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Detroit has been at the center of controversy and financial distress for many years. Between its impending bankruptcy, rebirth and the constant criticism it receives, it’s safe to say there is no more room left for error on the city’s part.

But one thing that never seems to fail is the musical allegiance and talent that its residents naturally encompass. From Diana Ross to Eminem, from the Winans to Jack White, from Aretha Franklin to Juan Atkins, this city boasts a long list of musical icons from multiple genres who rep the D to the fullest.

In terms of hip hop specifically, Detroit has continuously churned out hit makers (Eminem, Big Sean, Royce da 5’9, Danny Brown, etc.) and now add to that list two new hot rap artists who are destined to enhance the city’s reputation for producing amazing musicians. Detroit Che and DeJ Loaf are seriously making some noise on the local and national scene right now.

Both artists were raised in the D and have been on their grind to get their music out to the masses. Che and DeJ have mad skills and they don’t let their femininity or small stature interfere with their hardcore rhymes, intense appeal and unique lyrical flow. Detroit Che was recently selected as one of the Hot 16 contest winners for the BET Cypher, where up and coming rappers get to freestyle at the BET Hip Hop Awards. She is the first female winner of the annual BET Cypher challenge. DeJ Loaf’s new single “Try Me” is blowing up all over the country and has gotten the MC co-signs from some of the hottest artists in the game including Drake and Wiz Khalifa. Dej’s sing-rap-along style in the song may sound sweet, but she goes straight ham on anyone who dare step to her in a negative way. If you are new to DeJ Loaf and Detroit Che, you won’t be for long. Here are a few facts about the artists:


The lowdown:

Detroit Che, whose real name is Cherrish, started rapping at seven-years old. She played basketball in high school, and put down the pen for a bit, but picked up rhyming again in 12th grade.

She won the Imported from Detroit contest at the underground hip hop venue The Shelter and got to perform at the Hot 107.5 Summer Jamz event this past June.


She dropped her debut mixtape NOAH in early 2014 and it includes her lead single “Talk My “s&%$”, a fierce, in your face tune that gives listeners a taste of Che’s rough poetic style. Some of her musical influences include Kendrick Lamar, Missy Elliott, and Eminem. She is currently working on her followup project NOAH 2, which is scheduled to drop in 2015.

Catch her on the BET Hip Hop Awards on Tuesday, October 14 at 8pm. Check out her BET Cypher feature here.



The Lowdown:

Deja, more popularly known as DeJ Loaf, 23, hails from the east side of Detroit and has been jotting down lyrics since she was nine-years old. She attended Saginaw State University after high school, but dropped out after three semesters to focus more on her music.


She released her debut mixtape Just Do It in 2012 and is currently affiliated with the the music movement IGBM (I’ve Been Gettin Money) which includes Detroit artists/producers   SAYITAINTTONE, Oba Rowland, DJ Limelightz, and DDS. Her latest single “Try Me”, produced by DDS, was released in July and has quickly gained a ton of buzz. The song has been remixed by a lot of artists, including Wiz Khalifa. Some of her musical influences include E-40 and Jay-Z.

DeJ Loaf is currently working on a new album.


With the immense popularity of Australian rapper Iggy Azalea’s hit record “Fancy” I decided to revisit a blog post I wrote a couple years ago about a few up and coming rappers, one of which was Azalea. Although it may seem as if Azalea just popped up from out of nowhere, she’s actually been tugging for the crown for a few years ever since dropping her raunchy mixtape Ignorant Art in 2011. Now the 24-year old is on her way to rap royalty and has one of the hottest songs of the summer. 

But just because Azelea is on top now, doesn’t mean there are not tons of female MC’s looking to take her spot, and/or add their name to the growing list of dominating women hip hop artists. The new Oxygen reality show “Sisterhood of Hip Hop” follows the daily lives of five aspiring female rappers who are all trying to make it to the top. It seems that T.I., who executive produces the show is all for female empowerment in hip hop, especially since he is a major force behind Azalea’s success. The five women of the Sisterhood are Pharrell signee Bia, former Crime Mob member Diamond, Miami-bred rapper Brianna Perry, Timbaland mentee Nyemiah Supreme and the openly gay Siya, according to USA Today

Based on the previews, the rappers seem to be all about the business and are more concerned about making sure their skills are superior and focusing on career longevity rather than just trying to get a hit single and get rich. 

The show debuts tonight at 9p.m. ET/PT on the Oxygen network.

From left: Nyemiah, Bia, Brianna, Diamond and Siya.

Over the last few months, it seems that record labels and concert promoters have really been busy trying to duplicate Michael Jackson’s music and appearance. His posthumous album Xscape was recently released to overwhelming success and he appeared as a hologram at last month’s Billboard Music Awards.

It’s all good and dandy that MJ admirers want to keep his music and spirit alive, but trying to duplicate a legend cannot be done. Trying to release what “they think” Jackson would have approved of is not right. And continuing to make a big fuss over his “alleged” love affairs and lawsuits is just plain disrespectful.

The five year anniversary of Jackson’s death can be very hard to fathom, especially since his death was so unexpected and tragic. But, instead of doing what record execs and the entertainment masses all think he may have wanted, they should do like the rest of MJ fans, and just let him rest in peace and continue to honor his immense musical legacy.

So today, as his music is played in rotation,  articles are written about him, and tributes are held, let’s focus on and remember all the music Jackson created while he was with us. And remember the incredible influence he had and continues to have on artists.

“People ask me how I make music. I tell them I just step into it. It’s like stepping into a river and joining the flow. Every moment in the river has its song.”
― Michael Jackson

The meaning of life is contained in every single expression of life. It is present in the infinity of forms and phenomena that exist in all of creation.

Check out previous MJ tributes on Roots Rhythm and Ryhme:

Celebrating the life and legacy of Michael Jackson

Never can say goodbye: Memories of Michael



E. Azalia Hackley (1867-1922)

Every year since 1979, the music of African Americans has been celebrated during June in what is known as African-American Music Appreciation Month or Black Music Month.

Some of the most popular African American musicians are recognized on magazine covers, in exhibits, on television shows and in documentaries. While it is totally cool to acknowledge the achievements of singers and musicians, we must not forget to also pay tribute to the composers, teachers, archivists, and educators who have kept this music alive and have continued to preserve its legacy so that everyone has the opportunity to learn more about and be inspired by Black music’s power and impact.

A good example of African American music appreciation is the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts. The Hackley Collection is an archive located  inside the Detroit Public Library that houses materials such as books, manuscripts, and concert sheet music of African American performing artists and many of the items date back to the mid-19th century. The collection was named after Emma Azalia Smith Hackley, an African American singer, political activist and teacher from Detroit. Hackley was an extremely gifted musician who trained some of the most prominent African American classical music artists such as Marion Anderson, tenor Roland Hayes and composer Nathaniel Dett.

The collection was established in 1943 and named after Hackley in honor of her contributions to music both in Detroit and nationally. This collection was the first archive dedicated solely to African American music in the world.

This collection has been often been called a well-kept gem in Detroit and has not gotten the world-wide recognition it deserves. It is easy to just pick up a book or watch a documentary about a well-known artist. But nothing compares to truly visualizing  materials that have such historical significance and have helped to trace the legacy of legendary artists.

I encourage everyone, if they have not already done so, to visit an archive like The Hackley Collection and learn more about the history of African American music.

Here are a few places where archives of African American music can be found.

Archives of African American Music and Culture at Indiana University

The Center for Black Music Research at Columbia Collecge Chicago

Center for Southern African-American Music at University of South Carolina

To learn more about the Hackley Collection, visit the Detroit Public Library website and The Hackley website.

The Hackley collection also has an organization called The Friends of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection (FAH) and they are committed to increasing awareness and financial resources for the Hackley Collection. To learn more about this organization, click here.

big tez

We’re at a time in hip hop where plenty of rappers are called, but few are chosen. There are always a ton of artists who feel that they are changing the game and influencing other MC’s, but to really change or impact someone, their lyrics have to be authentic and speak genuine truth.

In Detroit, there are some great underground artists who are striving to make good, lyrically creative music that inspires and elevates others to greatness. Cortez Martin, also known as “Big Tez” is one rapper who is going against the odds of hip hop and promoting positive messages all wrapped within a serious flow. The Detroit native is set to release his third mixtape Boiling Point on May 17. His style has been compared to hip hop heavyweights J. Cole, Wale and Dizzy Wright.

Roots, Rhythm, and Rhyme recently spoke with Big Tez about his new mixtape, his goals as a rapper, and going down a different path in hip hop.

Upcoming Shows

  • Thursday May 1, 2014. “TASTE Talent Showcase” The UntitledBottega 314 E. Baltimore Ave  Detroit, MI 48202
  • Saturday, May 24 2014.  The Bullfrog 15414 Telegraph Rd  Redford Charter Township, MI 48223


How long have you been rapping?

I have been rapping since I was in the eighth grade. I did a school project for Black History Month and I was in marching band and my teacher asked me to rap. I didn’t think nothing of it at the time but it spread around the school and we became popular so I had to keep with it. I chose a topic of Harriet Tubman and the feedback I got from the audience was great. I started to see how words can control a crowd and sometimes I just want to walk into a room and have power without doing anything, I want my words to do the moving.

Your new mixtape is called Boiling Point. What can people expect from this new mixtape?

This mixtape is a little different than the other mixtapes I have done. It wasn’t rushed. I consider it to be one hundred percent authentic. I’m not a dope dealer, I’m not the average rapper you are going to hear coming out of Detroit. It’s rejuvenating hip hop, bringing hip hop back in a sense in Detroit.

Where did the title of the mixtape come from?

I was angry when I came up with the name so I figured why not name it boiling point because its a lot of things that I’m tired of. I’m tired of the fabricated music that’s being let loose on the airwaves. There are also some fun songs on there as well, its mainly just me revealing my true thoughts and me saying things that I might not be able to say in terms of talking and song form was the only way to do it.

I put my all into it. It’s all about the content. “‘Don’t Let Go” featuring Maria is probably one of my favorite songs on the mixtape because I’m talking about my mom and its all a true story. I believe its a song a lot of people will be able to relate to.

Tell me about Lyrically Injected Music Group and your involvement with the company?

I created Lyrically Injected Music Group in 2012. I didn’t have anybody in terms of production or management, it was just me. I met my current business partner Jerel Jones through some people, and within the last year we decided to team up.  He invited me onto his radio show a couple times. It was something about him and we were equally determined. We are in the final stages of launching the company. The company is mainly a group of talented minded individuals who use words as art form.

Who are some of your musical influences?

I’m really influenced by the new generation, J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Dizzy Wright, Chance The Rapper. I like when people step outside of the box and do something different.

What are some of your goals as an artist?

I want to make music that everybody can listen to.  I do use profane language from time to time, but it deals in the context where its being used in a respectful way. I played some sample songs for people over 50 and I got positive feedback from them, which is good because we can’t reach out to the older generation if they feel like everybody is a thug and its about a particular lifestyle that they may not be a part of. For me, its mainly about trying to educate yourself. I had a positive upbringing. I was fortunate to have both my parents and that has a lot to do with my writing process.

Its not about the money, I just want people to appreciate the music, and if I can make an honest living by helping people appreciate music, that’s where I want to be.

You can check out Big Tez’s mixtapes at Dat Piff.

You can check him out on Twitter, Facebok and Instagram  @TeamBigTez 

Big Tez

What would Motown be without Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, the legendary Marvin Gaye or its founder Berry Gordy? The better question is “What would Motown be without the Funk Brothers?” While this musical collective never released their own records under the Motown label, they were a vital part of the iconic Motown sound and shaped the overall voice of Young America. But many people, like myself, had no idea who the Funk Brothers were until the 2002 documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown was released and showcased the history of the Detroit-based studio musicians who backed tons of Motown artists and played on more number one hits than Elvis Presley, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. They were the city’s unsung heroes and other than within Motown circles, they never got their due credit for helping to create such timeless music.


From left to right: Woodrow Chenowith, Don Babock, Vincent York, Matthew Balmer, Dwight Adams. Photo Courtesy of Lars Bjorn

The documentary started the discussion about the Funk Brothers and allowed many of the studio musicians, both living and deceased, to receive more exposure outside of the Detroit area. But, the conversation about the Funk Brothers should not have stopped after the documentary. The Motown Jazz Project is one undertaking that is continuing to highlight the legacy of these musicians and also showcase the fact that most of the Funk Brothers were jazz musicians and/or came from a jazz background. This effort was established through a collaborative partnership with the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, Eastern Michigan University, EMU’s Department of Music and Dance , and local Detroit jazz musicians.

The Motown Jazz Project presented their first concert on Saturday, April 5, at EMU’s Student Center and it featured a number of Detroit area jazz musicians who have ties to Motown artists. The band was led by veteran guitarist Ron English, a Funk Brother himself, who played with Motown acts such as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and the Four Tops and featured keyboardist Al McKenzie, musical director for The Temptations and Martha Reeves; Darrell Smith, former music director for The Spinners; saxophonist/flutist Vincent York, former musical director for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas; trumpeter Dwight Adams, who regularly tours with Stevie Wonder; and drummer Ron Otis, who tours with contemporary Motown artist Kem.

Together, with vocals by Toledo-based singer Ramona Collins, the band performed a list of popular Motown tunes by The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and The Supremes and more. There’s no denying the ageless power in the Motown sound and that was proven by the ethnically diverse crowd, from young to old, singing along to the catchy, rhythm-driven tunes such as The Temptations’ “My Girl,” Diana Ross and The Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love,” and the Motown classic “Dancing in the Street” by Martha Reeves and Vandellas, which Collins purposely ended the show with to get people dancing in their seats.

Ramona Collins

Vocalist Ramona Collins. Photo Courtesy of Lars Bjorn

The Motown Jazz Project further confirmed the major influence the Detroit jazz musicians had on creating the Motown musical process. Even if there had been no vocalist singing the songs, there would have been just as many people clapping and dancing along to the funky, upbeat grooves provided by the band. The Motown Jazz Project did not even scratch the surface of Motown’s extensive musical catalog.

The band could have gone on for hours and hours and still not have covered every song the Funk Brothers played on. With the success of the concert, SEMJA just might make this an annual event where people come out to both celebrate Motown and the important contributions of Detroit jazz musicians. For more information about the Funk Brothers, CLICK HERE.


Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life

— Art Blakey

The first time I read the above quote by the jazz drumming extraordinaire Art Blakey, it was in my  jazz music history course at UM-Dearborn. At the time, I didn’t know exactly what Mr. Blakey was talking about and why he thought jazz was so important that it could erase the obstacles in a person’s life. I was still very much a jazz novice, and did not understand the legacy of this music and why it was so important to people. But, throughout my history class, I learned just how important jazz is and why it should be appreciated by everyone.

The history of jazz itself is one of the greatest stories every told and truly showcases the legacy of a triumphant group of people who didn’t let society keep them from expressing their creativity. If anything, their struggles resulted in great music and it has helped to shape the overall spectrum of American music.

While many may think that music, jazz in particular, cannot rid someone of pain or issue s in their life, just ask any musician or fan of jazz, and they will quickly attest to the truth in Blakey’s statement. There is peace in jazz melodies and rhythms, and it does have the power to change a person’s mood. Louis Armstrong once said that “what we (musicians) play is life and that jazz is played from the heart. You can even live by it.”

Armstrong is one of many who has benefited from the music’s healing power. Armstrong is one of the most, if not the most revered musician in jazz, period. His superior skills on the trumpet shaped the sound of jazz and he has influenced tons of musicians from all types of genres. But, judging from his legendary status, its hard to imagine that he was abandoned by his parents and even spent time in a juvenile facility in New Orleans because of his behavior. It was in this facility that Armstrong fully devloped his skills on the cornet, and later on the trumpet. Despite his difficult childhood, he went on to become a jazz legend. And my guess is it was his love of the music that kept him going and even with the intense racism that he, as well as tons of other African American musicians endured, they continued to fight their battles using music as their swords.

When I listen to jazz, I not only find peace and inspiration in the hard driving or soft rhythms and soothing melodies, but I also think about how much passion and work these artists put into making this music.

This is one of the reasons why jazz should be celebrated. Every April is Jazz Appreciation Month and it was created to be an annual event that would pay tribute to jazz as both a living and as a historic music. In honor of JAM, concerts are hosted by various organizations, jazz lectures are held at academic institutions and the music itself is celebrated in various ways.

To learn more about how you can participate in Jazz Appreciation Month, visit


Black Women Rock, 2014 in Detroit, from

Steffanie Christian (right). Courtesy of Flickr. Photo by Tanya Moutzalias | CultureSource. Click here for more photos.

If you have never heard of Betty Davis, then Detroit poet jessica Care moore’s annual Black Women Rock concert will definitely give you a sense of her spirit and hardcore energy.

moore started the concert ten years ago as a tribute to Davis, an African American female rock ‘n’ roll artist who was married to Miles Davis in the 1960s and who introduced him to pioneering rock/funk artists like Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone. Betty’s influence on Miles inspired his transition to jazz fusion  in the later 1960s, which produced iconic records like Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way.

Ms. Davis was a firecracker in her own right and in addition to modeling, she also recorded a few controversial albums throughout the 1970s. Although she never attained critical success as an artist, she was way ahead of her time displaying an independent, badass attitude and sexual demeanor that was not admired at the time, but is now celebrated by female artists today.

Ms. moore learned about Betty Davis after she received a compliment from The Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. He told her she smiled like Betty Davis, and at the time she didn’t know who Davis was, but after falling in love with her story, she decided she wanted to educate others about Davis, and this resulted in the first Black Women Rock concert at the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta.

This past Saturday, the concert took place at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, where its been held for the last four years.

Since its inception, Black Women Rock has become a grassroots movement that gives  women from nontraditional musical backgrounds a space to be creative and showcase their artistic talent. The entire production is run by women, and the concert is a complete rock experience filled with  excitement from beginning to end.

This year, the concert welcomed back an amazing group of vocalists, musicians, and artists who rocked the stage. The show was sold out, as it has been for the last few years, and it was no different as people lined up outside the door to get into the theater.

The show began with a clip of singer Nina Simone championing the beauty of African American culture, and was followed by a tribal dance, which included moore, who served as the MC of the show and one of the night’s performers.

Seattle based artist Kimberly Nichole, also known as the “rock ballerina” because of her ballerina stage attire, was the first performer of the night and her set was accompanied by heavy-based guitar licks and powerful vocals from the young songstress. She lit the stage up with her dark, acoustic driven song “It Ain’t Fair,” but an audio failure caused her to have to restart the song. The audience didn’t mind one bit because they just got more time with Nichole, who joked with the crowd until the audio was fixed.

The audio failures were the only annoying part of the show, which thankfully only took place at the beginning.

Kimberly Nichole. Courtesy of Flickr. Photo by Tanya Moutzalias | CultureSource

Punk rock/soul artist Tamar Kali graced the stage next and brought her hardcore essence to the show. Kali is one of the many  artists who have performed at Black Women Rock throughout the years. World music artist Imani Uzuri is another  artist that has been rocking with the show since its debut in 2004. Uzuri has a dynamic, soulful voice and turned the show into a full-fledged blues shouting show during her dedication performance to black women.

While Uzuri’s set was more soulful and calming, there were no holds barred during Detroit based rock/soul artist Steffanie Christi’ian’s performance, which was was by far the most edgy and entertaining. Christi’an definitely showcased that gut-wrenching rock sound Detroit is known for, especially when she was dancing all over the stage and engaging in a battle with the guitarist. But, it was her rough, soul-driven vocals that stole the show, especially when she performed “What You Gonna Do” and the rock heavy tune”Hit.”

What keeps people coming back every year for this show to see artists that are not mainstream is because of the fact that they are not your conventional artists. All of the artists are successful in their own right and have the support of indie labels and a core group of fans.

And with Black Women Rock, more people are discovering these immensely talented female independent rock artists. During the show, moore announced that Black Women Rock will be showcased at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City and at the Apollo Theater in 2015.

Artists like Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey would be so proud of this concert. Betty Davis, the woman who inspired this concert, is well aware of its existence and I’m sure is excited to see women like her continuing her legacy.

Check out my article about Black Women Rock here

If 2014 did not start out great and optimistic for you, then there is one song that can definitely boost your mood. The simplistic, yet catchy funk tune “Happy” by Pharrell Williams is one of the most cheerful and positive tunes that has gotten air play in a while on both pop and urban radio stations. But if anybody could pull this off, it’s the music mogul Skateboard P. The boyishly handsome writer/producer/artist, who is 40 by the way, has been in the game for over 20 years, and, along with his production team The Neptunes, has produced  magnum hits for the likes of  Britney Spears, Nelly, Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, and Beyonce, just to name a few.

And as an artist, he hasn’t done bad either. His introduction as an artist came in 2001 when his band N.E.R.D. released their eclectic album In Search of…   His nonchalant, falsetto has also appeared on tons of hits by hip hop royalty like Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg, and he released his his debut project In My Mind in 2006, which found him switching between rapping and crooning to the ladies.

Although he may have seemed to drop off the musical radar the last few years in terms of singing, he more than made up for his absence by producing and being featured on two of the biggest records of 2013: Robin Thicke’s controversial, sexcapade “Blurred Lines” and the techno club banger “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk.

He took home multiple Grammy’s for “Get Lucky” in January and was also nominated for an Academy Award for “Happy” which was featured in the animated film Despicable Me 2. (check out his stunning performance of the song at the Oscars here)

So, if this is how Williams bounces back onto the scene, then everyone needs to jump on the bandwagon and follow his lead.

And today, his new album GIRL hits stores.

The album title is pretty self explanatory, to say the least. The title isn’t an acronym for something that has nothing to do with females and is code for something remotely sexual or disturbing. Williams simply wanted to show his appreciation for all women and give them a record for the ages.

During a listening party for the new album, Williams said that “Women are a phenomenal force in my life and in my career and are the cornerstone of existence.”

GIRL is a sultry, R&B, disco driven, lush experience that encompasses Williams’ boyish fantasies about the opposite sex and his overall love for the ladies as well as his serene views on life.

There are a few guest appearances on the album, mainly artists that Williams  has worked with, but an unlikely collaborator is Oscar winning film composer Hans Zimmer, who scores the orchestration for the first track “Marilyn Monroe.” The intro is composed of strings and futuristic  beats as Williams sings about his longing for a different girl that stunning beauties like Marilyn Monroe or Joan of Arc can’t compare to.

Going through the album is like time-traveling back to the hippy era when just about everything was about the great feeling of being in love and how life is supposed to be filled with roses and lilies in the valley. The Woodstock vibe especially kicks into gear when Williams sings lines like “Life to me is easy/People make it complicated/When love is the tool/No reason we can’t make it” on the Jackson 5-ish feel good record “Brand New” featuring Justin Timberlake.

Just when you think that boyish charm and “worshiping women” mentality will continue, like on “It Girl” and the tribal escapade “Lost Queen,” he hits you with that hip hop version of love, which is much more dirty and blunt than the passionate codes he speaks in before. And this kind of distinction is what makes the album work and is what defines Williams as an artist and producer.

His laid-back nature never leaves, it just takes a detour to another musical planet, where tunes like the mid-tempo R&B jam “Gush” and “Come Get It” exist, and reveal the explicit side of a Virginia Beach kid who used to fantasize about girls in the gym locker room.

He can’t help that he’s a ladies man. Just looking at the album cover explains it all. The cover shows Williams in a cool “I’m the man” stance standing beside a group of modelesque females in bathrobes. He caught some slack for the revealing album cover for its “lack of minority women” in the image. But that controversial bit didn’t keep Williams down. He even went on record as saying that there was an African American woman in the picture and that he felt bad that people were so caught up on this issue rather than celebrating the fact that he made this album for women.

We could all learn something from Mr. Williams about keeping calm and just living in the moment. GIRL definitely showcases his love of eclecticism and not going where the crowd is, but finding a new path to travel down. He’s a perfect example of what critic Nelson George defines as “retronuevo” which is taking something from the past and putting a different spin on it. If Williams can bring 1970s vibes back and make us millennials wish we grew up during the disco era, then he has succeeded in his goal.

4 out of 5 stars

Gee, but it’s hard to love someone
When that someone don’t love you
I’m so disgusted, heartbroken, too
I’ve got those downhearted blues… 1[]

Classic blues singer Bessie Smith recorded the above lyrics from the song “Downhearted Blues” on February 16, 1923. The song was her first single and it sold 780,000 records in the first six months and would go on to sell 2 million copies. [2]

Bessie Smith

Smith, along with artists like Gertrude Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith, and Alberta Hunter were responsible for bringing the blues to the forefront of America and introduced people outside of the African American community to the deep, emotional experiences that black women went through.

Classic Female Blues was a genre dominated by women in the 1920s and was the first blues genre to gain national popularity. The genre transitioned from a primarily vaudeville type of the music to a more professional entertainment based music when Mamie Smith became the first artist to record a vocal blues song in 1920.

Once record execs saw the immense demand for Smith’s first recording (which sold a million copies in a year), more female artists began recording blues records and touring around the country.

At the root of every lyric sung by any blues woman laid her sexuality and in political activist and scholar Angela Davis’ book, Blues Legacies and Black Femisim: Gertrude “Ma Rainey,” Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday she discusses how different forms of love were present in the themes of classic blues music.  “One of the most obvious ways in which the blues lyrics deviated from popular musical culture,” Davis explained, “was their provocative and pervasive sexual-including homosexual-imagery.[3]

Mamie Smith

Other themes that were articulated in women’s blues music were violence, marriage, heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and  traveling.

The music of blues women had a profound social influence on working class women. Due to the independent, courageous outlook blues singers presented in their music, they encouraged working class women to be more liberal and the artists also served as a voice for underrepresented females.
Classic blues singers also influenced the move toward black women’s’ ideology within an academic context. Many feminist scholars like Davis and Hazel Carby have cited the impact that blues singers have had on their work.
Part II of the series will showcase folk blues artists Robert Johnson and Leadbelly.



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