Friday, May 12, 2006

Show 17 - Northbound Blues

Show 17 - Northbound Blues

Beginning around the period of the First World War, millions of black Southerners moved North to cities like Chicago, Detroit, and New York. Known as the Great Migration, this movement changed the course of American history. People left the South to escape the oppressive racist system in the South, but most importantly because of the job opportunities and promise of economic security in Northern cities.

Blind Blake sang about getting a job at Mr. Ford’s place in Detroit Bound Blues. Jobs in the automotive industry were an important factor pulling African-Americans to Detroit. And cars and trains provided transportation to the North. Many from Alabama headed to Detroit via railroad as many from Mississippi and Tennessee headed to Chicago. From Gerogia and the Carolinas, they went to DC or New York. The route of the migration patterns was often identical to that of the large railroad lines.

Tennessee native Bessie Smith sang about missing her man who had caught the train to Chicago in her song Chicago Bound Blues. In this song, she references the Chicago Defender newspaper. The Defender actively encouraged African-Americans in the South to come to Northern cities and was very successful.

Though the traffic of the Great Migration was largely one way, at times economic opportunity dictated a return down south (in recent years moving back down has become even more common). In 1948, Roosevelt Sykes sang of a time when cotton prices made working in the Southern fields more profitable than the Northern factories.

From around 1914 – 1950, the Great Migration changed the demographics of the country and altered the way Americans lives. In several waves, millions of black Southerners arrived in Northern cities. The transition from the acoustic Delta blues of the 20s and 30s to electric Chicago blues is one of the easily observable manifestations of the Great Migration. The life of Muddy Waters is often given as an example. But the migration changed more than music, it changed race relations, economics, and living conditions for millions. And as often was the case, blues musicians were some of the best observers of their own lives and the changes in the world around them.

Detroit Bound Blues - Blind Blake
Chicago Bound Blues - Bessie Smith
Cotton Belt Blues - Lizzie Miles
Cotton Patch Blues - Tommy McLennan
Southern Blues - Roosevelt Sykes

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