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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/23/21

Ladies Sing the Blues

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Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

(previously published at the Black Commentator.com, March 18, 2021)

Deep Moaning Blues (Ma Rainey, 1928) Jazz Legend from my original 78-rpm disk, not a CD. Deep Moaning Blues (1928) MA RAINEY acc. by The Tub Jug Washboard Band (Georgia Tom Dorsey, piano) (Martell ...
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Like most forms of popular music African-American blues lyrics talk about love.

Angela Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday

Love of Black people, love of freedom from domestic terrorism.

I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever. I sat for piano lessons when I was a preteen. I would go to the home of this older Black woman on the Southside of Chicago, not far from my home. I did learn that every good boy does fine always (EGBDF), but I would be able to point to an E or G on the piano. Or for that matter, any musical instrument. I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between an E or a G.

As a listener, I've long appreciated the power of music, however.

In my grandparents' home, I was exposed to most all genres of music, except the blues. I listened to 78 rpm recordings of Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathias, Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, and Nate King Cole. Of course, Cole was also on television as was Andy Williams and Judy Garland. Aside from my Beatles LP, I had LPs of Jimmy Hendrix, Odetta, and Leonard Bernstein's recording of Bolero .

Then when my mother re-married my father, a Baptist, I was eleven years old, and I listened to the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Soul Stirrers, and The Five Blind Boys. All day on Sundays, my very Catholic grandmother listened to a Black radio station featuring some of the most influential Black churches with their choirs and pastors, most all male. A cacophony of patriarchal outpouring on those Sundays.

All this music and yet no one mentioned Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, or Billie Holiday. No one played or sang the blues. But it didn't matter. The blues was always there when another "perhaps-you-forgot-to-pay-your-bill-notice" was opened read, and I hear the laugh. Someone, grandfather or mother, would always laugh. The blues wrapped around Christmas little Christmas trinkets from the basement at Goldbatt's Department store. The blues hovered around when my grandparents sat in the window during the evenings, staring out. Behind them, at the kitchen table, I sat eating white slices of bread covered in sugar.

No one sang it! Didn't have to!

That Blues Legacies and Black Feminism (1998) by historian and activist Angela Y. Davis would be overlooked by the academic world as well as by music critics is understandable in a country where Blacks, in the 21 st Century, must remind it's citizens that Black lives matter, too. And her subject matter: Ladies singing the blues! In a country where that movement for social justice and the fulfillment of democracy is denounced as not not suitable as a valuable subject for study. Anti-Black sentiment discredits anything produced by Black people that represents a fundamental cry from the belly of this country's practice of white supremacist violence.

And yet the blues is complex and has often been misunderstood while, too, all pervasive in our culture. Some would argue that the blues represents the state of our culture today in light of the January 6, 2021 Insurrection at the Capitol in Washington D. C.

"The blues," writes Davis, "rose to become the most prominent secular genre in early twentieth-century black American music." And yet, it was often characterized as "'the Devil's music'" in opposition to the spirituals or later gospel, that is, "'God's music.'" I'm reminded of those scenes in Alice Walker's The Color Purple when the women characters, divided between those who sing the blues such as Shug Avery and those who sing in the nearby community church are far from a collective of abused victims of violence. To make matters worse and appear more opaque, often male ministers, as Davis notes, saw themselves pitted in battle for the souls of the community against Black women, like a Rainey and Smith, singers about sexual love but also about patriarchal violence.


Celie observes Shug reaching for another cigarette"

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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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