Blues Timeline


Blues History


1828 - While minstrel shows were gaining in popularity, the song JumpJim Crow" was being performed by white comedian Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rick in blackface makeup.  The song was allegedly inspired by a crippled African slave by the name of Jim Crow.  After slavery was abolished, blacks themselves performed in traveling shows instead.  One such organization was the Rabbit's Foot Minstrels, who traveled the south performing tent show for nearly 60 years, and gave career starts to artists such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Big Joe Williams and Rufus Thomas.(credit:JD Nash)   
1861 - Led by President Abraham Lincoln, the civil war took place at this time and the struggle to abolish slavery was born. Slaves were used for many years in the South and the blues genre developed from the slaves' harsh work conditions. They created songs that were very spiritual about work, life, and hope. Finally, the civil war brought hope to many slaves. 

1863 -  The emancipation proclamation in 1863 initiated the start of sharecroppers and 'Juke Joints' which were places where African Americans went to listen to music and gamble. This is the period where African spirituals left the group setting and were moved into a more individualized performance. "there was a direct relationship between the national ideological emphasis upon the individual, the popularity of Booker T. Washington's teachings, and the rise of the blues." -Lawrence Levine 

1867 - Three Northern abolitionists publish the book, Slave Songs of the United States.  The book is a collection of 136 African-American songs, mostly spirituals, that were sung by slaves working the Southern plantations.  It was the first and considered the most influential publication of spirituals and folks songs ever published.-(credit-JD Nash)

1885 - Dockery Farms cotton plantation and sawmill was established by Will Dockery.  Many farm workers and itinerant musicians worked. played and traveled through Dockery learning the blues and taking it with them when they traveled on.  Dockery Farms was home to artists such as Henry Sloan, Charley Patton, Son House, Willie Brown, Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Roebuck "Pops" Staples and David "Honeyboy" Edwards. - (credit JD Nash)

1893 "Blind" Lemon Jefferson was born in Coutchman, Texas. Jefferson, who was born blind, began learning guitar in his early teens.  During his relatively short life, he wrote and recorded songs such as "Matchbox Blues" Black Snake Moan" and "See That My Grave is Kept Clean".  He also helped found the Deep Ellum blues movement in Dallas, Texas: traveled and played with fellow country blues artist Lead Belly and taught T-Bone Walker to play guitar. -(credit JD Nash)

1899 - Scott Joplin publishes 'Maple Leaf Rag' Joplin's influence in the development in ragtime greatly influenced early Blues. 

1901 - Reporters and Chroniclers in the Deep South reported on Blues music very early on in the 20th century. Jelly Roll Morton says he first heard Blues in New Orleans in 1902. 

 1902 -  Victor Records issues the first known recordings of African American field hollers known as "Camp Meeting Shouts"
1903 - The Blues had been evolving in America since the slaves came across the Atlantic with their African spirituals. But in 1903 W.C. Handy insisted that he had had the Blues revealed to him by a guitarist at a train station.  He discovers the blues and "12-bar format
1908 -  the first peice of Blues music was published. It was Antonio Maggio's 'I got the Blues'
1912 - The first blues songs, including W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues", are published as sheet music.
1917 – The United States enters World War I. Military and economic mobilization starts the great internal migration of African-America and  exposes American troops to blues music, causing a blues music explosion.
1920 - The first recording of a solo African American was Mamie Smith's 1920 rendition of Perry Bradfords 'Crazy Blues. It sold over 1,000,000 copies in the first year.
1920 - Rural African Americans began migrating to the urban centers thus defining Blues as an individual art form. Prior to this Blues had just been seen as the music of the rural Mississippi delta.
1920 - Big Bill  Broonzy, a Mississipi bluesman, moved to the city of Chicago with his parents in the year of 1920 and packed his heritage with him. He is a key contributer in starting the Chicago Blues genre and popularizing it.
1920 - One of the first Blues artists to emerge out of the 20's was Bessie Smith, who sang the blues and contributed to more modern interpretations of the genre.
1923 - Kentucky born, Sylvester Weaver was the first to record the style known as slide guitar using a knife or a broken off bottle top as a slide on the guitar's fret board.
1923 - Ralph Peer, the famous Artist & Repertory man for Okeh and Victor Records, makes his first field recordings in Atlanta, Georgia, marking the recording debut of both the folk blues and what will later be called country music.
1924- The first male folk blues records, featuring singers Papa Charlie Jackson and Daddy Stovepipe, are issued.
1925 – Electrical recording technology is introduced and blues music is available for wider audience
1925 – Blind Lemon Jefferson, the dominant blues figure of the late 1920s recorded first song
1929 – The early Delta bluesman Charley Patton recorded first song
1929 – Great Depression in the United States southern blacks migrated north north to cities such as New York and along the route of the Illinois Central Railroad toward Chicago. New type of blues was made – Chicago blues and it was more powerful than all types before.
1930- Throughout the 1930's Alan Lomax recorded a wide variety of African American singing styles termed proto-blues, including field hollers and ring shouts

1933 - Huddie Ledbetter aka Lead Belly introduces the Blues to a wider audience. He was the first artist to play Blues to a white audience outside the South.
1934 - Urban Blues in Chicago, Illinois form as a result of the great depression in the 30s and 40s. Boogie Woogie Blues are an important style of that time
1936 - Robert Johnson was a very influential musician in his time and influenced the developement of the blues.

1938 - One of the most influential blues artists ever, Robert Johnson, at the age of 27 was playing a gig at a juke joint outside Greenwood, Mississippi.  During the course of the gig that night, he was given poisoned whiskey, which he drank, and died 3 days later. There are various versions of how and why he died and the legend lives on.  - (credit JD Nash)
1939 - The first recording of an electric guitar was played by Eddie Durnham. The instrument had been developed by George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacher
1941 - Alan Lomax records McKinley Morganfield better known as Muddy Waters in a field in Mississippi for the library of congress musical archive.

1941 - The first broadcast of King Biscuit Time on KFFA radio in West Helena, Arkansas featuring Robert Lockwood, Jr. and Sonny Boy Williamson II.   

King Biscuit Time was also a major breakthrough for African-American music in general. The popularity of the program and its reach into the untapped African-American demographic gained notice and spawned a host of imitators. 

Levon Helm, the late drummer and vocalist for The Band, credited King Biscuit Time, and in particular James Peck Curtis, for inspiring his musical career

1943 - Muddy Waters boarded a greyhound in Clarksdale Mississippi and road it to Chicago, Illinois.  His trip and the music he began playing there is recognized as the first step in the transition from rural, country blues to urban blues. - (credit: JD Nash)

1945 - Blues popularity increased after soldiers returned returned home, and John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker and others began to gain influence.

1946 - Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup recorded the song "That's All Right" for the RCA Victor label.  8 years later Elvis Presley would record his version of the song on Sun Records.

1947 – Muddy Waters makes his first Chicago recordings.  

1948 - Jerry Wexler, Billboard Magazine editor, coins the phrase "Rhythm & Blues" on Billboard charts.  

1950-1970  Albert King, B.B. King, and Freddie King, all emerge as the most talented and influential blues guitarists to this day. These guitarists transcribed their cultural heritage into memorable pieces of music on the electric guitar. As blues music was traditionally sung, they had refined a new era of innovation electrifying blues and influenced many to come.

1952 – B.B. King has his first major rhythm and blues hit with a version of “Three O’Clock Blues.”

1954 - Elvis Presley records Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s “That’s Alright Mama” for Sun Records in Memphis, TN. This record launched Elvis’ career and a musical style called Rock and Roll.
1954 - Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Big Mama Thornton, Lightning Hopkins, Jimmy Smith begin the modern blues we know today.
1960-1980 - Throughout this era, many English Blues Rock artists emerged using the African American influences in creating new music. Some great acts of this period were Jimmy Page, a young guitarist who emerged from London influenced by many blues and rock artists namely B.B. King. Keith Richards and Peter Green also became popular througout the era contributing to their own version of the blues as they mixed blues with rock to create a refined sound.

1960 – Muddy Waters performs at the Newport Jazz Festival to tremendous acclaim. 

1961 - John Hammond convinced Columbia Records to release a reissue a compilation of Robert Johnson songs."King of the Delta Blues Singers" is still recognized as one of the most influential blues releases of all times and was the first album to be inducted by the Blues Foundation in the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.

1963 - Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds record "Boom Boom" by John Lee Hooker. This begins the rise of Blues within England and Europe. 1964 - The first U.S. tour by the Rolling Stones marks the invasion of British blues rock bands. 

1964 – Delta bluesmen Son House and Skip James perform at the Newport Folk Festival 

1964 - The Rolling Stones tour the US fir the first time and while here, they spend two days recording at Chess Studios in Chicago.  During that time, they meet Muddy Waters.  The sessions included their first #1 hit single "It's All Over Now", a cover of the Bobby & Shirley Womack tune.  The Stones are still considered instrumental in making blues a major part of Rock and Roll. 

1966 - Through his blues influences including renowned blues guitarist B.B. King, English guitarist Eric Clapton became a master of Blues guitar and created the first revolutionary blues electric guitar sound. He composed a memorable blues album with vocalist John Mayall, which included covers from blues greats Otis Rush, Freddie King, and Robert Johnson. This albums' covers of blues standards evidently showed the influences of African American blues artists in the composition. 

1968 - The Fillmore East opens its doors.  Janis Joplin & Albert King were among the first performers.  

1969 – Muddy Waters and B.B. King perform at the Fillmore East, a concert venue in the East Village region of New York City, to a predominantly white audience. 

1970 - Influenced by classic blues musicians, a number of acts emerged in the Texas Blues scene throughout the 70's namely guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and trio ZZ Top. These acts revolutionized Texas Blues along with creating distinct sounds with electric guitars. 

1980 - The Blues Foundation s founded in Memphis Tennessee, and  presents the first W.C. Handy Blues Awards a the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis.    

1990 - Columbia Records released the complete recording of Robert Johnson on CD selling over 400,000 Album copies in only six months. 

1990 - after a show at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin, Stevie Ray Vaughan is killed in a helicopter crash shortly after takeoff.  Vaughan is credited with the resurgence of interest in blues, and is still considered to be one of that era's most influential players, writers and performers. 

2000 - Many modern blues artists emerged and refined the genre while adding their own touch to create modern music. Such artists as Joe Bonamassa and John Mayer are renowned blues artists who's primary intruments are the electric guitar. Some of their influences were Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, from the 70's. 

2003 - Congress declares 2003 the "Year of the Blues," commemorating the 100th anniversary of W.C. Handy's encounter with an unknown early bluesman at a train station in Mississippi.  A 7-part PBS documentary was released by executive producer Martin Scorsese "The Blues" on September 28th.

2015 - Located in Memphis Tenessee, the Blues Hall of Fame finally opened to the public recognizing all Blues Artists contributions and influence to the genre Thanks to the following for information derived directly from their research and websites: 

additional credits to this timeline from American BluesScene and JD Nash.

Learn More

 Blues music is a truly American form of music that has its origins in a collection of styles that are uniquely American, representing a melding of cultures.  Its origins are mostly rooted in the gospel spirituals and field hollers of African Americans in the old South.  This rhythm-based music evoked the hardships of life and offered relief through a shared struggle.The Blues are characterized by a call-and-response pattern, the blues scale, and specific chord progressions ("12-bar" blues).  Shuffle rhythm patterns, a strong backbeat and a walking bass line form a solid groove that identify Blues music. Originally, blues music was played by a single player on the banjo.  The acoustic guitar eventually supplanted the banjo, while harmonica, mandolin, piano and other instruments and more players were added.  The blues started to become a group-oriented form of music, and the electric guitar has become the dominate instrument of the genre.