Around the turn of the 20th century, guitar-based music with hard livin’-based lyrics developed in several parts of America’s South. Though both African American and white musicians played this music, for the most part the only distinguishing characteristic was what record companies called it: if the performer was white, it was “hillbilly music,” if black, it was a “race record.” Distinctions in style, instrumentation and rhythms did soon develop, and by the 1920s, African-American artists like W.C. Handy found themselves as the torchbearers of a new genre, performed by African Americans and mainly marketed to African-Americans, though, through a revolutionary new medium radio, accessible to everyone, called “the blues.”
Listen to the earliest recordings of the earliest African-American blues artists:
— W.C. HANDY: “Ole Miss Rag:
— BESSIE SMITH: “St. Louis Blues”
— MA RAINEY: “Shave ’em dry blues”
— TAMPA RED: “You Missed a Good Man“
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