The blues is a folk musical style evolved by rural southern African Americans around 1900. It speaks predominantly of their conditions in pre-Civil Rights America: disenfranchisement, alcohol-ism, migration, poverty and domestic strife. Blues traditionally adheres to a rigid musical structure of twelve-bar groupings (three lines of four bars each), lyrically following an AAB rhyming pattern. Its scale, with its non-western ‘blue notes’, probably derives from Africa. Stylistic constraint, mirroring its performers’ social subjugation, is countered by personalized vocal inflection and improvisation.
   By the 1960s, African Americans began to dissociate themselves from its unproductive pessimism, while a new, mainly white fan base was developing through an appreciation of rare imported records in Britain. Blues artists’ championing of underdog resistance appealed to the alienated teenagers of postwar Britain. Middle class and mainly living at home, they were caught between a desire for adult freedoms and strict parental regulation. Performing musicians of this age group increasingly turned to the blues for solace. From the 1950s, American blues artists had been touring Britain. Enthusiastic but financially limited promoters flew over single performers to play with young British backing bands. Reverential white British audiences, although not untainted by racist tendencies, often treated them with more respect than the ingrained segregation at home allowed. The collaborations of the American and British performers involved, many of which were recorded, benefited both parties artistically.
   Bands associated with and inspired by this union, such as Graham Bond, Spencer Davis, The Animals, The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds, gained popularity during the 1960s ‘British Invasion’ of the United States (along with extended worldwide acclaim). It is largely to their credit that the blues tradition, with its waning relevance to the African American community, was kept alive in its country of origin. It was they who first attracted a multi-racial audience to the genre, forged links that crossed prohibitive ‘race’ boundaries and brought performers out of obscurity. British blues in the 1970s increasingly adopted western classical virtuosity, jazz improvisation and extended solo use. This acknowledged a sense of freedom and self-indulgence—both social and musical—that had evaded the early blues artists. Despite major label disinterest in new bands, blues is still popular in British pubs and at specialist festivals. Famous artists such as Eric Clapton continue to voice their indebtedness to blues musicians.
   Further reading
    Brunning, B. (1995) Blues in Britain, the History 1950 to the Present, London: Blanford.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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