Thursday, May 20, 2010

In Blues

"Blues means what milk does to a baby. Blues is what the spirit is to the minister. We sing the blues because our hearts have been hurt, our souls have been disturbed."
~ Alberta Hunter

The original idea was to write a series of posts about colors, starting with the word "blue" because it has become a symbol of everything from pornography (blue movies) to police officers (men in blue). The wonderful online resource Wordnik lists dozens of words contributors associate with blue, from aqua to ultramarine.

But the more I thought about blue, the more I was drawn to the musical form known as the blues. Although I can find something to like in every musical genre, blues has been my favorite since the first moment I encountered it. And, thinking back, I realized that encounter happened when I was seven and first heard Peggy Lee sing "Blues in the Night" in Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp.

(Note: My template is not in sync with the video aspect ratio, so just click on the song titles if you want to see videos full size.)

Not long after that, I first heard Billie Holiday's amazing voice coming through the radio singing "Am I Blue." Here's a video of her singing another classic, "Fine and Mellow" (mislabeled "Lady Sings the Blues" by the person who posted it.) Not even the ravages of her addiction, which are clearly visible here, can take away her vocal magic.

So, today, my subject is the blues in its many forms — from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago to New York City jazz, with a little country and folk music thrown in because those genres, too, sing about hurt hearts and disturbed souls. My selection is fairly arbitrary — left to my own devices, I'd include so much music that this post would consume more time than any of us probably have.

Nina Simone singing "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"

From the tragic past of the Delta, Son House sings "Death Letter Blues"

Country singer Gillian Welch is haunting in her mournful "Orphan Girl" (unfortunately, someone has added some rather terrible graphics — feel free to ignore them)

The great Buddy Guy tells us about the "First Time I Met the Blues"

Joni Mitchell is on the run from the blues in "Hejira"

Etta James is so blue, she says "I'd Rather Go Blind"

But nobody plays the blues more transcendantly than Miles Davis. I'll end with "All Blues" from his classic album, Kind of Blue.

"Hearing the blues changed my life."
~ Van Morrison

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