King but everyone has their influences and blues artists have copied each other since the beginning. Vaughn achieved a guitar sound and style that was just as recognizable as King’s. King was a better singer, a great singer, but blues is a big world. Jimmy Reed was not a great singer but he was great. There is room for many voices. Stevie’s guitar was his voice.

    We as American are obsessed with race, which is a social construct anyway. Blues IS black music, but what does this mean? What does it mean that white Muscle Shoals musicians backed up Aretha Franklin and the Staples Singers on some of their biggest hits? Did Booker T play “black music” and what does that say about Dunn and Cropper? Or that Muddy’s “Hard Again” (with Johnny Winter) is such a great record? What is says to me is that this thing which was birthed by African Americans has gone off into the world and cares more that those who come to it do so honestly than the color of their skin…which is kind of in line with what you wrote in your last paragraph.

    Your statement “While there are many singers who have found their voice in the blues style, it will always be an imitation of the real thing” makes a static determination of what the “real thing” is and isn’t. Who is the decider? Culture is a constantly evolving, and taste is subjective. On your debut you sounded like you were channeling old spirits, and that’s cool, but in contrast “Downhome Sophisticate” sounds like it came right out of YOUR life and I prefer that. But that’s just one perspective.

    All in all, despite the unfortunately divisive title, your exhortations to whites to sing about what we know, in our own voices, and remember where the music came from, are right on. Blues comes (mainly) from black culture and whites playing it should recognize this and not be threatened by it. If we don’t express ourselves honestly, our art is going to suck.

    ReplyDelete
  24. The Black experience cannot be denied. It is unique. And with the recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere, it's clear that Black "history" is ongoing. When we White folks play the blues, we should keep in mind that we are not simply honouring and enjoying another peoples' unique cultural art form, we are also walking on ground that has fresh blood on it! Because the blues is so intimately interwoven with the African-American (very heavy) experience, when non-Blacks tread thoughtlessly in that hallowed ground, it really is saying that those Blacks lives didn't/don't matter much. A musician may not mean to say that, and would likely be shocked to be accused of it, but what is important is how Black people hear and understand your attempt to play that cover tune. Did you get that, folks? What matters is how they hear it. Because the blues is their cultural history, not yours. That's what makes Harris' comments important for us to read and contemplate. Many blues musicians honour Black history and culture, playing the music with empathetic hearts and personal experience, and therein the humanity and the artistry of the blues is made universal for players and listeners alike. Beautiful! Thank you Black America for sharing and opening up the beauty and truth of your experience through this music! But, sadly, there are also plenty of oblivious, or callous, or egotistical, and even racist non-Black blues lovers, people who just have little awareness of the depth of experience in the DNA of blues music. Those folks need to be spoken to, and Harris is doing that. I hear him. I play harmonica, I love the blues, and that's great. More power to me. In fact I don't think that all Black blues is good. But I know the difference between cultural art born of real experience and a facsimile. Harris is saying that if non-Blacks want to be real in their blues, they need to put their own selves into it. Perhaps we non-Blacks can genuinely contribute to the art form with our originality. I think some do. But for every one of those blues players/singers, there are a thousand others who offer little more than a pastiche of affectations. That's why there is not really such a thing as a "good cover" of a song. A White musician might play a blues cover perfectly, but he's also play-acting a role based on the real lives of others. It's not black face, but it can be disrespectful nonetheless. And here's the thing: that's off-putting, to put it mildly, to a people who are still being cut down in the streets and struggling for justice. It matters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  25. What a pity. Mr. Harris, you're woefully out of touch.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Can Blacks Play Klezmer?
    Authenticity in American Ethnic Musical Expression
    http://musicweb.ucsd.edu/~dborgo/David_Borgo/Writing_files/cbpk.htm

    by David Borgo
    Sonneck Society for American Music Bulletin vol. XXIV no.2

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. When Yiddish Jews Play da Blues, does it have to be the KLEZMER BLUES?

      Delete
  27. Tell this nonsense to Charlie Pride

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or to Stoney Edwards, O.B. McClinton, Trini Triggs, Rissi Palmer, Cleve Francis, Linda Martell, or Rhonda Towns. Or to classical musicians such as Barbara Hendricks, Henry Lewis, Paul Freeman, and Tai Murray. A bunch of people whose thinking about music, "culture," and the supposedly impossible isn't as simplistic as Corey's.

      Delete
    2. Corey wrote below: "If I play Bach, I don't need permission. But I won't get mad if the people in Vienna Austria tell me it is not the same thing!" Why not??

      Delete
    3. Suppose the people in Vienna wrote:
      "I have a question. Can black people perform Bach? Your answer depends on where you stand in the debate. Some people say that the culture of the performer (aka 'race') doesn't matter. It is obvious that this position serves black people well, opening the door wide open for anyone and everyone. Bach performed by a black person, such as Barbara Hendricks singing Bach's cantatas, may be great entertainment, but it can never be the same as when a European performs it. Why? Without culture there is no music. Music is the voice of a culture. Separate the two and the music can never be the same. Of course, it may be in the same style as the original (and of course we are all free to perform in whatever styles we enjoy performing), but the meaning of a piece by Bach will always be changed with a different performer. This is especially true if the performer is not from the White culture that gave birth to Bach."

      Delete
    4. Your comparison would be more accurate but for a few differences:

      -"Black performers of Bach" had been members of a race that historically (and currently) denied white people basic civil and human rights in addition to justice.....then there's that whole nasty enslavement part.

      -Bach's art had been created in the face of (and as a respite from) said oppressive conditions.

      -Black performers of Bach had been known to feign Austrian accents and false Euro-back stories to lend themselves "legitimacy."

      Delete
    5. It's not my comparison, it's Corey's.

      Delete
  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  29. What is the ‘BLUES’?

    “The ‘BLUES’ is the cathartic manifestation of emotional feelings;
    About someone or something.
    To someone or something.
    For someone or something.

    Life experience is the foundation of the ‘BLUES’.
    You don’t write a ‘BLUES’.
    You live the ‘BLUES’ and then you tell the story.

    In other words, “Shit happens” and then you sing a song ‘bout it.”

    -Coach-
    Who Dat ? Blues Band
    July 14, 2013

    ReplyDelete
  30. Hi, Cory,

    I'm white guy who plays blues. I grew up with it from before birth. With blues I cry, celebrate, calm, sing my children to sleep, share, live.

    I know its meaning is different when I share it. I know it is black music, and only one slice of black music that is inside me. I didn't choose this music when I might have chosen something else. It wasn't my choice, but it's always part of my voice because it has been inside me since before I could walk or talk.

    When I share this music, I know I'm sharing an essential part of black culture in America. I share it with respect and reverence, with as much understanding as I'm capable, I share it with all of my soul and what I can convey of the experiences from which it sprang and flowered, but with my experiences and the content of my soul as well.

    I'm very familiar with all the white male privilege I've enjoyed. It isn't invisible to me. Of course the meaning is different when I perform. I know that and don't hide or pretend otherwise.

    You seem to be saying my experience is inauthentic because I've not been part of the entire rest of black culture. Maybe. But it is, for whatever odd historical reason, part of me and I share it with sincerity. My user name is a result of the pride I have taken in performing with my son since he was nine years old. He's 26 now. Neither of us is a guitar slinger.

    The music itself has given me something of black culture, some feeling and some understanding and recognition. My experience is no more inauthentic than the language I speak which I learned the same way as the music is essentially vocal. My performances are not merely imitative.

    Everything I do, say, and feel is touched with this music. I can't help that anymore than I can help the color of my skin.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Hi, Cory,

    I'm white guy who plays blues. I grew up with it from before birth. With blues I cry, celebrate, calm, sing my children to sleep, share, live.

    I know its meaning is different when I share it. I know it is black music, and only one slice of black music that is inside me. I didn't choose this music when I might have chosen something else. It wasn't my choice, but it's always part of my voice because it has been inside me since before I could walk or talk.

    When I share this music, I know I'm sharing an essential part of black culture in America. I share it with respect and reverence, with as much understanding as I'm capable, I share it with all of my soul and what I can convey of the experiences from which it sprang and flowered, but with my experiences and the content of my soul as well.

    I'm very familiar with all the white male privilege I've enjoyed. It isn't invisible to me. Of course the meaning is different when I perform. I know that and don't hide or pretend otherwise.

    You seem to be saying my experience is inauthentic because I've not been part of the entire rest of black culture. Maybe. But it is, for whatever odd historical reason, part of me and I share it with sincerity. My user name is a result of the pride I have taken in performing with my son since he was nine years old. He's 26 now. Neither of us is a guitar slinger.

    The music itself has given me something of black culture, some feeling and some understanding and recognition. My experience is no more inauthentic than the language I speak which I learned the same way as the music is essentially vocal. My performances are not merely imitative.

    Everything I do, say, and feel is touched with this music. I can't help that anymore than I can help the color of my skin.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Corey,

    I really hope you don't believe all of what you wrote. It really reads in a way that is somewhat insulting.

    The blues were born out of Africa, transported in the bellies of slave ships to America where the music blended with sacred music. It was perfected in the fields and slave quarters and put on display on plantation porches on Sundays. A new music style born in the infamy of the history of our country, yet it became a gift from those enslaved to a greater population of Americans (and now across the globe) to which so much of our popular music (i.e. virtually all of it) is based on today.

    To infer whites playing and singing the blues is as wrong as saying blacks should not sing Italian or Germanic Opera, or at least in the European style. Should they culturally adapt it or should they only sing Porgy and Bess because it depicts African Americans (you'd say probably not since it was written by a Jewish guy and it fosters stereotypes)? Don Byron should not play Klezmer, or at least not in the style like Eastern European Jews do. Black orchestra members playing the music of Bach or Mozart would have no right to play white European music using the logic whites have no right to play the blues.

    All of that is nonsense of course. “Permission” is not required to play or enjoy any style of music by any person of any race, color, creed or sex. Making it sound authentic is a good thing; not by "acting black" but by feeling and embracing the music for what it is.

    The mainstream African American community pretty much grew tired of the blues in the 1950s and the mainstream Caucasian community who had an interest in the blues lost that interest in the early 1960s as other evolved styles of the blues appeared. Black music fans were more drawn to R&B, and soul, blending the blues with other musical styles. Whites who embraced the blues now reaccepted them in new forms in the folk revival and the British invasion and it became rock and roll. Disco, rap, hip hop and everything else we listen or listened to spawned from the blues. Realizing that is truly the matter of importance, not who is on the other side of the microphone.

    The blues is alive and well overseas, too. I got three great Norwegian blues albums in the last year that I loved. I’ve gotten several Italian ones, too, along with ones from the UK and from elsewhere. Given that roughly 1% or so of Americans of all colors are blues fans, I don’t think we need to be chastising non-blacks for singing and playing the blues because the blues will certainly die off without both a diverse artist and fan base. As you note, most blues acts are white. Most blues fans are, too. The older black fans are mostly long gone, now attending blues festivals that I would really call soul music festivals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your reply. I think you missed this sentence, so I am putting it here: "This is not about policing the music-making of white people, nor is is about giving out permission slips or licenses to perform the blues." Culture, history and heritage matter. If I play Bach, I don't need permission. But I won't get mad if the people in Vienna Austria tell me it is not the same thing! I would not go around saying that they have insulted me or implying that they were racists. So what would I do? I would play Bach as much as I wanted and enjoy the music without demanding that what I am doing must be considered as the same thing. I think your defensiveness keeps you from really reading what is written. Play music. Enjoy music. Be real. Be yourself. Respect the origin. It is simple.

      Delete
    2. Suppose the people in Vienna wrote:
      "I have a question. Can black people perform Bach? Your answer depends on where you stand in the debate. Some people say that the culture of the performer (aka 'race') doesn't matter. It is obvious that this position serves black people well, opening the door wide open for anyone and everyone. Bach performed by a black person, such as Barbara Hendricks singing Bach's cantatas, may be great entertainment, but it can never be the same as when a European performs it. Why? Without culture there is no music. Music is the voice of a culture. Separate the two and the music can never be the same. Of course, it may be in the same style as the original (and of course we are all free to perform in whatever styles we enjoy performing), but the meaning of a piece by Bach will always be changed with a different performer. This is especially true if the performer is not from the White culture that gave birth to Bach."

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  33. Part 2

    Anecdotally, I was at a local bar with some friends last year. It was a bar catering to mostly African Americans and it was their karaoke night. The 30-somethings there were singing all the current hits and some of the older R&B, soul and pop hits by black artists. I started talking to two young women about Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and got blank stares. Both asked me, “Who were they?” They had no knowledge of what we are calling the blues. While that was just one instance, I would wager it is a common lack of knowledge in 30-something Americans of any descent.

    There are many people like you and I that love the blues, what it was and what it can be. You don't own the blues any more than I do. Neither you nor I were slaves, picked cotton from dawn to dusk or were repressed in a major way. I'm not saying that our society is perfect; blacks and other minorities still get unequal treatment in so many ways. But the birth of the blues is long over. Neither you nor I were there to see its’ first breaths, but we are here to appreciate it, foster it, and respect it many generations later. Its’ origins remain rooted in African American culture, but it now has embraced far more people than it did 60 years ago and even more than it did 150 years ago.

    Last year, Bruce Iglauer complained to me about an event that I ran that unintentionally and unwittingly wound up being all white blues acts. I quickly reminded him that 90% of his releases over the three years prior had been white blues acts. That begs the question-are we supposed to set quotas in what we do to foster and appreciate this music? No, I do not believe so. Should we go the other way like Living Blues Magazine does and only feature African American acts on the cover? I think that is wrong, too.

    We should not forget the roots of the blues and we should teach our children the history of it. We need to appreciate it as brothers and sisters of many skin colors, working to embrace the music that expresses our feelings and the feelings of Americans. The blues came from Africa but they are here in America and everywhere else now. Why not embrace this gift together rather than try to insert wedges between black and white blues? We have enough societal discourse in today's political scene. We should work to avoid that divisiveness in our music.

    Steve Jones
    President
    Crossroads Blues Society

    ReplyDelete
  34. White folks get really testy when you take their toys away, huh? Keep kicking against the pricks, brother.

    ReplyDelete
  35. No need for ANYONE to take any of this personally. We love what we love. Enough said.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Buy a bottle of Italian Champagne.

    ReplyDelete
  37. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  38. So a guy from Colorado with a doctorate can play reggae without any objections from anyone, right?

    ReplyDelete
  39. An open letter by Adam Gussow, to Corey Harris, prompted by his blog posting, "Blues is Black music!"

    Hey Corey:

    Ralph Ellison called the song you’re singing, "beating that boy." Shelby Steele called it "race holding." I call it a fairly predictable ideologization of the blues: an oversimplification made for polemical purposes. The arguments that you make, with few exceptions, have all been made before; they're almost all half-truths. Half-truths contain some truth, but to the extent that you think you’re uttering the final word on the blues, from a position of high and mighty righteousness, you’re fooling yourself.

    The one surprising moment is when your diatribe veers, in the final paragraph or two, towards something that is actually in line with your life as a blues playing professional who spends a fair bit of time teaching white people how to sing and play the blues. THAT paradox is worth pondering. You don’t speak in this essay about that teaching--i.e., the fact that you’re the creative director of the Port Townsend Country Blues Festival--but you give it away by the actual tenor of your remarks at the very end of your essay:

    "White blues lovers who want to sing and play in the style should stop trying to sound Black. Keep it real and sing like who you are! Be true to yourself! Express yourself, not your imitation of someone from another culture. This is what true artists do."

    I completely agree! That’s something I hammer away at on the forum of my own blues-focused website, Modern Blues Harmonica. I was taught that lesson, forcefully and repeatedly, by my own African American blues master, Sterling Magee. (When I listen to Tab Benoit and Bonnie Raitt, I hear blues players who have learned that lesson and have much to teach us about how to make the music live.) I’m glad we agree on something. But we disagree on many things.

    One of your many errors is in insisting that because blues is "culture and history," white folks don't have an earned and organic relationship with it. White people have been playing, singing, and dancing to blues for more than a hundred years at this point. It's time to stop pretending that it's all one big stupid ripoff. Jimmie Rodgers and Roscoe Holcomb aren't ripoffs. Marion Harris, a white blues singer from the 1910s and 1920s, had a lot of black fans. So did Elvis in 1956. He was mobbed by black female teenyboppers at the WDIA show in Memphis. He had number #1 hits on black urban radio in a dozen cities across America that year. If blues is a call-and-response music—and I can’t believe you’ll argue with me on that point—then aren’t the audiences, black and white, an important part of what the music is about? Shouting “Blues is BLACK music” unwisely writes off that half of the blues equation. Either you care about bringing pleasure and enlightenment to your many white fans, or you don’t. Which is it? Or is it both?

    ReplyDelete
  40. And more from Adam.

    One thing that you don’t do--because people who make your sort of angry case for blues as BLACK music never do this--is discuss, or even mention, the contemporary soul-blues scene: black music made by black performers for all-black audiences. I’m talking about the kind of music people listen to in my part of Mississippi: Marvin Sease, Johnny Taylor, O.B. Buchana, Donnie Ray, Vick Allen, Ms. Jody, Lamont Hadley:

    http://www.mississippibluesfest.com/news/

    You’re not a part of that scene. You don’t have any audience among that particular crowd of black blues lovers. They're just not interested in your particular version of the blues. That must hurt! Choosing as you do to perform a repertoire that draws on older styles, you’ve consigned yourself to a life in limbo--making pilgrimages to Africa, communing with musicians there, spreading your separatist Afrocentric gospel, voicing your pain and sense of cultural outrage in blog posts like this and on the occasional conference panel, even while your living depends to a significant extent on playing clubs and festivals and teaching blues musicianship at events in which white promoters, white audiences, and white musicians dominate. You’re competing with white blues players and acts for gigs. I don’t blame you for being pissed off that white folks are competing with you, telling the blues story in their own way, picking the big-stage acts for mainstream blues festivals, and putting a fair number of talentless, minstrelesque white blues players on contemporary blues radio. But there IS another, all-black blues scene where your claim “blues is BLACK music” makes a whole lot more sense—and it’s not your world. So you live in this blues world, the “mainstream” world, and yet you rage against it.

    Meanwhile, people in 175 countries around the world visit my website every year, seeking to learn how to play blues harmonica. That’s not a misprint; that’s Google analytics. EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD is in love with the blues and wants to learn how to make those sounds. We're way, way beyond the black/white thing, my friend. From a global perspective, it ain't just about the white boys anymore. It's about Cal/Indian harpist Aki Kumar. It's about Chicago guitarist Shoji Naito and his "Blues Harp Tracks" website. You could, if you chose to, celebrate that fact. You could chalk it up to the Senegambian DNA encoded in the music—the stuff that was put there by the Arab trade routes, the raids (by blacks, whites, and Arabs), and by the Sengambian ability to absorb influences while retaining core values. Celebrating the power and depth of the blues, you could seek to celebrate both the African cultural sources and African-American struggles that lie behind the collective achievement of the music in its heroic mid-20th century phase. You could seek to educate, rather than preach. You could do good work without jihad.

    But you prefer jihad. AND you prefer to make your living in a mainstream blues scene dominated by white people. That’s certainly your right. But it’s a surefire recipe for alienation.

    I'm intrigued by the IMpurity of the contemporary blues scene. I groove to the paradoxes. I'd respect you more if you were willing to entertain them. But doing so would interfere with the purity of your ideological position. Ideological purity isn't something intrinsic to the blues. Blues--real blues--has more of a sense of irony than that. As Kalamu ya Salaam once said, "life is not about good vs. evil, but about good and evil eaten off the same plate." I’m sure you know Salaam from your time in New Orleans. You’re trying to make the blues into good vs. evil. That’s one sort of feeling that animates the blues—we’ve all been filled with simmering rage at a lover, or the world, at one point or another—but it’s only one feeling. It’s not the whole story.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Finally, the last part from Adam Gussow:

    That’s one sort of feeling that animates the blues—we’ve all been filled with simmering rage at a lover, or the world, at one point or another—but it’s only one feeling. It’s not the whole story.

    I'm currently reading the published version of BLUES ALL DAY LONG, Wayne Goins's long and remarkable biography of Jimmy Rogers, Muddy's guitarist. Wayne, a black Chicagoan, grew up in and with the blues; his father was a friend of Little Walter's. In ideological terms, Wayne sits at the opposite extreme from you. He’s an amazingly gifted jazz/blues guitarist as well as professor of music, and he has no ideology—at least no ideology that seeks to parse the blues into black and white. He's more interested in capturing the whole arc of Rogers long and epic black blues life--an arc that took Rogers from an entirely black musical environment into a place where his supporting cast was almost entirely white musicians, including harp players like BBQ Bob Maglinte and Steve Guyger . Goins has interviewed everybody; he starts the book with a long monologue by Kim Wilson, another white blues player whose life and art rebuts the title of your essay. What comes across in Goins’s biography is Rogers’s sense of exactly what he was questing for, musically, along with the irony that it was white blues musician/producers, including Rod Piazza and Wilson, who ultimately helped him record the music he was hearing in his head and gain the public recognition he deserved. Shouting “Blues is BLACK music” does an injustice to the many non-African American blues players (including a fair number of Japanese guys, by the way) who have helped older black blues players realize their dreams.

    Goins’s book is the counterstatement to your jihad. It's about how blues culture actually works, in our time; it's about a long swath of history that we're still sorting out. It's about the excitement felt by young (black) men in the mid-to-late 1940s trying to come up with a new sound; and it's about the excitement felt by an older Rogers and his younger white disciples as he began to come back on line and his "old" sound caught the fancy of the white blues imagination in the late 70s and early 80s.

    When I invited you to the 2004 “Living Blues” symposium at the University of Mississippi, I made a point of gifting you with a piece of artwork that was as dear to me as any piece of artwork I’ve ever owned: the “Mother Mojo” necklace that Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee had given me. It hurt to give that away; I gave it away precisely because it hurt to do so. I respected your artistry greatly and wanted to acknowledge that in a public forum, without jive. It was a gift to me from my own blues master, an American treasure in his own right. I passed it along to you. I trust that you’ve still got it. I hope you find what you’re seeking, with or without the help of my gift.

    Life—and blues—is not about good vs. evil. It’s about good and evil eaten off the same plate.

    -Adam Gussow

    ReplyDelete
  42. I agree with Corey on this one. I abandoned a promising Blues career in the 70's, which puzzled many people. I did not intellectualize it this much, but I felt very inauthentic.
    I grew up in Detroit in the 50's & 60's in a very integrated situation. At times I was the only white kid on the block, but I was never accepted, usually I was just got beat up. My Blues act was cobbled together from listening to CL Franklin on the radio, driving across town on 8 mile to my Sunday Nite gig, but I never went to his church. I was good at it, I could sing, I could move a crowd, but it was all stolen. It was 20th Century Minstrel Show, and inside I knew it. I think the ii think the problem we have now is that we have gone too many generations out and I worry that this generation believes that the music is supposed to be 2 verses of vocal followed by 6 chorus guitar solos by 3 different players, 3 chorus of harp chorus(always the same 3 choruses) and 2 vocal chorus and all the guitarist at together to end.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Makes sense to me Corey, and I didn't have to read between the lines to pick your brain...simple 1+1=2, ABC type logic...what's not to love! :)

    ReplyDelete
  44. You know authentic blues music when you hear it, not when you see it.

    ReplyDelete
  45. “Some people are offended by the question, calling it racist.  The knee jerk reactions will always be expected, especially in a nation that is in full denial of its past. Any uncomfortable discussion is immediately called 'racist' by those who are comforted by this denial. This isn't about race, but the culture and the history of a people.”

    Really Corey??? You give more than enough evidence of your own racism and hypocrisy with this vitriolic diatribe of yours. You HAVE turned this into a racial issue with your own words:

    “ But none of them ever asked permission from any Black person to do so.  In fact, they never had to.  In the USA  an around the world, a white man did what he pleased to a Black person.  So when did white people ever ask to play the music of another culture? - In truth, just as they have laid claim to lands across the globe without asking the original owners of the land, white people have had the privilege of playing whatever music they want to play.”  

    When did this become an issue of the white man asking permission from a black man to play the blues, or that the black man not only owns this music, but that the white man is taking it away from him? Furthermore, didn’t you think that you’d be raising an issue here by constantly capitalizing the word ‘Black’ while not do the same with the word ‘white’ throughout this essay?

    “Now, Black people and white people who value genuine Black expression are all told that the 'race' of the performer doesn't matter.  There is even a popular t-shirt that reads, "Not White, Not Black, just blues."  The Black blues player wonders to himself, 'well damn can't Black folk have nothing?'”

    Newsflash Corey... music is not owned but rather it is shared and your usage of that ‘down home’ vernacular is beyond condescending.


    “To put it simply, the music existed in Africa and in America long before the white man called it the blues.”

    Here’s another newsflash for you Corey... the blues was not only the product of the black man but rather a by-product of the black AND white man. Where do you think the I-IV-V chord progression come from? It came from the European, NOT the African influence. As a historian Corey, I’m surprised that you left that little tidbit of information out. Then again, by the racist tone of your essay, I shouldn’t be surprised at all.


    “By indulging in Black music, by playing it, white people could enjoy all that they love and are attracted to in Black music and at the same time ignore whatever distaste they may have for Black people.”

    This is beyond bullshit. Are you really trying to say that the white people who play the blues have a distaste for black people???? Again... how can you possibly lay claim to your essay not being about race???

    You derive most, if not all of your living from performing for audiences that are 99% white. You teach probably the same percentage of white guitar players how to play the blues via your online lessons. And yet you feel the need to insult these same people with these ridiculous, contemptuous and malicious racial remarks. That Corey, speaks volumes about your hypocrisy.

    In an age when it is apparent that races need to understand each other, live in peace and fairness and come together, your essay is clearly throwing fuel on a fire that needs to be extinguished. Shame on you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Understanding goes both ways. There is no shame in the truth.

      Delete
    2. Bravo. The deniers miss the point and foment anger. I shudder to think of how they play the Blues.

      Delete
    3. Bravo. The deniers miss the point and foment anger. I shudder to think of how they play the Blues.

      Delete
  46. I have white, black, & asian ancestors, so I guess I can play whatever the F#@K I want....

    ReplyDelete
  47. COREY'S ARTICLE IS ABOUT PRESERVING THE CULTURE. FOR SO LONG BLACK PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY HAVE HAD TO SUFFER THE REPERCUSSIONS OF HAVING OUR CULTURE STRIPPED FROM US. THE REASONS WHY THE BLACK COMMUNITY IN THIS COUNTRY HAVE HAD THE PROBLEMS OF POVERTY, CRIME, MIS-EDUCATION, AND SELF HATRED IS BECAUSE WE WERE STRIPPED OF OUR CULTURE FROM THE BEGINNING. BLUES IS APART OF THAT CULTURE. IT WAS THE MUSIC THAT HELPED BLACK PEOPLE GET THROUGH ALL OF THE PAIN AND MISERY AFFLICTED UPON THEM. BUT ALSO IT WAS THE MUSIC THAT REMINDED THEM OF THE PAIN. SO WHEN BLACKS MOVED UP NORTH THEY TRIED TO LEAVE THE MISERY BEHIND BUT YOU CAN'T CHANGE THE COLOR OF YOUR SKIN. THIS ARTICLE IS NOT MEANT TO SEPARATE BLACK AND WHITE. IT'S REALLY ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE FEELING PROUD ABOUT OUR CULTURE.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No one denies that blues is "Black music" - rather it is the pernicious tone with which Mr Harris sweeps aside the notion that people simply love (and play) the music they happen to love. Black culture moved on from the type of blues Mr Harris plays many decades ago, and at this point it has as much ties to Black culture as the Mazurka performed by a symphony does to Europe. No impoverished Jamaicans complaining about a middle class man from Colorado with a doctorate playing reggae music, hmmm?

      Delete
    2. You want to preserve THE CULTURE why don't you get African Americans to listen to you.

      Delete
  48. Seems to me that Corey is re-writing the history of the blues. Long before the blues, the black musicians were playing fiddle music that was geared towards the white audiences and were using Scottish, Irish and English chord changes... again.. the I-IV-V and even in the case of songs like 'Pretty Polly' the relative minor. It's no surprise to me at all that those same black musicians would adapt their way of singing (adding in what we call the 'blue tones' identical to field hollers) to these chord changes to create what we now know as the blues. This music was completely American in every sense of the word.... the product of a melting pot. Socially and culturally the blacks brought their own experience to it, and their voice, there's no denying that. But remember that the blues, as we have heard it for the last 85 years uses the musical harmonies of the European culture. To call it purely the product of just one culture, especially with the anger that Corey is using is superficial. Corey should dig a bit deeper into the history that he claims everyone else is forgetting.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Get a grip, Corey. This is usually the sort of question that comes up in folk music society meetings. And your history of the blues probably needs to be better researched. I'm a white blues singer and have been making my living playing to mixed audiences since the Vietnam War. White guys who can't play often make the same argument as Mr. Harris has here. How very silly.

    ReplyDelete
  50. detraditionalisation as amplified by globalisation will inevitably deconstruct and shift many cultural traditions ... I tend to think we should learn and participate in the best of our multicultural 'stew' if we are to advance as a people ... while of course honouring the heritage ...we are in a new world where many former barriers and walls are being razed while the traditionally excluded remain excluded ... to me there is no easy answer to this ... we need to empower and honour excluded communities ...and hoefully address the negative effects of the globalisation of capital ... eg commodification of culture etc ..there shoukd be a place for honouring and learning from excluded cultures ... musically environmentally etc ... when I lay the blues I try to bear the horrific heritage of the music in mind ...while recognising the mcdonaldisation and rampant marketing of the best aspects of so many culyures .ie honor the space and time of the music while recognising where we are in space and time today .... the aim being to honour the afro American heritage of the blues and address the negative dynamics inherent in the oppression of so many people groups around the world .... this is where I am at at present ... I do not have a definitive anw=swr ... but I do have lots of questions

    ReplyDelete
  51. Africa is the cradle of civilisation ... honour where honour due , .. I spose

    ReplyDelete
  52. in a nutshell...if it helps the cause and highlights the issues ...cool ... if were ripping off people not so cool...these things however are so hard to tell ... how do we ensure the heritage is honoured corey?

    ReplyDelete
  53. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I removed this because typos and spelling errors. I always do my best editing after I hit the publish button,

      Delete
  54. Hi Corey,

    I found your article interesting and agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I’m a white guy and I’m in a Blues Band. Yes, there are many facets of experience that an African American Blues musician has that I, as a white musician, will never know. In fact, I own that t-shirt that you described “No Black No White Just the Blues”. But, I put it away after all the recent news coverage of the police around the country shooting down unarmed Black men, because slogan on the shirt isn’t true. I swore to never wear it again until Black parents can send their children out without the fear of them being gunned down in cold blood by the cops. The problem with privilege, whether it be class privilege, white privilege or some other form of privilege, is that privileged are most often ignorant of the condition. Much like the case with my t-shirt.

    You are right, I don’t bring the cultural history that goes back to 1619, when the first slave ships brought first Africans who were kidnapped to American shores, to my performances, and I can’t.
    I didn’t inherit by birth the musical heritage that sustained the spirit and soul of African-Americans as they endured slavery, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, sharecropping, segregation, discrimination and racially motivated violence and terrorism. Yet, I do bring to the table a genuine love and admiration for culture and the people who created the musical heritage of the Blues and Jazz, which is either the root or contributed to almost every form of music that is performed or listened to today. We can’t turn on the radio, put in a CD, or download a music file without hearing the spirit that came from the ancient the African Refrains, Ring Shouts, Field Hollers, Fife and Drum, Spirituals and subsequently Cake Walks and Rags.
    In view of the fact that these multifaceted roots are the foundation of most every genre of music we listen to today, even styles where the connections are less apparent, it is natural that some people that didn’t inherit this musical heritage by birthright are going to try to honor and keep the source alive anyway. It’s my hope that you will lend a hand by sharing your understanding of the traditional content and meaning, so that together we can preserve a beautiful cultural treasure.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Corey - whoever you are - you are not a creative soul. The connections that form a sound and an evolution and never defined by one race. Open up your world history books. Study about migration and evolution. And remain humble.

    ReplyDelete
  56. For those folks who don’t know who Corey Harris is. He is one of the main inspirations behind the current resurgence of acoustic Blues and has enough of an influence on the rebirth of traditional Blues that he was featured in Martin Scorsese PBS mini-series called the Blues. He is an excellent musician and a scholar on the music and culture of the African Diaspora. Here’s a short clip of him in Martin Scorsese series.

    https://youtu.be/CgBcj4CJmOw

    ReplyDelete
  57. Given the legacy of the minstrel shows, it is completely understandable that modern day African Americans might be somewhat apprehensive of whites playing Blues. I believe this is something that we whites who play the Blues need to keep in mind. Rising to popularity in the 1830s and surviving in various forms until the late 1920s and beyond, Minstrel Shows consistently and systematically promoted disparaging racist stereotypes of African-Americans and made dubious claims of authentic African-American cultural influence in their music and dance routines. Yet, this bizarre and distasteful phenomenon needs to be mentioned here. Not only because of how it encouraged interest among nineteenth century whites in African-American culture and music, but again as a caution to Blues performers of European descent to try to avoid portraying racial (blackface) stereotypes when performing African-American art forms. While some of the legacy of Minstrel Shows remains in American mainstream culture, as standard jokes, comedy routines and even state songs, this offensive and archaic form of entertainment became the subject of criticism and censure as the civil rights movement grew and became more widely accepted. A final word about Minstrel Shows: the pejorative racial stereotypes of African-Americans portrayed in these shows’ routines have been used throughout history to justify slavery in the nineteenth century, persecution in the early twentieth century and are still used to justify racial profiling and discrimination today.

    ReplyDelete
  58. continued:
    So you can view the participation of American Whites, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Arab, Italian, Israeli, Jamaican, French, German players as an example of cultural imperialism, and not be entirely off base, or, as the fabulous and extremely unlikely triumph of the music and culture of the most downtrodden, disenfranchised and brutalized segment of the American population of its time.
    Either way the Blues has started to morph into what can only be described as a "Classical" music
    with an established core repertoire, and the equivalent of conservatories, albeit pay as you go online ones, to teach the basic guitar skills needed to play this music somewhat credibly.
    I agree wholeheartedly that to ignore singing is to miss the point of the music almost entirely, but clearly disagree that Whites, Asians and others should not seek to reproduce the vocal sounds of
    the original players. I believe to do so is to disrespect the intentions of the original artists. Like it or not the original records have become something akin to scores and as people attempting to play or reproduce this music it is incumbent upon us to sing the vocal parts as close to the originals as possible. An impossible task.
    Behind all this is a labor issue. Do White people intrude on Black artist's getting a fair share or even the Lion's share of what little money is devoted to this music? I think its fair to say yes.
    Its a problem. I personally stopped playing out for many years when I realized that Larry Johnson whom I new from when I studied with Rev. Davis, and with whom I was friendly and whose playing I admired ,could not get enough work to survive. That was in the early seventies. The situation has somewhat self corrected due to audience preference for seeing modern Black musicians play this music rather than a White player. As far as how I choose to sing, well, Rev. Davis called me one of his boys and a right sportin' Gitar Player..so I answer to an even HIGHER AUTHORITY!

    ReplyDelete
  59. Should have preceeded the comment above
    Several points.
    What if in this article the word Black were replaced with German and we were not talking about Blues but 17th through 19th century German Baroque and Classical music? What if someone made the claim that this music couldn't really be understood
    by anyone who wasn't German and hadn't experienced the particular culture of Germany during those periods even though that era's culture had changed through time, enough to make it almost unrecognizable? What if the article went on to label the playing of that music by Black artists like Andre Watts, or Leontyne Price as somehow inauthentic because they were Black, or Yoyo Ma because he is Chinese?
    What if it criticized singers like Paul Robeson, Marion Anderson, Leontyne Price, Jessie Norman, Katherine Battle, for proper pronunciation of Italian, German or Russian lyrics because doing so was not expressing their true voice, i.e. not giving clues as to their ethnicity?
    One could argue ,as you have eloquently, that the SOUND of an artist's singing is an essential component of the music and not an afterthought, and therefore in order to make Verdi sound the way Verdi intended his music to sound, the singer is obligated to stay true to the composers intent by shaping the sounds according to how they were conceived.
    If a White artist were foolish enough to try and play the work of Sleepy John Estes for example, one of the greatest vocalists ever, would he or she not be obligated to try to reproduce the sound of his vocals as closely as they could? Since his vocal inflections, timing, accent, and timbre are essential, defining qualities of his work?
    The Blues, for better or worse has gone from being an obscure local music to being a recognized part of universal human culture more quickly than any other Art movement in history as far as I can recall. Has something been lost in the process? Undoubtedly. Many if not all of the original motivating forces which created it have changed in their particulars or have vanished along with a million other cultural behaviors and artifacts of the same initial period.
    We are now two or three generations distant from the original creators of this music. I think you'd admit that even someone as gifted and studiously committed, and Black, like yourself can't quite get the "thing" that inhabits this music like the original players did. Neither can Jerron Paxton or Dom Flemons, close as they come, and much as I think they're great.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Here are two white blues players trying to honor their black ancestor, Elmore James, during America's Year of the Blues. Should we tell them to forget about it and go home? Or do what they're trying to do.

    ReplyDelete
  61. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUb77aRpw7I

    ReplyDelete
  62. Music is like religion it is so based in culture. That being said, any person can enjoy or appreciate and even JOIN a religion different from his own culture if he has the SPIRIT! It's not about COLOR, CULTURE or RACE . IT'S about SPIRIT! !And the cat that wrote this dribble has the SPIRIT of a RACIST! !

    ReplyDelete
  63. Also, blues as we know it is a conglomeration of so many influences, black, white, brown, red, yellow, purple etc.. Old American was a gumbo of diversity and architypal human experience and for anyone to stake ethnic exclusive claims to the root of a folk music form can really lead us all into a dead end corner. All are welcome and entitled.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also, the banjo did not come from Africa. Every eastern culture had some form of it.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. Only those who have not done any research think that the banjo did not come from Africa, especially those who have never been to Africa. The banjo did not come from Europe. White people in America were exposed to it through Black culture and picked it up just as Africans in America were putting it down. Know the history before you make claims.

      Delete
  64. I was directed towards this article from another site which in many ways had set me up to come and be angry with what has been said here. So, like a fool I came and started reading this already with a mindset of wanting to disagree. I'm glad I read it all the way through because it makes a lot of sense.
    The thing that I am more dismayed about is the reaction by a lot of people who seem to have misunderstood. Possibly those people came already angry because that is how they were told to be before they even got here. Corey isn't saying that white people can't listen to the blues, he isn't even saying that they shouldn't play the blues. Ultimately he is saying be yourself, be original. Cliché is so cliché.
    I am guilty of listening to the blues whilst not being aware of the history behind it. I am more aware of it now, yet will never fully comprehend the full scale of how people suffered. I used to Lead Belly's "Take this Hammer" without knowing what he was talking about, then one day I really listened and then I felt ashamed that I had never 'listened' before.
    I couldn't sing "Take this Hammer", it wouldn't be right, just in the same way that I can't understand white people who'll get up in a pub and sing "Redemption Song" by Bob Marley, have they really listened to those lyrics. How can they possibly sing about "the bottomless pit", it's just plain and simple respect not to.
    It makes sense to me what this article has said. I came here ready to be angry and ready to lose respect, I'm leaving in agreement with Corey and I still with the utmost respect.

    Mark

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Mark for taking your time to read and think about it.

      Delete
  65. In light of BB King's passing I thought I'd share a few thoughts, which is somewhat relevant in terms of the influence of the Blues in people’s lives throughout our modern culture.

    BB King has had an enormous impact on my life. When I was a teenager living in foster and group homes because my alcoholic family was too dysfunctional to raise a child, thing only that express the depth of my emotions was the music BB played on Lucille. As young adult, I was just one day away from being homeless at any given time. I was living in a motel doing odd jobs there to keep a roof over my head and walking around to carious shops with a bucket and a squeegee doing windows so I could have money to buy food. The only things I owned was a phonograph and a copy of "BB King Live at the Regal". That was enough to keep me going until I was able to get on my feet. If not for BB and other Blues musicians who were able to bend a note in such a way that I knew there was somebody out there who knew the level of despair and dejection I felt, I may not be here typing this today. I’m not that great of a musician, but I play the Blues in gratitude for being alive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing this inspirational story Dug. Honor.

      Delete
  66. Well done Mr. Harris. Thanks for writing this article.

    ReplyDelete
  67. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  68. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  69. "This is not about policing the music-making of white people...." It's about claiming white people are ("culturally") intrinsically incapable of doing something black people are ("culturally") intrinsically capable of doing.

    Serious question: Corey's post argues that white blues musicians currently need to do what more? Is it know their place? Know their place, as in some essentialist sense somehow always below the top of the heap no matter what (a top of the heap Corey was born in?) -- just like for Corey, Barbara Hendricks in some essentialist sense _must_ belong below the top of the heap in classical (no matter how she sings) and Charley Pride _must_ belong below the top of heap in country (no matter how he sang), because of an essentialist rule Corey currently believes in (but doesn't have to believe in) -- as opposed to whatever actually may go on in the real world?

    Know their place?

    "Mainstream white America (and many Black people) has typecast the blues as the sad music of broke down old Black folk." Mainstream white Americans have done many different things, such as buy lots of comedy blues by Louis Jordan and Woody Herman. As of about 1906, blues music _was_ sad music by black folk musicians. Every time Corey points at the earliest era of blues music (when blues musicians were still overwhelmingly black, and thus "There would be no blues without Black people"), he's pointing at the only era when blues music _was_ entirely sad music by black folk musicians. Ironic how he spins things different ways based on how he... what, likes to feel? Respecting "the history" is not about however you like to feel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So where were you in 1906? Blues music was "entirely sad music by Black folk"? Says who? Check your history and come again. You don't know what you are talking about.

      Delete
    2. Neither of us was alive in 1906, Corey. Give me an example of something you consider blues music that's from before 1907 and didn't have sad lyrics or wasn't by a black person.

      Delete
  70. An interesting question to ask ourselves is, who did the most to popularize the idea that a quote "blues" piece could have happy lyrics? Best I can tell, George Norton did. He wrote hit lyrics for W.C. Handy's instrumental "Memphis Blues" in 1913. Norton was white.

    ReplyDelete
  71. Corey wrote: "The real problem is the claim that culture and history don't matter." Is this a straw man? Who has argued that culture is irrelevant to current blues, or that history is irrelevant to current blues? (Those are different arguments from people arguing that some whites can make blues that according to their subjective tastes aren't somehow second-rate.)

    ReplyDelete
  72. Of course whites should be allowed to play the Blues. After all they were the "inspiration" for its creation. Without white folk, Blacks would have never felt miserable enough to create this "share cropping" music in the South. But let's not stop there. Not only should white people be allowed to play the Blues, I think they should be allowed to feel it too . . . just like we did.

    ReplyDelete
  73. It seems fair to consider Buddy Guy an authority on this subject. He helped pioneer the form. He played with everyone from Mama Thornton and Muddy Waters to BB King and Howlin' Wolf, and he was the house guitarist at Chess Records. Also, he's won more Blues Music Awards than any artist in history. Here's what he has to say about it:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVICdcbHIfw

    ReplyDelete
  74. Corey, Buddy Guy thinks your question is quote "fucking stupid."

    ReplyDelete
  75. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  76. I think your first two CDs are the finest blues recordings ever released in modern times and show understanding to the point that you can make an old idiom sound current.
    I also know you to be a historian and am surprised at your posting. There actually wasn't a “blues scene” from the 20s to the 50s. It was folk music in the true sense of the word: folks bashing out music on porches and at parties, picnics and juke-joints. They played anything and everything that people wanted to dance to. Someone like Robert Johnson might sing Terraplane Blues (a big hit at the time) at a party and then follow it up with a Frank Sinatra or Fred Astaire song. There were also tons of black string bands with fiddles, banjos, guitars and mandolins - The Mississippi Sheiks being one of many. What was one of the Mississippi Sheiks biggest songs? Sitting On Top of the World - a white hillbilly song. I doubt that any of these black string bands ever had to ask whitey's permission to play the music as I doubt that Deford Baily, a black man and one of the finest country harmonica players to ever play the Grand Ole Opry time after time, after time, ever had to ask whitey's permission to play country music. Record scouts came from labels like Colombia and recorded a very thin slice of the musician’s repertoire as they already had released many of the popular songs the musicians were singing. Over time the blues musicians’ record catalogue has erroneously given the impression of “blues” musicians only singing “blues” songs and black = blues and white = country. Blues became an "art" music with real stages and festivals in the sixties when fans, curators and historians (mostly white!) squeezed it into a very thin and irresistible narrative of resistance and oppression form of 12 bar blues about whiskey, women and prison oppression and resistance throughout a shameful and unforgivable period of the nation’s history. That’s the real white-on-black crime here. Corey, it seems that you might also be pushing that narrative and why not? It fits into today’s racial discourse perfectly. But the reality is, there was never as big a musical segregation between white and black music as we like to believe. They both drank froth same well - gospel - and they both shared the same repertoire. Just listen to Big Bill Broonzy Live in Copenhagan 1956. What's he singing? I Get the Blues When it Rains, Glory if Love and Tennessee Ernie Ford's Sixteen Tons - all white pop songs! http://www.sittingwith.com/archive.html#c47

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All nationalists have the same mentality and narrative. They claim they hail from a noble race of people and possess extraordinary powers that no other tribe, race or nationality are capable of. I know because I come from a country that disintegrated in a civil war as a result of different nationalisms. In my home town and region, the local folk music was composed and performed equally well by the several ethnic groups that had lived there in relative harmony before the war. Besides, most of the Balkans' and Central Europe's folk music is heavily influenced by the presence of Gypsies (originally from the Indian subcontinent) as writers, vocalists, and instrumentalists - contributing part of their musical culture to the milieu. Nationalism is an archaic way of dealing with one's psychological hangups, a method of self-aggrandizement at the expense of the "other" and the "uninitiated", and it runs contrary to all notions of contemporary ethical behavior.

      Delete
    2. All nationalists have the same mentality and narrative. They claim they hail from a noble race of people and possess extraordinary powers that no other tribe, race or nationality are capable of. I know because I come from a country that disintegrated in a civil war as a result of different nationalisms. In my home town and region, the local folk music was composed and performed equally well by the several ethnic groups that had lived there in relative harmony before the war. Besides, most of the Balkans' and Central Europe's folk music is heavily influenced by the presence of Gypsies (originally from the Indian subcontinent) as writers, vocalists, and instrumentalists - contributing part of their musical culture to the milieu. Nationalism is an archaic way of dealing with one's psychological hangups, a method of self-aggrandizement at the expense of the "other" and the "uninitiated", and it runs contrary to all notions of contemporary ethical behavior.

      Delete
  77. White lady blues singer/ bassist piping in...
    One point that I think folks are missing is that most "white singers who sound black" aren't trying to sound "black," they're trying to sound like their HEROES. Curtis Salgado doesn't sound black- he sounds like BB King, who was black. Duffy Bishop sounds like a young Etta James, with a dash of Ruth Brown. My heroes include Etta, Ruth, Gladys Knight, and Portland's own Linda Hornbuckle. YOU BET I'm trying to sing like Linda! All the years I've heard that rich voice, from the mains AND the monitors, and standing right next to me.

    There is no homogenous "black" source to be drawn from IMO. I would agree there are some cringe-worthy amateurs who don't seem to understand that, and I think that might be who you're aiming at. Who "sounds black" anyway? Beyonce? Leontyne Price? Irma Thomas? Also what if a woman sounds like a male hero- did Etta James "sing like a man" because she sounded like Johnny Guitar Watson?

    I just wanted to inject the human element into this conversation- every musician throughout history has imitated the individuals they admire and love, and such beautiful variations of music were born from that. Hispanics admired German musicians and vice versa and thus mariachi and Tex Mex was born! Country and blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll!

    Having said all that, I have personally witnessed racism among white members of the blues music community. When I see a white blues musician or fan defending the Confederate flag on Facebook for instance, my head wants to explode. Blues IS black music and we should ALL remember and be respectful of that. We can't say we respect the music and the individuals who play it, while denegrating the culture from which it rose.

    ReplyDelete
  78. Can black people play rock? can black people play ANY OTHER FUCKING GENRE ON THE PLANET?! I guess not, you racist mother fucking pig!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Black people invented rock n' roll(Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino etc.), white people merely popularized it,so yes, they certainly can play rock.
      Black people also invented jazz, by the way.
      NOTE : I'm neither black nor white, but Indian.

      Delete
  79. Corey, YOU ARE Blues; YOU ARE black music <3

    ReplyDelete
  80. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  81. i came of age in chicago learning to play blues from my friends and mentors like cash mccall, willie dixon, hound dog taylor, hubert sumlin, brewer phillips and many other great musicians. i did gigs on the same stage with muddy waters, b.b. king, little brother montgomery, sunnyland slim and many more. i spent lots of time with those amazing men and they taught me how to be a decent human being and a good musician. they were generous, kind and accepting of me. they invited me to their homes. willie dixon taught me how to play many of his songs. cash mccall is still a good friend of mine although he now lives in memphis and i live in LA. i don't remember one of them saying a single word about me being white. when they heard me play the music that was all they needed to know. even though i started out as a poor white boy born in kingfisher, oklahoma, i was always VERY aware of the fact that blues was the music of black american culture and eventually i figured out that i came from africa. nothing will ever change that or the injustice of white racism which was, and is, part and parcel of the evolution of the music. i will only say this, i don't remember any of the blues masters that i studied and lived with ever making any ideological statement about music. not once. they were only interested in the music and musicians. music has a deep spiritual power that can destroy and dismantle the limitations of human ignorance, greed and hatred. we can hold onto our differences if we like and some of us always will, that is an aspect of human nature. but human experience is fluid and always changing like a river of blood moving inexorably onward.... knowing this, we hold onto it at our own peril. because those who do not move forward drown in the sorrows of the past and never truly live a life in the amazing wonder of the present.

    ReplyDelete
  82. I think it's interesting that you can reduce the blues to race and then ignore all of the other inherent demographics that gave rise to the art. While blues was popularized in areas such as Chicago, it is most definitely Southern in origin and arose from people who lived in communities that were often rural and dirt poor and in an era where they were completely segregated by Jim Crow laws. They experienced a level of disenfranchisement that few, if any, in America can even understand, no matter what their color. To assert that a person may lay claim to that music just because they are black is as ridiculous as a white American laying claim to bagpipe music because their family lived in Scotland 200 years ago. I would argue that a middle-class black person from Boston has no more claim to blues music (and perhaps less) than a lower-class white person from Mississippi. Does a black man who immigrated from Africa have a claim to the blues just because of his skin tone? No, but he can enjoy it as much as the rest of us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you should read the article again without prejudice. I never mention skin tone. We all know that Black people and Africans come in many skin tones. We also know that the term "Black" in America signifies Afrikan ancestry, not just skin tone. I never used the concept of 'race' (your term). It is about heritage, culture and experience. Mariachi is Mexican music. Polka is German music. Blues is Black music. People can lay claim to their culture, and music is a part of culture. Simple.

      Delete
  83. I love your music, Corey. I have it and have listened to it for years since I discovered it, even heard you play live once. But you didn't learn the blues on the plantation. I'm sure you have suffered some racism, obviously, as any black person has, but you learned the blues from records like I did. I've lived my whole life loving and playing blues, most of 66 years. I started when I was 15. I've lived with it. I have never tried to sound black, but the sounds of it are in me, and deeply. My diction, my phrasing, my songwriting, my very sound reflects my long time love of and immersion in the blues. That can’t be denied. But I am not faking it or taking something that doesn't belong to me. It belongs as much to me as it does to you. And loving all the sisters and brothers, of every shade or nationality, who play the blues made a better person of me.

    ReplyDelete
  84. The BLUES is the son kidnapped by Mama Africa

    This is Black, I agree! ... I am a small white man but I Love Africa and the Blues, I acknowledge my African roots disappeared of my olive skin.
    I will always be grateful to the BLUES for helping me in difficult moments, for me the BLUES is not only music but one condition difficulty with which I deal every day.

    I can continue to play even I the BLUES? Please ?

    ReplyDelete
  85. This article represents black nationalism of the worst kind. By the same token, do whites "have the right" (what a moronic concept) to play jazz, Indian, or African music? Do blacks "have the right" to play legit music ("the music of dead white people", as Miles Davis disparagingly called it), klezmer, avant-garde jazz, Indian and other "non-black" genres. You, buddy, are full of crap, as all nationalists are. Music and other arts know no boundaries. What counts is the final result, not the racial makup of the artists. Besides, no art form is genre-pure, just like no individual is racially pure. The blues of the South is different from that of Chicago or St. Louis. There would be no blues or jazz as we know it without black slaves living in the U.S., using "white" instruments and assimilating folk and popular music elements of other cultures that live here. The proof of that is that nothing similar to American blues existed in Africa. B.B. King said that a lot of white blues guitarists can run circles around black ones, but they
    can't sound as authentic as black singers. Well, he's wrong about the second part of the sentence since Jack Bruce and Joe Cocker certainly sound better and more blues-authentic to so many listeners than B.B. King himself. If Muddy Waters had said it, there'd be much more credibility to his words.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You obviously did not read the article. It takes a lot of effort to miss the point, but you did a good job. We can all play whatever style we choose. Whatever we choose to play, we are bringing our own experiences, identity and culture to our performance. What we can't do is make someone from that culture accept what we are playing as being the same thing. Your prejudice is obvious when you place Jack Bruce and Joe Cocker as better blues singers than B. B. KIng. That is really laughable and insulting at the same time.

      Delete
  86. This article represents black nationalism of the worst kind. By the same token, do whites "have the right" (what a moronic concept) to play jazz, Indian, or African music? Do blacks "have the right" to play legit music ("the music of dead white people", as Miles Davis disparagingly called it), klezmer, avant-garde jazz, Indian and other "non-black" genres. You, buddy, are full of crap, as all nationalists are. Music and other arts know no boundaries. What counts is the final result, not the racial makup of the artists. Besides, no art form is genre-pure, just like no individual is racially pure. The blues of the South is different from that of Chicago or St. Louis. There would be no blues or jazz as we know it without black slaves living in the U.S., using "white" instruments and assimilating folk and popular music elements of other cultures that live here. The proof of that is that nothing similar to American blues existed in Africa. B.B. King said that a lot of white blues guitarists can run circles around black ones, but they
    can't sound as authentic as black singers. Well, he's wrong about the second part of the sentence since Jack Bruce and Joe Cocker certainly sound better and more blues-authentic to so many listeners than B.B. King himself. If Muddy Waters had said it, there'd be much more credibility to his words.

    ReplyDelete
  87. A few things that were left out in this article: Charlie Patton the "Father of the Delta Blues" in fact was not a black man. He was of mixed descent being white, black and Cherokee with light skin and caucasian features although Howlin' Wolf claims that Charlie was a full blown Cherokee. My point is that early blues was played by white and black people although it was largely only recorded by black folks as it was marketed toward the black population. Granted the early white blues players had a different vocal sound to the blacks it was still the blues and they had largely the same lyric content. You are forgetting about important early white bluesman like Doc Boggs, Jimmy Rodgers, Sam McGee or Dick Justice. Just as blacks often played old time appalachian music which is considered white music whites had a part in the formation of early blues. Same goes for early Jazz. The first ever recorded jazz band was the Original Dixieland jazz Band from New Orleans who were all white. To me this is all American music, not black or white music. Granted a white man can never sing the blues like a black man and a black man will never sound like Doc Boggs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If Charley Patton was not a Black man (by your definition) then why was he discriminated against, made to live with Black people and called a nigger in Mississippi? Why did he sing about Black issues to a mostly Black audience. Newsflash: not all Black people look alike and there are wide variations within the group, just like with any other group. It is interesting how someone who is not Black suddenly becomes an expert on who is. Did you ask Charley Patton what he was? Thanks for the laugh.

      Delete
  88. “I told Elvis [when he was young] once, and he told me he remembered I told him this, is that music is like water: Water is for every living person and every living thing.” -- B.B. King

    ReplyDelete
  89. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This just sounds like a guy who isn't that good or relevant trying to justify medicore singing and playing by arguing he has cultural authenticity.

      Delete
  90. Let's face it... The Blues "is", "was" and "always 'will' be", a "Black" thang. I don't care if it makes you "feel" black when you try to play it, or if you don't want to face up to the truth. It is what it is. Blacks invented it, and made it what it is today. And as far as white guys being able to play blues as well as Blacks; I sincerely thank them for acknowledging the fact tgat we are something that they "want" to be. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. As you were...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  91. I'm with you, Corey. Blues is black music. Peter Green,the Brit who gave B.B. the chills when he played blues guitar, said it best: "White men really can't play 'the blues.'" And he knew what he was talking about, he was one of the best. Still is. Anybody who can't handle that is just being insecure. Ever run into Jesse Ed Davis before he died? He made beautiful blues music with Taj, but he was a full-blooded Indian who respected the source too, as those non-Indians invited onto our tribal drum circle also do. It's a spirit thing that must be respected. You can't steal someone else's culture. I'm native American too, and I play guitar. The only way to play blues right is as you say, respect the source and find your own voice. Well said. Jesse Ed told Bobby James in the recording studio, "You change your Blues chords like a white guy." Then he corrected his clumsy arrangement and fixed him. Helped him find his own voice instead of sounding like a blues caricature. Jesse Ed also was the best, he and Taj gelled like brothers. Had the good fortune to meet Taj briefly last year, and I look forward to seeing and hearing you live some day. Thanks for a very thoughtful, profoundly articulate and inspiritually strong essay.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "...spiritually strong." Smartphone is not so smart. No editing function to correct it's own mistakes.

      Delete
  92. I'm with you, Corey. Blues is black music. Peter Green,the Brit who gave B.B. the chills when he played blues guitar, said it best: "White men really can't play 'the blues.'" And he knew what he was talking about, he was one of the best. Still is. Anybody who can't handle that is just being insecure. Ever run into Jesse Ed Davis before he died? He made beautiful blues music with Taj, but he was a full-blooded Indian who respected the source too, as those non-Indians invited onto our tribal drum circle also do. It's a spirit thing that must be respected. You can't steal someone else's culture. I'm native American too, and I play guitar. The only way to play blues right is as you say, respect the source and find your own voice. Well said. Jesse Ed told Bobby James in the recording studio, "You change your Blues chords like a white guy." Then he corrected his clumsy arrangement and fixed him. Helped him find his own voice instead of sounding like a blues caricature. Jesse Ed also was the best, he and Taj gelled like brothers. Had the good fortune to meet Taj briefly last year, and I look forward to seeing and hearing you live some day. Thanks for a very thoughtful, profoundly articulate and inspiritually strong essay.

    ReplyDelete
  93. For anyone interested. Look into Corey Harriss's bio. He is one of the privilaged few in this country. He grew up in a Colorado suburb and went to a fancy private northeastern college, Bates College. He is some intrinisic identification with guys that came out of Mississippi in the first part of the 20th century. He's turning a great
    American music into a race war. Good Work! Corey! Man I wish I had the chance to go to that fancy school you did. And the guy plays Raggae! Give me a break. It's like Donald Trump playing Reggae. You owe everyone an apology. Phony! Then get a job in a bank. That is where your rich privilaged ass belongs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes I'm rich. I admit it. Let me tell you how I made my money. I was raised by single mother and two aunts who cleaned office buildings and worked for white people their entire lives. I went to school on a financial aid scholarship (I had good grades...I know we black blues players are not supposed to be able to read in your world) and worked in the mail room and washed dishes because that is what rich people do, right? Then I taught school for a year and played music on the street until I got my first gig. You sound like your feelings were hurt, but I really don't care. No apology. Lol.

      Delete
    2. You're a joke, man. I know a lot of white people that were raised in single parent families that worked menial jobs. But those people can't play the blues because of the color of their skin, because it happens to be white? You just proved that you're a damn racist, man. Thank you. You proved it all by yourself with what you said. Man you are a phony and a disgrace to your race, man.

      Delete
    3. Dave I guess I touched a nerve. You are not willing think about any of this intelligently. If you read the post again you will see that I never said that white people can't play the blues. I say that heritage and culture matters and it is not the same thing. We bring who we are to the music that we play. I can play chinese music but it will never be the same as a chinese person who was raised in that culture. I'm a racist, a disgrace to my race? That really is laughable. B.B. KIng, R.L. Burnside, Sam Carr, Bobby Rush, Ali Farka Toure and so many others would disagree. Your opinion of me doesn't matter at all. It is interesting that instead of bringing up any intelligent points, you resort to insults. That is because you have nothing to say and don't know what you are talking about.

      Delete
    4. You are not willing to think about any of this intelligently. If you care so much about preserving blues for blacks then do the right thing and try to get a black audience! That's something you obviously desperately want for you to feel complete. You depend on, basically white middle-aged middle class men to listen to you ( and by the way, you don't really have your own sound. You sound just like all of those derivative middle class acoustic blues guys you disparage) And by the way, get the hell of Sonic Junction. You are a hater and you don't belong there. I have seen a lot of blogs that talk about how they have cancelled their subscription to Sonic Junction because you pretend to be helping white people play the blues. One blog has started a petition of sorts to contact Sonic Junction and tell them that they are cancelling their subscription because of your presence. I won't go that far. I'll accept an apology to everyone, black and white and everything in between. You owe everyone an apology.

      Delete
    5. You are not willing to think about any of this intelligently. If you care so much about preserving blues for blacks then do the right thing and try to get a black audience! That's something you obviously desperately want for you to feel complete. You depend on, basically white middle-aged middle class men to listen to you ( and by the way, you don't really have your own sound. You sound just like all of those derivative middle class acoustic blues guys you disparage) And by the way, get the hell of Sonic Junction. You are a hater and you don't belong there. I have seen a lot of blogs that talk about how they have cancelled their subscription to Sonic Junction because you pretend to be helping white people play the blues. One blog has started a petition of sorts to contact Sonic Junction and tell them that they are cancelling their subscription because of your presence. I won't go that far. I'll accept an apology to everyone, black and white and everything in between. You owe everyone an apology.

      Delete
  94. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  95. Well put Corey, we mustn't ever forget that Blues is a Black music, and the rhythmic concepts that come from Africa are so fundamental to the scientific foundations of music that everything popular in the last century of music has been heavily influenced by the blues, and sometimes mistakenly calls itself 'Blues'. If people want to confuse scientific fact for 'racism' then they are sadly ignorant.

    ReplyDelete
  96. "We black blues players"? Is that what you said? I''m black, man! Your are a disgrace to our race. Phony!

    ReplyDelete
  97. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  98. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete

  99. BennieMay 2, 2016 at 3:38 PM
    I'd rather remain anonymous. Let me just say this: I am a well educated, affluent African American man in his eighties. Like Corey (a truly great musician), I was not always a man of means. My mother had to scrub floors (Sounds like a cliché but it's true); and my father was killed in a fight. I always said he died of poverty.
    I am a well-known blues trombonist. I have read this thread and am appalled by the ignorance and flagrant racism expressed by "Dave." Dave, you are as unscientific as you are vicious. Blues, as Mr. Weston correctly observed, is a Black music. Now what does this mean? It means this: the first appearance of the blues is dated to after the ending of slavery.
    Dave, you Trump-loving white supremacist, you don't think this scientific fact is significant? You think a white man (no matter how much goddamned history he knows), can understand these roots – roots borne of inconceivable horror and suffering?
    My point (and let me spell it out to you, Dave; you're obviously no Einstein): you can't play the blues unless you can FEEL it (as opposed to KNOW it). Black pain is felt only by us blacks. And the blues is part and parcel of that pain. This is a subtle artistic point and way over your white head, but I know that Corey and Matt can "dig" it. (I am an aging hippy.) White blues! Give me a break.
    That's like saying an African-American woman can sing (bullshit) patriotic American Hymns with the same gusto as some white reactionary asshole, like Kate Smith! (LOL)
    Respect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You don't know what you're talking about. My mother is black, douche bag!

      Delete
  100. Mr. Harris you are recycling 19th century concepts of cultural exceptionalism and superiority that led to the facist and totalitarian regimes in Italy, Japan and Germany. You are attempting to create rigid racial requirements for legitimate entry for cultural "authentic" expression. This is entirely wrong, morally. Your trombone playing buddy owe, every decent person white and black an apology. Americans of all colors will not tolerate racist ideologies to prevail.

    ReplyDelete
  101. Mr. Harris you are recycling 19th century concepts of cultural exceptionalism and superiority that led to the facist and totalitarian regimes in Italy, Japan and Germany. You are attempting to create rigid racial discrimination requirements for legitimate entry for cultural "authentic" expression. This is entirely wrong, morally. Your trombone playing buddy and you Mr. Harris owe, every decent person white and black an apology. Americans of all colors will not tolerate racist ideologies to prevail.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Robinson,
      You are a self-righteous hypocrite. Let me tell you something: I went to see a production of Macbeth in Paris (where I live part-time) and the actors were mostly black and hispanic. When this godawful performance finally ended I demanded to speak to the director. I gave that white lady a piece of my mind, told her that the whole show rang false right from the get-go. The reality, Dave, is that there weren't any blacks in mid 11th Century Scotland. So don't go telling me that I'm supposed to 'believe' in what some young, rich white boy is going to be trying to say when he gets up there and sings or plays the blues. Get it? Huh? Get it?
      Respect.

      Delete
    2. So, blacks and Hispanics can't do Shakespeare? Why? That's horrible. That reasoning would lead us to the conclusion that all blacks can do is pick cotton and play the blues. I don't even think your buddy Harris would reach that extreme conclusion. If both of you, Harris and yourself believe that blacks and persons of color can't be authentic in a production of Shakespeare you are rejecting all the contributions of Ghandi and Martin Luther King that attempted to get rid of racism and caste. Really ugly stuff the two of you should be ashamed of yourselves. Both of you are a disgrace to the human race

      Delete
    3. "If I had a lower I.Q. I could enjoy this conversation." —Muhammad Ali
      Don't give me that MLK jazz cause you know that Malcolm (who I knew) was the real deal, knew what was going down! Where has MLK's dream gotten us? The prison system is a death pit for blacks. And that's not the worst of it. Systemic racism is alive and well; worse, in fact! —And you need some educating and maybe a good whuppin', boy.

      Delete
    4. Someone help me out with this arrogant son-of-a-bitch. I got high blood pressure. My doc told me not to get so riled up.

      Delete
  102. You are the most stupid thing on the earth blacks can only play the blues why? And whites can only play Shakespeare.You said that blacks were not around that time so they can't play Shakespeare but the thing is blacks are around now so they can learn about it and how to do it so what do have to say now. Also I am Dave's daughter and I am nine years old and this is the the most stupid person I came across and my name is Mia .

    ReplyDelete
  103. It is the saddest thing that in 2016 a black man cannot be free to play his music and talk of its culture and history and of the importance of authenticity in being an artist, without being shouted down by people that are as ignorant and illiterate as the same people that exploited the originators of this music. That is the Blues.. At least Peter Green had the right idea about authenticity, whereas Eric Clapton voiced his support for anti-immigration MP Enoch Powell (then blamed his actions on alcohol - Asshole.. ) Eric Clapton's ignorance caused the Rock against Racism campaign, can you imagine a black artist doing then same? The 'genius' Bob Brozman has been outed as a child molester, what a fine statesman for the blues he turned out to be.. An authentic bluesman talks the truth and you hang him for it.. You love their music but you don't love them.

    ReplyDelete
  104. Replies
    1. Hey Weston
      It's time to out you as a sycophantic moron

      Delete
  105. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  106. Hey, Mr. Weston,

    It's people like you that give me hope. You get it, man. It's all about authenticity. It's not about telling people what to do! The Core man made that quite clear in his gutsy and thoughtful (too thoughtful apparently, for some) essay.
    When I play blues on my old trombone I know intuitively that I couldn't play this stuff if I didn't have the culture, history, and collective yet REAL pain of my black slave descendants in my bones and heart. You said it better. I have a couple of degrees (commercial art MFA and yes, history MA from an Ivy league school), and have read voluminously, but you said it better than I could have ever said it. (Don't mean to sound condescending, brother. It's a compliment. Just a bit humbled by your eloquence.)
    When I played with Miles we used to talk about this stuff. Miss him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No problem Bennie, The truth hurts, and people's ignorance hurts them far more than anyone else, It's amazing the stick you can get just for asking people to sing in their own accent, and Miles was great at getting musicians to do that. My own grievances with my fellow white folk is seeing countless 'rhythm and blues' bands that have no understanding of the fundamental rhythmic concepts that created the music in the first place, or seeing the modern Jazz education system so far removed from what Dizzy Gillespie etc discovered in that era. People just aren't interested in history, and to be authentic as a musician you have to know it, otherwise it's it's just infinite ignorance and arrogance.. Keep on playing Bennie, Peace

      Delete
    2. One caveat: know it, yes; but one must feel it, as I said above. I know you get that, but other readers might not. (I will keep playing, but just not as fast or as cleanly. Arthritis. Thank you.)
      Best Wishes,
      B

      Delete
  107. Corey,
    I appreciate this blog post which I am sure you anticipated would be controversial.
    To disclose my potential bias - I am a young human with a dick and mostly European ancestry. (i.e. a young white dude). I have some black and puerto rican family - married into the family. My mother took a DNA test and apparently there is a small amount of "African" heritage. Yep, what comes to my mind is a raped slave, but who knows.
    I agree with you. Blues is black music.
    I play even more blatantly black music - music from the descendants of the Malian Empire. Modern day Guinea. I play in a group (and struggle greatly) that consists of Guineans and African-americans. I am the weak link in the chain! The discomfort and white guilt and self-loathing is real, bro! It is very taboo to notice differences in whole races - because those differences are not always consistent in individuals. However, it is a fact that Kenyans hold all significant long-distance running records. Specifically - Kalenjin people. That is simple and objective. A physiological difference. However, I am certain that there are better individual long distance runners that are of other ethnic and racial background than many Kalenjin people. Not every black person has good musical feel for the blues. The taboo of noticing differences in races is perhaps to prevent the "scientific" racism of a few centuries ago. And - nature and nurture are hard to distinguish. White people on average do far better in school. This is now attributed solely to socioeconomic factors in the P.C. world. And - you can call me racist to ask the question - could it be genetic? It's likely not a good question to ask. It is a blurry line to draw. Yes, there are stereotypes that all black people can sing and dance. And a lot of negative stereotypes as well. Not all can, I am sure you know. Obviously, what is relevant is the history of colonization, oppression and brutality. In your follow up to this essay, you stated that orchestral music is European. But what if you said orchestral music is White? However, to my knowledge, there is not many black people playing orchestral music (it is expensive training and there are socioeconomic differences, in general). I do not know my place in black music. I am ashamed of my "whiteness". Of my ancestors. That said, I have looked through my documented family tree - and my family was from northern states - Iowa off the top of my head. I hope that there weren't slave owners in my family tree, but there is good chance that there was. Either way, I think as a white person, I have a responsibility to financially compensate the artists I enjoy, listen to, and learn from. Difficult to be a college student. I want more financial opportunities for black artists, and for black countries, and for black non-artists/ non-musicians. Basically I have no strong conclusions. There are so many things to consider. I do inwardly cringe at myself, playing black music. And I do feel as though I should be doing more to give back. That said, I have met some very nice and supportive black artists, and also some (understandably in my mind) that are a bit more hostile. I do wish that more white people would be aware of history. Three centuries of American slavery is just mindbogglingly incomprehensibly terrible.

    (continued below)

    ReplyDelete
  108. I wonder if humanity's moral circle will widen to include other species as well. This is a very flawed species we belong to. I am glad to be human. To my human mind, it's better than being a fly. To the white people, who jump to being offended and outraged, please stop and reconsider these things that are disturbing and hard to confront. The history of slavery is disturbing and boggling. The desire to skate over history is an acknowledgement of its brutality and injustice. There are white artists that I play with that I wish would cool down on their own arrogance and "ownership" of this music. To know - to name, to own, to control. Ethnomusicology is a good example of this. Speaking for others. Defining others. Becoming "expert". It is all very exhausting to me, and as a white person, I have a nagging feeling that I don't want to be a part of white appropriation of a black art. So, that is where financial compensation comes in.
    Okay, ramble cut off, I didn't express that something - that ineffable something. But rambling more doesn't get me closer to it. One thing though - "soul". "Feeling". Hard to quantify (how white of me to want to quantify and measure things). There are a number of whiteys who I would lamblast, in their arrogance and imitation. God, I even know a white lady with dreadlocks who teaches "African" drumming and her ultimate theft is claiming to be a reincarnated Malinke person stolen from West Africa and taken to America as a slave. Trying to co-opt pain and authenticity and rights to the music. It's putrid to me. I thought of her when you spoke of nostalgia for something a person never experienced. She is the first to lamblast anything not in a rigid "authentic" small scope. When freshness and evolution is what's great in music, along with traditions being passed along.

    I appreciate the blog post Corey! I don't have a specific thesis or conclusion, but it is provocative and feels great to hear you call out white folks (me self-consciously included). I have only now just looked at your music, you do have a strong feel to your music. As a human, it does speak to me. No, I don't think I could sing or play guitar like you. The question is should I try to learn (imitate?) (Learning - and culture - and music - is imitation - don't people learn by imitating? And going somewhere else with it).
    My last comment - and confession - I listen to a lot of "free" music on YouTube. I do not have the financial means to compensate every artist I listen to, nor do I think the solution is to simply not listen to music.

    Respect to you.

    ReplyDelete
  109. Corey Harris is a pathetic human being. he should be pitied.

    ReplyDelete