Blues is one of the most important genres of the 20th century. Without it, there would be neither jazz nor rock music. It originally comes from African American communities in rural areas of the Mississippi Delta in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I have collected data on five famous musicians who could be considered the ambassadors of blues. If you are interested in American culture, then this one could be interesting for you.
Robert Johnson (1911-1938)
This is the one who sold his soul to the Devil, at least that’s what the old rumours say. There are few musicians or artists whose character could be considered as mysterious as Robert Johnson’s. In fact, his whole life is a riddle. Johnson was the godfather of Delta blues, but did not receive public recognition or commercial success in his short life. Yet songs like ‘Love in Vain’, ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, ‘Cross Road Blues’ had a huge influence on musicians of later generations, including Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), and Eric Clapton. Furthermore, Johnson’s music helped other genres like rock and roll to be born. Even though his music was not valued by the public in his lifetime, he later got the recognition that he deserved. For hundreds of people, he is still the master of Delta blues.
Etta James (1938-2012)
The next ambassador of blues I intend to introduce to you is one of the most influential and well-known female singers of the 20th century. Etta James is not only representative of the blues genre but also jazz and RnB as well. Her debut album At Last! (1960) is a critically acclaimed record and it shows her versatile style as an artist. The album contains blues evergreens like ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You’ or ‘Spoonful’, which was originally written by Willie Dixon, but was eventually popularised by Howlin’ Wolf and Etta James in the 1960s. James played with numerous artists and in several formations during her career. Her vocal tone is unmistakable and unique, and her discography clearly demonstrates her greatness and the value of her music.
Albert King (1923-1992)
Born in Indianola, Mississippi and the son of an itinerant preacher, when Albert King was eight years old, he moved with his family to Arkansas. There, he worked on a cotton plantation and later drove a bulldozer. He started his career in Arkansas, but later moved to Illinois, where he joined the Chicago blues scene around 1953. King also performed at several venues in St. Louis, Missouri. Later he signed to Stax Records in Memphis and became one of the most influential blues musicians on the famous Beale Street. With his voice and his Flying-V guitar, Albert King is one of the most recognisable and celebrated figures of blues, and was thought of as one of ‘three kings of blues’, with B.B. King and Freddie King. His album Born Under a Bad Sign (1967) is probably one of the greatest records in blues history and it influenced other artists of later generations like Jimi Hendrix, Joe Walsh or Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)
She is one of my personal favourites, to be honest. Aretha Franklin’s talent and artistic greatness are unquestionable. She was also born in the Deep South, though was mainly raised in Detroit, Michigan. Her mother was a gospel singer and her father was a minister of national influence, who also came from a musical background. So gospel and generally sacral music were her very earliest musical influences. At the age of 18, with her father’s blessing, Franklin moved to New York City where she got signed by Columbia Records, though later switching to Atlantic Records. In 1969, her album Soul ‘69 was released and was well received. The record contains songs with jazz and RnB elements, though blues is the genre that dominates the sonic identity of the album. It also shows Franklin’s vocal range and her musical vividness as a singer and as an artist. She had a major impact on following generations.
Muddy Waters (1913-1983)
He was a blues ambassador of the early generation whose figure is still emblematic. Waters symbolises the character of bluesmen in general. His recording career ran from 1941 to 1981, and resulted in numerous singles and albums with two different record labels (Aristocrat/Chess, and Blue Sky Records). Muddy Waters relocated to Chicago in 1943 from the rural areas of Deep South and became one of the pioneers in electric blues and one of the founding fathers of the Chicago blues scene. His records like Gypsy Woman (1947), Rollin’ Stone (1950), Hoochie Coochie Man (1954), and Mannish Boy (1955) had a massive impact on British rockers like Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, who named their band after a Waters’ song. Muddy Waters is still considered to be one of the leading characters of American blues, even nowadays.