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blues neon sign

Blues music is most commonly known for its subject matter – melancholy songs about love, loss, and injustice. But the genre actually began as a specific pattern of chord progressions that evolved from a uniquely American, Afro-Anglo musical blend. The twelve-bar blues remains the most famous as well as the most common form of blues music.

The history of the blues is hotly debated among musical historians and fans alike. Many books attempt to clarify the murky origin of this musical genre and trace its evolution from the Mississippi Delta to Texas, then Chicago, and finally across the entire globe. Check out these books from KHCPL’s collection to learn more.

book cover

 book cover

Others like to frame blues history around one of its most legendary musicians. Here are some of the many blues biographies:

But there is no need to understand its rich and complex history to appreciate blues music. All one needs to do is listen.

One of the best resources for blues music, especially for digitally remastered recordings of early blues musicians, is Freegal. Freegal is a free music service that can be accessed with your library card. KHCPL patrons can download 5 songs in mp3 file format per week and stream 5 hours of music per day.

Lead Belly photo

Early Blues Musicians on Freegal include:

  • Lead Belly
  • Willie Brown
  • Son House
  • Skip James
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • Robert Johnson
  • Tommy Johnson
  • Charley Patton
  • Bukka White

Bessie Smith photo

Influential Blues Musicians on Freegal include:

  • B.B. King – “The King of Blues”
  • Bessie Smith – “The Empress of Blues”
  • Big Bill Broonzy – brought blues north to Chicago
  • Elmore James – “The King of Slide Guitar”
  • Howlin' Wolf – Chicago Blues pioneer
  • John Lee Hooker – electric Delta Blues pioneer
  • Lead Belly – “The King of the 12-String Guitar”
  • Lonnie Johnson – first jazz guitarist
  • Ma Rainey -- “The Mother of the Blues”
  • Muddy Waters -- "Father of Modern Chicago Blues"
  • T-Bone Walker – first blues musician to use an electric guitar
  • Tampa Red – “The Guitar Wizard”

Blind Willie Johnson photo

Visually Impaired Blues Musicians on Freegal include:

  • Blind Gary Davis
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • Blind Willie Johnson
  • Blind Willie McTell

Kokomo Arnold photo

Freegal even has music by Kokomo Arnold. Although he is not a native son, he takes his name from the city of Kokomo. This blues artist received the nickname Kokomo in 1934 after he released a cover version of "Old Original Kokomo Blues" by Scrapper Blackwell, which is a blues song about Kokomo, Indiana.

Blues Hall Photo

If you’re interested in a mix of music and styles, Freegal also has blues compilation albums. These include:

  • “100 Early Blues Recordings"
  • “American Epic: The Best of Blues”
  • “The Delta Blues Collection”
  • “Early Morning Blues”
  • “Rarest Blues Songs”
  • “Robert Johnson and Heroes of the Delta Blues”

guitar photo

Because almost every genre of popular music today has its roots in blues music, the blues are worth taking a listen to. Just plug in a set of headphones and cue up a track that strikes your fancy. There’s never a better time to play the blues.