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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 276

In Blues People, Amiri Baraka both traces the history of American blues music and contextualizes musical production in the racial and cultural climates of the times in which the music’s writers and performers lived. The result is a work as complex, multilayered, and syncopated as the music about which he writes. Baraka, writing in the 1960s, strongly advocated for the importance of the difficult circumstances of African American peoples’ lives as a necessary precondition of the blues. Looking back to the earliest days of slavery and identifying, when possible, the African roots of colonial-era American music, Baraka shows that the enslaved condition of most Africans brought to the New World greatly influenced the themes of their music. Although many other historians, sociologists, and anthropologists of music have since applied this perspective, it was not the usual approach at the time.

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Structuring the work around three interrelated themes, Baraka stresses the unity among genres previously often seen as diverse. He also gives a chronological sequence of musical developments. Looking at the twentieth century, when African American music gained further acceptance in mainstream society, he places special emphasis on the Jazz Age (1920s) forward.

Noting as well that contemporary (for him, post-World War II) conditions still indicated the challenges in social position for most African Americans, Baraka recognized the advances brought by the Civil Rights movement, but at the same time called on the music world at large to recognize pain and discrimination as ongoing sources of the power of diverse black musical genres. Blues, in this scenario, includes spirituals, work songs, ragtime, jazz, rock, and R&B—linked into what he terms the “blues continuum.”


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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 181

Amiri Baraka wrote Blues People with the intention of focusing on the people behind blues music; where it originated from, people who made it, and the cultural production of it. He traces and questions the descendants of slavery who created the new American musical genre that changed 'Negroes' into 'African Americans'. Baraka's social theory in Blues People marks the beginnings of cultural studies and critical race theory in 20th century African American Thought. He offers a contemporary panoramic view on the sociocultural history of African Americans through blues music. Baraka argues that many blues singers like Luis Armstrong to Blind Lemon Jefferson have confronted racism, poverty, and Jim Crow. Jazz , a cultural achievement, has been able to use foreign influence within its broader spectrum but is downplayed by Eurocentric whites. Baraka attributes this to the superiority displayed by Europeans who believe that everything has to come from Europe. A remarkable moment observed by Baraka is that each song in Blues music told an individual story of African American history. It is from there that we can read about African American history.

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 573

In his introduction, Amiri Baraka states that Blues People: Negro Music in White America is a theoretical book exploring the movement of black Americans from African slaves to American citizens using the analogy of black music. One can learn, Baraka believes, much about American society by looking at how slaves saw music as compared to how modern African Americans see themselves as expressed through jazz.

In the first of his fifteen essays, Baraka begins tracing how Africans became Americans by combining studies of anthropology, sociology, history, linguistics, and musicology. He discusses the changes in slavery from the first generations through the nineteenth...

(The entire section contains 1087 words.)

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