Hey, Hey! The Blues Is Still All Right
I do not own the copyright/license to the musical video that follows. It is not my intention to post these videos solely for personal gain, but for educational purposes.
Culture runs deeper than the color of a person’s skin.
“God is going to bless me for loving you. For all the times that you treated me wrong and I kept being true.” Every Southern African American woman of a certain age can finish that lyric. Seriously! Go to a party in certain parts of the South, let the wine start flowing, blurt that lyric out, and it is on. We will make our own fun after that.
The funny thing about culture is this: it runs deeper than skin color. It depends upon age group, geographical location, religious sect, and the stories that are contained within each individual’s household. In today’s fast-paced world where so much is aired on social media, we seem to have forgotten that. No people are a monolith, and that includes African Americans.
As I sit and listen to academics bemoan the Blues as a dying art form among African Americans, I can just about gauge the race and age group of the writer: they are middle age white males who fell in love with the blues guitar. Some of them love the harmonica.
African Americans still love the blues, regardless of the presence of a guitar. We listen to many preachers of the blues that have not been discovered by white America because they focus on lyrics and do not play an instrument. Yet, they are valued for the lyrics and the sermons they preach. Good music is just an added bonus! Most Black Southerners, of a certain age, KNOW Millie Jackson and we even have a favorite album that has been sampled by RAPpers.
Millie Jackson was the first artist (that we know of) to run songs together in a continuous story without pause. And white America has yet to discover her. By now, she is a Blues legend who is able to sell concerts to packed houses of Black people who gathered there to hear what she has to say. Martin Lawrence heard her once and created a part for her on his show. Remember that Thanksgiving episode when they were all singing, “Pass the peas like we used to do”? Cousin Florine was Millie Jackson and Martin had to have her on his show after seeing one of her shows.
One purpose of the Blues is to hear the artist tell your story in a melodious way. The audience collectively “testifies” with the audience, and by the end, the audience knows that we have survived in tact and can fight another day. Just ask any woman who KNOWS those Betty Wright songs from childhood Saturday mornings while Momma cleaned the house.
“After the Pain,” and “No Pain No Gain” are classics to those Southern women of a certain age. When one of the these songs are played on the radio, mental rain clouds are lifted and we just KNOW that world is not so bad after all!
Sadly, I laugh at my academic colleagues who try very hard to label and organize Blues: country blues, Delta blues, etc. Nobody knows where Betty Wright is even from and nobody ever stops to ask. I once had a white male academic argue me down that she is strictly R&B. And I am not saying that a person has to come from the culture to love, appreciate and teach the culture. Why would we have Shakespeare at all if that were true? My colleague was incensed at my laughter and walked away very angry. But, he was not willing to hear me when I tried to show him some contemporary singers and how we “categorize” them.
The truth is, we don’t categorize the Blues: we let them be. They nurse our wounds and help us to live with one another in peace. And whether there is a guitar present or not, that sounds really well (in Blues speech: real good) to me. The blues woman/man will hit you where the preacher missed you!
Today, we have added Blues preachers to our treasured cannon. While the rest of the world may not have discovered them, we have been listening for the past 20 years. And if one of the purposes of the Blues is to pick up where the preacher left off, they are doing a stellar job. I leave you with one. His name is Sir Charles Jones, and maybe you have not heard him, but we have. And we’re here to say, “Hey, Hey the blues is STILL all right.”