This preservationist intuition might have been legitimate however the assumptions that underpinned it have been typically paternalistic and segregationist: derived from the singing of slaves, the oral blues was the product of naive, untutored imaginations that might wither on contact with modernity, in order that they needed to be protected, like uncommon orchids. Whereas black individuals who migrated from the Jim Crow South have been searching for a greater future, the folklorists sentimentally fetishised the agony and thriller of the previous that they had left behind. This problematic assumption has since resurfaced in writing about soul music and hip hop: the sound of struggling is taken into account extra highly effective and actual than the sound of defiant enjoyment; ache is extra genuine than pleasure.
This obsession with the “real” black expertise proved deadly for the traditional blues. In 1926, Blind Lemon Jefferson turned the primary solo singer-guitarist to have a success report (Paramount’s commercial promised “an actual, old style blues, by an actual, old style blues singer”) and he set a brand new vogue for earthier “nation blues,” adopted by Blind Blake, Massive Invoice Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson and Furry Lewis. Without having for backing bands or stage costumes, the lads have been less expensive, too. As Jackie Kay places it in her biography, “These previous bluesmen are thought-about the real article whereas the ladies are fancy costume.” On the similar time, the traditional blues singers have been too working-class and sexually frank for among the city center lessons. Black Swan, the primary black-owned report label, rejected Bessie Smith for being too vulgar, whereas a number one black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, complained that these “filth furnishers” and “purveyors of putrid puns” have been “a hindrance to our customary of respectability and success”.
The traditional blues singers have been already in decline when the Nice Despair completed them off. By 1933, report gross sales have been simply 7% of what that they had been in 1929 and most of the theatres had closed or been become film theatres. City listeners, in the meantime, have been abandoning blues for the sooner, extra refined sound of swing, represented in Ma Rainey’s Black Backside by Chadwick Boseman’s younger, impatient Levee. They did not want that bridge to the South anymore. In accordance with Thomas Dorsey, the gospel blues pioneer who used to play in Rainey’s band, “It collapsed… I don’t know what occurred to the blues, they appeared to drop it abruptly, it simply went down.”
Erasing girls’s voices
As a brand new technology of black feminine singers broke via within the Thirties – Billie Vacation, Ella Fitzgerald, Memphis Minnie – among the first wave sought refuge in different branches of showbusiness. Victoria Spivey appeared in King Vidor’s 1929 film Hallelujah, one of many first studio footage to characteristic a completely black solid. Ethel Waters turned, at one level, the highest-paid actress on Broadway. Solely a handful have been nonetheless making blues information within the Thirties. Mamie Smith retired in 1931. Rainey was dropped by Paramount in 1928 and returned to the Southern tent circuit, her stolen gold necklace changed by imitation pearls. Bessie Smith recorded one final session in 1933, for one-sixth of the charge she used to command, earlier than she died after a automotive crash in 1937.