Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 624

This study of African American history remains notable for both its straightforward, objective style and its detailed, informative content, which is clearly written and logically organized. Until the third section of Blues People, Baraka’s personal opinion is less important than those of the scholars and contemporary authors whom he cites throughout the book to develop and illustrate his points, demonstrating Baraka’s wide range of reading and research. His study is credible and authoritative because of the care and intelligence devoted to the project, and young readers can rely on Blues People to be a useful, imaginative, and readily understandable overview of black life in America up to 1963.

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Readers should be aware, however, that Baraka keeps to his thesis of using music as his focal theme and that much of African American culture is not touched on in Blues People. For example, he has little to say about the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s, and there are only passing references to African American literature, political leaders, or spokespeople outside of the musical milieu. Early critics of the book decried these omissions. As Baraka himself remains a noted dramatist, poet, essayist, and important civil activist on black issues, such omissions may seem surprising in the context of his prolific and productive writing career. Yet, on its own, Blues People amply serves the author’s stated purpose and is an important cultural study of its intended subject.

The book can be divided into three parts—the first (chapters 1 through 5) being a historical background of black culture and music, the second (chapters 6 through 10) being a detailed history of black music, and the third (chapters 11 and 12) being an interpretative survey of important black musicians after 1930. During the first third of Blues People, Baraka’s scope is broad and inclusive, but it narrows when he begins his discussion of music in the twentieth century. In the middle chapters, he presents a detailed chronicle of African American music that, while discussed in a wider social context, is primarily useful as a cursory overview for those readers interested in black musicology.

The third section, being more subjective and analytical, is also more personal. Baraka integrates recollections from his youth with an encyclopedic knowledge of the music of his own generation to describe the musicians and developments as both musical and cultural criticism. For example, he praises the “hard” blues that honestly reflect a culture and decries the watered-down commercialism of swing and...

(The entire section contains 624 words.)

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