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Why is Blues Considered the Devil's Music?


The blues, often dubbed the "Devil's music," stands as a cornerstone of musical heritage, weaving a narrative rich with emotion and history. Originating in the African-American communities of the American South, the blues genre has profoundly influenced the landscape of modern music, shaping genres like rock, jazz, and soul.

This article explores the intriguing association with the devilish moniker, offering insights into its enduring legacy and global resonance.

Unpacking the "Devil's Music" Label

Origins of the Moniker

The label "Devil's music" has its roots in the early 20th century, a time when the blues was burgeoning in the American South. This term often reflected the conservative societal views of the era, where the blues' themes of hardship, rebellion, and sensuality clashed with religious and moral norms. The music's raw emotional power and the nocturnal, often rowdy nature of juke joints where it was played led to its association with sin and the devil.

Religious and Social Tensions

In the deeply religious communities of the South, the blues was seen as a threat to spiritual and moral well-being. The music's exploration of worldly pleasures and human suffering was at odds with the Christian ideals of piety and restraint. This tension between secular and sacred worlds contributed to the demonisation of the blues, casting it as a corrupting force.

Cultural Rebellion and Expression

Despite, or perhaps because of, its controversial status, the blues became a symbol of cultural identity and resistance for African-American communities. The genre provided a means of expressing not only personal woes but also a collective sense of defiance against societal constraints. The "Devil's music" label, rather than diminishing its appeal, enhanced the mystique and allure of the blues, embedding it deeper into the cultural consciousness.

The notion of the blues as "Devil's music" is a complex interplay of cultural, religious, and social narratives, reflecting broader themes of conflict and change in American society. This label has become part of the legend of the blues, contributing to its mystique and enduring legacy in the world of music.

The Legend of Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson was an American blues singer and guitarist, whose skill was so profound and whose rise to fame was so rapid that it led to the creation of this legend. According to the tale, Johnson met the devil at a crossroads near Dockery Plantation in Mississippi, where he traded his soul for his extraordinary abilities in guitar playing.

This story is part of the rich folklore surrounding Johnson's life and work. There's no factual evidence to support the claim; it's likely a combination of his mysterious life, his early death at the age of 27, and the lyrical themes of some of his songs, which include references to the devil and other supernatural themes.

Characteristics of the Blues

At the heart of the blues is its distinctive sound, characterised by the use of the blue note, a pitch that falls slightly between the major and minor scale, creating a feeling of emotional tension and release. In fact, this interval has actually been called the ‘devil’s interval’ throughout musical history! This tonal quality, along with call-and-response patterns and a repetitive twelve-bar chord progression, forms the backbone of the blues sound.

Conclusion: The Blues as a Cultural Beacon

The journey of the blues, from its roots in the American South to its status as a global musical force, illustrates its profound impact on the cultural and musical landscape. Dubbed the "Devil's music," the blues transcended this label to become a symbol of emotional authenticity and resilience. Its narrative of struggle and triumph resonates with diverse audiences, making it a universal language of the human spirit.

The blues genre's ability to adapt and evolve while maintaining its essence ensures its ongoing relevance in the contemporary music scene. As a testament to its enduring appeal, the blues continues to influence artists across genres and generations, weaving its rich sonic and emotional tapestry into the fabric of global music culture.

In preserving the blues' heritage and fostering its future growth, we honour a legacy that is not only about musical notes and rhythms but also about the stories, struggles, and dreams of humanity. The blues, with its deep roots and wide-reaching branches, remains a vital, dynamic force in music and cultural history, echoing the timeless narrative of the human condition.


The Label of the Devil's Music and the Blues

Blues was termed "the Devil's music" due to its origins in African American spirituals and work songs that dealt with themes of suffering and adversity, often clashing with the conservative Christian values of the time. The music's raw emotional intensity and its association with juke joints and nightlife contributed to this perception.

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