I’ve seen statuses in my Facebook feed this week from people in the blues community aimed at musicians, telling them not to speak about politics because it could alienate their fans. But…it’s blues. It’s inherently tied to political and social issues, and many songs are explicitly political. Here are just a few examples.
1937: Leadbelly- The Bourgeois Blues
1939: Unidentified Prisoners in Florida’s Raiford Penitentiary- We Don’t Have No Pay Day Here
1940 & 1941: Josh White’s albums Chain Gang and Southern Exposure: An Album of Jim Crow Blues are both political. Here’s Uncle Sam Says.
1943: Buster Brown- War Song
1946: Big Bill Broonzy wrote this tune, and his version of it was released in the 1950s- Black, Brown, and White
1962: Louisiana Red- Ride On Red, Ride On
1965: J.B. Lenoir has political songs for days. Here’s Alabama Blues.
1970: Floyd Jones performs Stockyard Blues, originally recorded in 1948.
1996, 2002: versions of Tojo Told Hitler by CeDell Davis and RL Burnside (warning: swears in the RL version)
Modern blues artists Michael Hill and Eric Bibb both have a number of songs about contemporary political and social issues.
And here’s a little 1973 soul gem from The Honeydrippers.
And if you want more radical political soul music, look into Swamp Dogg.
5 thoughts on “Political Blues”
Excellent work.The blues came out of oppresion so it’s no wonder there are so many political songs. ( just saw you’re name on my FB page) I’ve been both a musician and activist / writerfor a long time. Done fundraisers etc mostly in NH for Dems. Cut my teeth in the 60’s but seldom wrote overtly political songs. But I’ve been working on an ambitious tune for three months now. Nearly ready to post a “demo” on my FB page. Hope you catch it. We’ve never me, Lydia, but I saw you at the Press Room in Portsmouth NH a number of years ago. I’m going to send my new tune to the progressive minded musicians who regularly drop by my Face Book page. If people like it I’d love to record it with many voices. Charlie “Chaz” Proulx
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Too many rednecks in the Blues milieu any damn way (they infest the musician corps, the fanbases; AND— many are venue owners and promoters). The Blues is the ORIGINAL Black protest music in the US. That’s the irony.
I would not personally use the term redneck here, as it is used both as a statement of regional pride and, alternately, as a derisive title, making it more of a conversation ender than a conversation starter. But that aside, there are many in the blues community who ignore (forget? don’t care?) that being an ethical steward of any tradition involves honoring its history. In this case, the history is just as you’ve said: Black protest music! My hope is that people can be taught this over time. ❤ ❤ ❤
Brother Will Hairston’s The Alabama Bus, besides being fine blues, is about Reverend King and the bus boycott…a must hear.
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There is also the very political song Nina Simone recorded “Backlash Blues”, taken from the poem of same name written by Langston Hughes.