Digitizing Folk Music History: Class Notes, 4/26

The Blues Blues

Charley PattonCharley Patton.

1. The Logistics Blues:

  • -First Round of digitization
  • -What’s your research question? Keep experimenting, rephrasing, adjusting, listing, and thinking about it.
  • -What’s your secondary literature? From class, from outside readings. What has the conversation been, the debates, the interpretations that your research question and evidence addresses?
  • -What role for the digital? How might digital components reveal new insights into the way that your evidence addresses your research question and secondary literature? Be sure to consult with Josh Honn.
  • -If you feel stuck or want to check in about your project, be sure to talk with me.

II. What Is the blues?

  • Jeff Todd Titon, riff on Picasso’s The Old Guitarist from his “Blue Period” and Wallace Stevens poem, “The Man with the Blue Guitar,” in Transforming Tradition essay on the blues revival.
    • Everything in the painting is blue except for the guitar!
    • Titon: recoveries are also constructions of tradition.
  • Where did the blues (especially the “delta blues” and the “country blues” come from? See chart we drew on board.
    • The Mississippi Delta: as a socio-economic entity?
    • The Mississippi Delta: as a place of personal existential expression?
    • Chicago after the African-American Great Migration, downhome music, nostalgia (but notice also includes alterations: Filene points out Waters goes electric)
    • Chicago but without clear genre definition (Filene mentions Melrose Bluebird label recordings)
    • The songster tradition, “ragtime” (Wald)
    • The folk revival of the 50s and 60s (Titon)
    • The “Blues Mafia” (debates within the folk revival—The Country Blues LP vs. Really! The Country Blues LP)
    • Under James McKune’s bed in a Brooklyn YMCA (Hamilton)

III. The Cultural Politics of Authenticity & Memory Work

  • Leadbelly vs. Muddy Waters, in Filene’s book.
  • What is authenticity? Should we talk about authenticities? Different kinds of authenticity?
  • What does Filene mean by the difference between commercialism and memory work, p. 131?

IV. The Cultural Politics of Collecting

  • Let’s keep this in mind as we start to think about digital history projects. Is all history a kind of collecting and archiving? An organizing and collating of evidence in a certain way to support a particular argument or interpretation?



Discussions of folk music inevitably bring up the genre of pop music and popular culture. How do we define pop music and popular culture?

Folk seems linked to some kind of “familiar othering,” different from the mainstream, but also accessible, or for some (Blues Mafia) romanticized as more extremely othered. Folk / Exoticism / Authenticity of some kind / Outsiderness from the perceived norms, but also continual irony as the outside gets pulled to the inside, margin to center.

Would it work better to think about sensibilities, ideologies, modalities of folk, pop, rock, jazz, etc. instead of genres?

Also place musical genres within the interactions of categories of cultural production/dissemination/reception:

Culture industry, the commodified processing of cultural forms


Popular culture, in older pre-modern culture, vernacular culture, rough music of the people against the court, the nobles, “high culture”


Subcultures, pockets of cultural production/dissemination/reception that are not fully incorporated into the dominant forces of the culture industry

What happens in modern society when the vernacular is increasingly “colonized” or dominated by culture industry?

What happens when the modes of distribution change: rise of the Internet?

Folk Blues Slides (mp4 movie).

WhereBluesBeginWhere Did the Blues Begin? (Click for larger image.)
PopvsFolkPop vs. Folk, From Genres to Sensibilities, Ideologies, Modalities (Click for larger image.)

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