Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 294
Blues People: Negro Music in White America, LeRoi Jones' (later known as Amiri Baraka) 1963 groundbreaking work, does not develop "characters" as would be found in a work of fiction, but, instead, develops a paradigm in which the origin and trajectory of blues music becomes a profound narrative through which the history and experience of black people in America can be understood.
"The blues continuum," with its common reference points, cultural influences, and oppositional roots, can be thought of as similar to and as important as character development in works of fiction. Just as thoughts, actions, and experiences determine and mitigate a protagonist or antagonist's purpose in a narrative, the blues continuum becomes central to the readers' understanding of, in Jones' own words, "the history of the Afro-American people as text, as tale, as story, as exposition, narrative . . .the music was the score, the actually expressed creative orchestration, reflection, of Afro-American life."
There are, of course, many people in the pages of Jones' Blues People: Negro Music in White America. Musicians, activists, and academics are discussed and quoted. The seminal nature of music and those greats who embodied that nature at its best (e.g. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, etc.) are given their proper due, but Jones' interest and intention is to turn the spotlight on a previously understudied process:
The path the slave took to 'citizenship' is what I want to look at. And I make my analogy through the slave citizen's music -- through the music that is most closely associated with him: blues and a later, but parallel development, jazz...the Negro represents, or is symbolic of, something in and about the nature of American culture.....
The blues continuum is both the what and the who about which LeRoi Jones is writing.