Sundaner (Why?) Because as an academic on the subject there are not many people more qualified than Adam to weigh in. I added "concise" because as much as I appreciate scholarly thought a decisive statement is helpful. Something more than "He said. She said. So what."
Littoral - Why? Because IMO Cory is wrong to even broach this topic about who (i.e. what race) should be able to do what. Why? Think about the opposite to his argument. US history is pretty much based on the idea that white folks could decide what black folks can & can't do. Until black folks, quite rightly, said F**k Off - we can be whatever we want to be - Doctors, Lawyers, CEO's, Astronauts, Quarterbacks. US President. The list goes on ...
Both sides of that argument were and are senseless & wrong. We can all do what we want to do. Including play the blues. Whether we're any good or not.
Last Edited by Sundancer on Jan 07, 2020 4:04 PM
Sundancer, I had not added my opinion. If I did it would have, in principle, agreed with yours. Some well chosen words are in order. Major Domo's day job, and his side job, line up for weighing in on this. Diplomatic minefield challenge that it is.
Last Edited by Littoral on Jan 07, 2020 5:16 PM
Corey Harris is entitled to his opinion. However, he is a relatively minor figure on the blues scene. Honestly, I had totally forgotten about him until this thread. Muddy Waters had a very different approach: White guys Can play in my band if they are up to it. I’m going to go with Muddy’s opinion because he was a legend and he cultivated and encouraged blues cats black and white.
@sonvolt13- Bravo on all counts. Feeling bad is part of the human condition. ANY human. The form-which is a catharsis and a healing balm- is a combination of a lot of pieces, it didn't come whole to one guy at one time. I was damaged as a kid and as an adult. I was not a slave or subject to the sort of damage some people have been subjected to, true. But there was heart crushing damage in my life. Finding the late Sunday night blues radio shows in the early 60's, on a.m. radio was a sort of salvation for me personally and it set the tone for my future. The form of the blues I heard eased my mind and soul. Still does. I claim it as my form as well as those who gave it to me freely. I honor those men and women who shared the music so I could be comforted. What the sincerest form of flattery? Imitation. Or really in my case, emulation. I've never memorized a part on harp or lyrics to a song. But every time I have the chance, I honor those folks who have spurred me on to give something back to the whole. Even Corey. ---------- Music and travel destroy prejudice.
I haven’t reread the essay. I read it a couple years ago and I wondered if others were reading the same thing. I didn’t find anything controversial about it. I might read it again and see if I can understand why it’s yanking people’s chains.
If you want an even deeper perspective watch the documovie Rumble: Indians who Rocked the World. In it, you can see where some of the rhythms found in "black" gospel and blues actually originated. If you look deeper into the origins of the music you may find that the Natchez tribe, who traded along the Mississippi in the early days of American slavery (a terrible and wicked time in our history), those Natchez Indians, had a camp at what is now Natchez Mississippi, where many Africans were staged on the way to plantations. Those native sons traded with the slaves, handing off both instruments and rhythms in exchange for art and other items brought from far away. You may see that some southeastern tribes were doing chants far back in their history which found their way into a supposed original black music form. So are these then some of the many origins of the form?
This is a much more faceted gem than is first apparent.
My personal opinion is, if anyone deserves to have the blues first and foremost, it is the indigenous people who have been systematically pushed onto reservations, slaughtered, had their way of life removed by buffalo slaughter and meaningless treaties which took the lands they lived on for thousands of years, and still today these same people have suffered political, economic, and cultural indignities as a matter of course. Yet these people are still with us and their old ways are still alive as well.
Just my final two cents. Still not sorry, not stopping. Let's share a beautiful art form. And feed our souls. ---------- Music and travel destroy prejudice.
Some really good points about the culture and music.
I relate to the blues for 2 reasons
1--when its really good, its really good, cuz it primarily came from the HEART of the person. Not just from their knowledge of music.
2 It keeps it going. A person with a lot of music knowledge and all the right equipment can play the blues. But I believe in the "PAID YR DUES' theory. Until you've struggled with survival and or sanity, in really bad situations -U SIMPLY CANT RELATE There is a Huge difference between playing good notes and playing from yr heart----A heart that has paid its dues
I think traditional 145 blues and players who play traditionally will always be around. New players white or Black that take traditional 145 and add to it are fine--I feel it all keeps it alive.
If an adult sings "mary had a Little lamb" it doesn't mean it cant be a childs lullabye any more. I think the opposite is true -it reminds me of kids
ALL MY PSYCHO BABBLE ASIDE ---Ive always loved the beat-When I was a kid, I heard "Thrill is Gone" I've been a blues lover since
Harris's blog post is actually entitled "Can White People Play the Blues?" (The blog itself is called BLUES IS BLACK MUSIC!)
I did indeed reply at the time, although not directly on the blog post, but somebody went and posted what I'd written elsewhere to the blog, and I'm okay with that.
As it happens, I have written a whole book on the subject, or prompted by the subject, and it will be coming out in the fall of 2020. I haven't yet spoken about it on social media, but I'll do that when I've got a cover image and a link for preordering.
The book is called "Blues Talk: Making Sense of the Music in a New Millennium," and it takes Harris's question, and the more general question of non-African American investments in blues music, very seriously indeed. I now see Harris's post as part of a larger conversation that is currently being had--a conversation that arguably first erupted in Chicago in 2012 at the Blues and the Spirit symposium at Dominican University, on a panel that contained Sugar Blue, Billy Branch, and Matthew Skoller, among others.
I'll just say this: the contemporary blues scene is not without racial problematics, and most of them DON'T have to do specifically with the question of whether white people can sing and play blues with acceptable levels of talent and idiomatic precision. For Harris, Blue, and some other black blues musicians and advocates, blues music is a site of memory for the slave trade and the Middle Passage, the depredations of slavery on American soil, and almost a century's worth of Jim Crow. If you read the NY Times "1619 project," as I just did, you know that the actual story of American history isn't the story most of us learned in school. It can quite reasonably be told, in detail, as the NYT writers do, as a story of unending legislated and non-legistlated anti-black violence, exploitation, and mockery. We're in a historical period, in the wake of Black Lives Matter, when a truer story is being told--which doesn't mean, btw, that Black Lives Matter always acts virtuously.
It took the USA until the last half-decade to actually create a museum to commemorate American slavery--and it only happened because we had a black president and a lot of rich black folks gave money. That's outrageous.
In any case, the blues is something that some politically inclined African American advocates are in the process of re-staking their claim on, and they're doing so NOT because the music can be reduced merely to the cry of slavery--although that's what Sugar Blue would have us believe--but because there's a whole lot of inherited pain from those centuries of mistreatment and the blues is one obvious place where that feeling can be projected, since there aren't a whole lot of other easy-to-find landmarks where slavery and Jim Crow can be mourned.
But those landmarks are slowly beginning to show up. Bryan Stevenson's lynching memorial in Montgomery is one.
It's complicated. My book has a lot to say about all this.
But no: Harris isn't wrong to raise the issue. He's partly right on the issue, but also substantially wrong in some ways.
Here's what the Korean-Japanese-American bluesman from Chicago, Ken "Sugar Brown" Kawashima, has to say about all this.
My 2 cents... I was born in the deep South (Louisiana), but grew up in the western deserts (Arizona). Music of any kind wasn't really a thing my home as a kid. My mom had a few Johnny Horton records. That was it! I was (and still am, really) ignorant of the blues.
My blues knowledge consists of: 1: Bought a C Harp one day 'cuz I was bored. 2: For years had fun playing it "folk" style. 3: One day "bent" a note and thought I'd died and gone to heaven. 4: With this discovery,"bluesy" harp music became my passion.
So, I'm "least qualified" to talk about the blues culture. I have no blues culture (very little), but I LOVE the sound and the feel. It's like I'm pouring out my soul through 10 little holes (well, more like 6 or 7 for me). How can that be wrong?
I'm also totally unqualified to speak on racism. I'm white, and having never experienced this kind of racism, I cannot even begin to imagine it. I study it like a history lesson. Being raised in Arizona I faced a totally different kind of racism, often on the receiving end of it (separate topic).
Adam mentions the "depredations of slavery on American soil", which is another topic I've no personal or ancestral experience with. However, "slavery" and the "blues" that accompany it comes in many forms, and we've ALL experienced it. While I have no experience with "real" slavery or the level of racism experienced by the black community, I'm not totally ignorant of the pain of it nor the joyful release that comes from breathing my own blues through the harp.
Correct me if I'm wrong (remember I'm a blues idiot), but the blues are rooted in the pain experienced by the black people in America. This is their history/culture. I can never presume to make it mine. Their pain is not my pain. My pain is not theirs. Every person's pain, every person's "blues" is unique to them. Me playing "my" blues can never invalidate you playing "your" blues. However, the pain of the blues is common to ALL people. We all have had the our own form of the "blues" at some point. It unifies us.
So, in conclusion:
1. No, I can never expect to "take ownership" of blues music or culture. That's absurd. However, I can appreciate it, yes? I can never be a true "son", but can I not be "adopted" into the music and culture and be embraced by it as I also embrace it?
2. The true question is not "CAN white people play the blues?" but "SHOULD white people play the blues"? My answer: Absolutely! The man/woman who plays the blues is my brother/sister. We have a common, unbreakable bond.
I don’t think that was the sense of the question. Mr Harris didn’t say white people cant play the blues or that they shouldn’t play the blues He focused especially on singing the blues and particularly he said white folks should not try to sing as if they are black and instead use their own voice. And he put a lot of words ahead of that but in the end his point was to use your own voice, that blues is primarily vocal and if you don’t use your own voice, that’s not it.
Asians play Western Symphonic music.Black americans have sung Opera. Music is the true melting pot of people(s) I totally respect the origins of Blues music but i also feel that i am entitled to put my own stamp on it. But 'Bee was right in that Corey was talking more about singing than playing an instrument. If you heard someone just playing Bluesharp or Guitar you wouldn't be able to pick their race.But once they started singing?Game changes I think.
There are those that take the position that if race or ethnicity comes up in the conversation, that everyone except the white folks are allowed to pontificate and opine.
That in itself can be argued as "racism". But, so can the argument be made that any ethnicity talking about a different ethnicity that it is "racist".
My wife is American 'Indian'. Real Indian, from the Reservation, not the Elizabeth Warren got some percentage back someplace on the tree kind. As a sidebar, not very many of her people refer to themselves as "Indigenous People".
You want to hear some bigoted, racist sounding talk? Listen to one tribe talk about a tribe from only a few hundred miles away. Amazing. Listen to a Honduran talk about a Guatemalan.
On the other hand, in the spirit of the original premise, "Can Black People Play Polo?".
Equally stupid and deliberately antagonizing for negative reasons, sanctimoniously hiding behind the fake innocence of only wanting provocative and spirited discussion.
My first exposure was naively renting my first place on my own in deep New Orleans in the late 70's. I had come from the Navy town of San Diego, where so-called epithets were hurled back and forth as punctuation. If you'd read a transcript you would interpret it as nothing but racism. But, for the bunch of us it was nothing even close.
I move to NOLA and I discovered I was the only white-boy for multiple blocks in any direction. Yes, there was some negative energy in my direction due to skin color, but really most of the assholes were just assholes. I did have some shutdowns where a general academic discussion about race would take a direction and I was told that I wasn't allowed to comment or offer an opinion simply because of skin color.
Then, sometimes only minutes later, I'd be hearing derogatory references to shades of blackness. Sheesh.
Racism is like pornography. I know it when I see (or hear) it.
This reply probably makes me racist.......
---------- ~Buzadero Underwater Janitor, Patriot MBH poseur since 11Nov2008
I think it comes down to the fact that white people sometimes just assume that anger and pain from African Americans is gone or isn't a thing. Blues music is one of the few things the black community can call their own, and I understand why there is a certain ownership and pride in keeping the blues theirs. It also has to do with historically being under appreciated, mistreated, and not being given a fair shake.
But, hopefully this wonderful music we all love can being us together.
Last Edited by agarner on Jan 09, 2020 6:00 PM
It's a pretty simple equation for me. if a black blues artist publicly proclaims white people can't play the blues, I take him at his word and exclude him from any of my discretionary dollars.
When Sugar Blue said that the blues are " by and for black people " I take him at his word. I don't buy or voluntarily listen to his music. If a song of his comes on my sirius blues station, I turn the channel. When the Stones Miss You comes on classic rock I turn the station.
If someone in person tries to argue that black blues only position with me, I just walk away, and find someone else to talk to. For me that argument is on it's face absurd. So why try to argue it? There are so many other black bluesmen who don't feel that way. Muddy, Buddy Guy come to mind to name just a couple, and so many non-black bluesmen out there. I'll happily spend my money to listen to them and it won't make a whit of difference in the quality of my life.
Life is too short to continue this argument ad infinitum and more importantly ad nauseam. For those so inclined, have at it and enjoy.
Edited to add: Do yourself a favor. Watch the Ken "Sugar Brown" Kawashima video above. Just do it. Thank Kudzu later.
Last Edited by Honkin On Bobo on Jan 10, 2020 9:30 AM
That's not what it's about. He's not asking anyone to quit. It's mostly just an exercise in remembering the roots of Blues and authenticity.
You can love the Blues and play the Blues while still recognizing the perverse irony in white people playing it. The Blues was born out of racial oppression. Oppression by white people against black people. To have white people take it up and make it ours (especially in the days when we didn't credit black musicians) is an ugly example of irony.
Does it mean you shouldn't be playing the Blues? No, and Harris doesn't think you should quit, either. He just wants to remind people of how it all happened and what it meant both then and now.
I agree with what you say Caitlin. I don't claim to be any better than anyone. In my dark times early in life, the late night radio shows out of Memphis, Chicago, and other places featured blues and soul on Sunday nights. That music was my only comfort. I did not see color at that age. I couldn't, it was radio! Age 5 and I'm needing solace in a hard time already in life, and that was where I got it.
My initial reaction was pretty knee jerk. Busted. I strive to be level headed and fair minded as much as possible. I abhor the injustice perpetrated by some humans on other humans. The music that sprang from this evil activity by whites on blacks became my salvation in a sense and I can't imagine not doing it.
Mr. Harris asked a pertinent question. ---------- Music and travel destroy prejudice.
Mike Finnigan. My friend who writes for the local newspaper (Ted Burke will know who I mean) told the story of a night in Switzerland when Mike was playing keyboard for Maria Muldaur. Like others who put Mike to work, Maria liked to feature him on a vocal number. After she introduced him, and before he could sing, some audience member made some sort of comment. Mike replied, "Jack, you wouldn't know the blues if it bit you on the cock." Mike has a wonderful blues delivery, and he is pretty darned white. So there ya go.
Can white men sing the blues? Yes, if the white man sings something that is meaningful to HIM.
I used to sing the blues (badly), often with lyrics from old blues songs. Here are the lyrics from one song I sang, Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man":
Got me workin' boss man Workin' 'round the clock I want a little of drink of water But you won't let Jimmy stop
The lyrics are about slavery. That didn't trouble me, as I sang them in the '70s. Now, as I think back, I'm embarrassed.
Blues is universal. All races relate to it. Music fads come and go, but blues survives through all of them. Sing YOUR blues, with lyrics that describe YOUR life, not the black experience from a century and a half ago. There's plenty to sing about.
p.s. I stopped singing long before I realized most of my lyrics were inappropriate. I was just a bad singer, so I quit (but still sang with my harp!) wk
Cory Harris asks if white folks can sing the blues I don’t think there is any doubt that they can. Don’t get me wrong, my record and cd collection is mostly based on African American performers.
But, Steve Mariot, Joe Cocker, Robert Plant, Janis Joplin, Eric Burdon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Paul Butterfield, David Clayton Thomas, John Popper, Ian Gillian, Robert Plant, Beth Hart, Peter Green, Steve Winwood, Bonnie Raitt, Cyndi Lauper, Peter Wolf, Jo Ann Kelly, Nick Gravenites, Skip Spence, Paul DeLay, Pete Townshend, Rory Gallagher, Jan Rynsaardt, John Kay, Michael Barry, Roger Daltry, Paul Jones, Dave Kelly, William Clarke and others have done it for me over the years.
@John M G:I am with you there. Subtlety of argument aside, you love the music you love regardless of who is making it, and you build on that basis. If I'd listened to purists, archivists, zealots, those with deep absolute convictions and non-negotiable hard lines when it came to deciding what music to buy, I would have a very, very small record collection. ---------- www.ted-burke.com
Black community calling The Blues their own....similar to what they've said about Jazz, which is kinda like the "son" of Blues. However, jazz can be played quite well by folks who are not Black.
Miles Davis was actually one who pushed back against this racial line being drawn in jazz when he hired Bill Evans (pianist - not the sax player) early on. Plenty of Black jazz musicians were incensed, but Miles told them (paraphrased) "I don't care if they are black, white, or green. All I care about is - can they play?". ---------- The Iceman
I am on the same page as what John M G wrote above.
What is interesting is that Wolf mentions that he use to sing this back in the day and he is embarrassed that he sang it as a white blues man.
"Got me workin' boss man Workin' 'round the clock I want a little of drink of water But you won't let Jimmy stop"
So if Corey Harris were to sing these lyrics, when in his life did he experience this personally first hand?
Was it growing up in rough and tough Denver or was it when he graduated from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine with a Bachelor's Degree in 1991?
In other words, just because Corey was born a certain color does not mean he experienced the same pain as those that suffered through slavery. And likewise someone Jewish might have lived through Holocaust and experienced a different pain. So the Jewish person is not "qualified by his skin color" to sing the blues?
I am not trying to stir anything up, just adding a different view on this.
Last Edited by Blind Melon on Jan 16, 2020 10:09 AM
For what it's worth, I think Greens from the Garden and Downhome Sophisticate are some of the most original blues-based music in the last couple of decades. His album with Henry Butler is very good too
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