Rhythm and Blues was predominantly performed by African Americans in the 1930’s. ‘Rhythm’ came from the standard four beat measures and ‘blues’ came from the lyrics of the songs, they were mostly sad coming from the Great Depression and World War two. Different types of genres came from rhythm and blues, like boogie-woogie and rock and roll, and some of the most influential artists help shape them.
Robert Johnson is known to be the most influential bluesman. His career really rocketed during the time of the Great Depression. “Johnson’s persona and his songs introduced a musical and lyrical vocabulary that are the basis of the modern blues and blues-based rock,” said by Rolling Stone’s Simon and Schuster. His life and career was cut short when he was poisoned at the age of twenty seven in 1938.
Bessie Smith along with Robert Johnson was also a rhythm and blues icon. She was know as the “empress of the blues” through out the nation. Her career really began in 1923 when she recorded her first song which became a huge success after she signed with Columbia Records. She continued to record with famous jazz performers through out her career and recorded with Louis Armstrong. Her career began to fade when the depression hit and she started to develop a drinking problem after her and her second husband separated. She was killed in a car accident in 1937 when she was trying to make a comeback.
Big Joe Turner was known as the “Boss of the Blues,” he mixed rhythm and blues with boogie woogie and was one of the first to create jump blues. This was what influenced rock and roll. Turner began to perform with Pete Johnson, a pianist, and in the thirties they went to New York and performed in the “Spirituals to Swing.” Turner sang without a microphone, his voice was so powerful he could be heard over a band playing in the background. He is famous for his song, “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
These artists shaped the music that came generations after them and even the music we listen to today.
Robert Johnson singing "Sweet Home Chicago"
Bessie Smith, St. Louis Blues
Big Joe Turner singing Shake, Rattle and Roll
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Sanders, Madelyn. "Bessie Smith Biography." Bessie Smith Biography - Extended. Women in History, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/smit-besx.htm>.
Ward, Ed. "The Big Man Behind 'Shake, Rattle And Roll'" 90.9 WBUR. N.p., 22 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.wbur.org/npr/163396468/the-big-man-behind-shake-rattle-and-roll>.