Music Among the Folks

  April 17, 2022   Read time 2 min
Music Among the Folks
Blues musicians were still scattered around the South, in both rural and urban areas, playing mostly for family, friends, but also strangers in the proliferating road houses and juke joints.

Some had moved North before the war, but their flight had accelerated, attracted (along with whites) to the availability of industrial jobs and a different cultural landscape (others joined the armed forces and discovered foreign lands and customs, often without racial discrimination). Particularly in Chicago, a different type of blues now emerged. Muddy Waters (born McKinley Morganfield), for instance, first recorded in rural Mississippi by Alan Lomax in 1941, moved to the Windy City in 1943, where he joined Big Bill Broonzy and other established blues men.

Waters first recorded in 1946, but his distinctive electric guitar sound had to wait a few years to become established. By decade’s end, however, joined by Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, and numerous others, and promoted by the Chess brothers’ record labels, Waters was leading a flashy urban blues renaissance that rippled throughout the country. In the South, for example, Memphis remained as an urban blues center.

The term rhythm and blues became associated with a related urban musical style emerging in this period. “Though not exclusive to the city, R & B was folk musicthat captured urban ethnic attitudes and mores,” Barry Pearson has explained. “Successfully marketed to urban consumers (and rural folk who wished to be), R & B embodied the latest fads in language and dance; it spoke of heroes and even the consumer goods now within the reach of postwar blacks.”

The new sound was captured by Charles Brown, Joe Turner, Wynonie Harris, and particularly Louis Jordan. A spate of independent record companies, such as Chess, Atlantic, and Modern, fed the record stories and thousands of public jukeboxes with the revitalized sound. While the blues basically dealt with personal problems and issues, some songs dealt with the wider world of politics and foreign affairs.

For example, at war’s end there was Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Reconversion Blues,” Champion Jack Dupree’s “God Bless Our New President” (Harry S. Truman), and Roosevelt Sykes’s “High Price Blues.” Some songs dealt with the atom bomb, such as Joe Houston’s “Atom Bomb,” Pete Johnson’s “Atomic Boogie,” and Slim Gaillard’s “Atomic Cocktail.” Race relations could also appear in a blues song, such as Big Bill Broonzy’s “Black, Brown and White,” while Lead Belly performed “Jim Crow Blues.”

By decade’s end folk music appeared in a variety of styles and sounds—traditional and contemporary, blues and country, gospel and rhythm and blues, ballads and work songs. Performers could be heard on concert stages, on front porches, on radio programs, on commercial recordings, at folk festivals, indeed just about everywhere.

It was truly a part of the country’s musical mix, and would only become more prominent in the near future. The same was true, but to a much lesser extent, in Great Britain, but this would soon change, as both countries experienced a folk boom that easily crossed the Atlantic.