How Blues Influenced Modern Music


According to Glenn McDonald, there are approximately 1,264 genres of music. From classical, to rock, to hip-hop, to jazz, the sounds created by musicians within these styles provide auditory pleasure for people all over the world. What many people may not know however, is that much of what we hear today, i.e. pop music, was influenced directly by a single genre that we refer to as the blues.

Drawing its roots from traditional African music and spirituals sung by slaves as they were brought over to America and Europe, blues became prominent throughout the southern United States during the 19th century. As the genre grew, more and more artists began to emerge in what became known as  the most influential category of music the world had seen at that time. Artists like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, and Leadbelly are commonly referred to as some of the earliest blues musicians who credited their fame to the genre.

As the repertoire expanded and the music began to take on several different variations, more genres of music were created. One popular category of music that harnesses the rhythm of blues is hip-hop. The rhythm and percussion patterns of blues is derived mainly from African drumming, and is a unique mix of cadences that can be heard throughout the hip-hop world. Many artists today even sample vocals and guitar riffs from popular blues songs in the early 20th century.

Jazz, depending on its sub genre, is an energetic collection of all kinds of instruments that can trace its beginnings back to blues as well. Originally, the slow, triplet feel of blues was transitioned to horn instruments, spawning the birth of jazz. The only difference during its early stages was that jazz used horns and woodwinds for musical flare rather than guitars. Saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and clarinets were popularized quickly, which birthed even more jazz categories, leading to more complex sub genres of fast tempos and odd time signatures.

The genre of R&B is literally categorized as blues, as it stands for “rhythm and blues.” It is known for its heavy inclusion of soul, and the demanding style of vocals required to emit a truly emotional feel. Early forms of blues included passionate vocals, commonly referring to hardships that certain singers had endured. Much of R&B derives its vocal style from this, and the instrumentation is an accompaniment that very rarely outshines the vocals.
One of the most obvious genres of music that draws heavy inspiration from blues is rock. Seeing as guitar is typically the most prominent instrument in a rock band, the style of guitar played in blues influenced countless rock guitarists. The genre (specifically Muddy Waters) even went so far as to give The Rolling Stones their band name. Many classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Pink Floyd incorporated blues in some form or another, giving praise to the many artists that poured their hearts and souls out on the earliest recordings of blues.