Blues music is actually considered to be the "heart of jazz," though the two traditions really developed side by side. Blues emerged as its own unique form during the first decade of the 1900s and hit its peak of popularity in the 1920s in Harlem (an area of New York City). Technically, blues music is typically twelve bars of notes, based on the tonic, dominant, and subdominant chords. The so-called "blue notes" are the flatted third and seventh. Vocal blues songs are known for down-to-earth lyrics that speak of poverty, love, sex, and death. The blues can range from despair and cynicism to pure satire. Great singers like Ma Rainey (1886–1939) and Bessie Smith (1894–1937) helped popularize the form and made it a symbol for African American struggles. Poet Langston Hughes (1902–1967) saw the blues as a distinctly black musical genre that could help free blacks from the restrictions of American society. The first person to write down and publish blues songs was W. C. Handy (1873–1958), a composer from Alabama whose great works include "Memphis Blues" and "St. Louis Blues." Because he was the first to publish these songs he is considered the "Father of the Blues."
Further Information: Bessie Smith: Reflections. [Online] Available http://www.hub.org/bluesnet/readings/bessie.html, October 23, 2000; The Blues Foundation. [Online] Available http://www. blues.org/, October 23, 2000; Harris, Sheldon. Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1979; The Rhythm and Blues Music Primer. [Online] Available http://www.theprimer.org.uk, October 23, 2000; Surge, Franke. Singers of the Blues. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications, 1969.