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PHOTO ESSAY

The Blues

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B.B. King

Statue of B.B. King in Memphis. Courtesy of Carl Wycoff.

Aptly summing up modern America's relationship with the blues, Graham Russell Gao Hodges writes in The Encyclopedia of African American History that, "Paradoxically, in the early twenty-first century, blues enthusiasts are largely white and middle class, whereas African Americans generally eschew the form in favor of such descendants as rhythm and blues and rap." A victim of its own success, the blues simply never recovered from its displacement at the hands of rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues, and their countless successors (which include soul, disco, and electronic music, to name a few). The 1960s and 1970s saw a modest rekindling of interest in the genre as "forgotten" bluesmen were invited to various folk festivals, but present opportunities to "experience" the blues seem to almost always involve attractions like the Mississippi Blues Trail (a state-funded tourist initiative), pilgrimages to cities such as Chicago and New Orleans, or performances by "living legends." The blues, in short, has become a cultural artifact—albeit one with astonishing and unrivaled influence on Western popular culture.

Hodges, Graham Russell Gao. "Blues." In Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century, edited by Paul Finkelman. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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