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  • Writer's pictureMusic History Hall

Electric Blues: The Blues in the City

Updated: Feb 3

The Blues in the Mississippi Delta sounded rural - country - from the Bayou.

After the period of Reconstruction ended after the Civil War, formerly enslaved people started moving north to cities - looking for opportunities for a better life and a way out of the sharecropping system in the South.

The Great Migration - African Americans began leaving the South in 1910, but the exodus to the North steadily increased during World War II in the 1940s during the second wave of The Great Migration. Northern cities offered jobs and the promise of a better life to oppressed people in the South. Nearly six million people left the South in the early to mid-1900s.

Former sharecroppers migrated north via trains or boats on the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River is part of the largest river system in North America. It runs through ten U.S. states and defines portions of their borders. Blues music from southern plantations traveled upriver to cities - Memphis, St. Louis, Kansas City, and over to Chicago.

When the sharecroppers arrived in the cities it was loud and busy and a new invention was created - the electric guitar. The former plantation workers now had completely different lives with factory jobs. They had brought the blues with them from the south and the rhythms merged with the new sounds and pace of life in the north.

They were playing the same music, but the songs were more citified and edgy with instruments like the harmonica and electric guitar. The music was still the blues - but sounded more exciting. Some people call electric blues the "Chicago Blues."

Blues musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Little Walter made the trip to the North and became the purveyors of electric blues. They were recorded by Chess Records and these recordings contain the seeds of early rock and roll music.

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