It's tough to say whether jazz influenced the blues or if it's the other way
around, but what is undeniable is the influence that blues has had over almost
all the modern styles of music we hear today. Lonnie Brooks says, "Rock
'n' Roll is nothing but the blues speeded up." Gospel gave a lot of it's
vocalizing techniques to the blues and visa versa. Boogie Woogie is otherwise
known as Rhythm & Blues and it's basically just jump blues with big voiced
vocalists influenced by gospel singers. Even country music has its roots in
blues with its traditional blues lyrics and musical structures. Both genres are
very emotional and very honest displays of art. Cub Koda notes, "As
country music gains a larger mainstream audience and the median age of country
music buyers drops, modern country is beginning to sound more like rock 'n'
roll, which makes its connection to the blues even stronger".
There are two controversial blues artists who, in my opinion, really defined
what this music was all about. Bessie Smith was dubbed "The Empress of the
Blues" and expressed her great vocal talent during the classic female
blues period in the 1920's and 1930's. Her depth of emotion and sense of rhythm
became the standard by which many female blues and jazz singers were measured.
During her era, Bessie sold more records and made more money then any other
blues artists, male or female. Her influences can be heard in the singing of
Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin and Me'Shell Ndege'Ocello. Bessie Smith was
considered a cultural hero because of her no-nonsense assertiveness and very
liberated lifestyle that seemed highly taboo at the time. She was an
emancipated woman who had little patience for anyone who tried to exploit her.
There's a famous story involving white robed Ku Klux Klan members who were
trying to destroy the tent that she was performing in. She sent some of the prop
boys out to discourage them, but they were intimated by the Klansman. Bessie
ran within ten feet of the them, put one hand on her hip and made a fist out of
the other and screamed (along with obscenities), "I"ll get the whole
damn tent out of here if I have to. You just pick up them sheets and run!"
Some more abuse finally drove them away, at which time she went back to the
prop boys and said, "And as for you, you ain't nothin' but a bunch of
sissies." It was this spitfire drive, determination and courage that
influenced so many female musicians after her. Janis Joplin was so revered by
Bessie Smith that she was the one who finally paid for a gravestone that marks
her burial spot.