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Urban Blues

 What is urban blues like?

Within urban blues, in the twenties the vaudeville blues singers stand out. Mamie Smith records the first album, Crazy Blues by composer Perry Bradford. But she is soon surpassed by others like Ma Rainey.

The empress of blues was Bessie Smith, whose original and heartbreaking style influenced stars such as Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin. Among the male performers of urban blues are Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy or Leroy Carr.

Bessie Smith - Downhearted Blues (1923)

Song composed by Alberta Hunter and Lovie Austin, two of the best representatives of the style. Released as Bessie Smith's first single, it sold 780,000 records in six months.


In Historia del jazz clásico, music critic Fank Tirro comments: "she sang a song in an unusual tune, and her quality as an artist mixed and stretched the notes thanks to her beautiful and powerful contralto voice to accommodate the performance in an unparalleled way". Bessie Smith recorded Downhearted Blues accompanied by the great maestro Clarence Williams on the piano. In the 1930s, early blues became very popular. In fact, it has the most complete discography of all folk music in the world.

What is boogie-woogie?

Boogie-woogie was another important genre of urban blues in the 1930s and 1940s. Based on the piano, generally fast and danceable, it is characterized by the execution of certain figures with the left hand.

Although its precursors were the southerners George W. Thomas and Jimmy Blythe, it was developed in Chicago by the musician Jimmy Yancey, followed by the boogie-woogie trio: Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis.

Jimmy Yancey - The Fives (1939)

A song of his own, it helped lay the foundation for the boogie-woogie that dominated the American black music scene until the late 1940s.


Jimmy Yancey was born in Chicago into a family of musicians. He was a self-taught musician who, in 1915, became one of the most popular entertainers of the so-called house-parties in Chicago or parties organized by black people in the ghettos in their own homes to raise money for rent. His witness was picked up by Albert Ammons who eventually laid the foundation for much of rhythm and blues and rock and roll, and influenced pianists like Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

What other style of urban blues stands out?

Already in the 1940s, influenced by big bands, the jump blues began to develop. It uses the saxophone or other wind instruments to create a jazzy, offbeat sound with clearly marked voices.

The melodies of Louis Jordan and Big Joe Turner influenced the later development of rhythm and blues and hence rock and roll. Professor Longhair created a smooth style by mixing the classic New Orleans rhythm with the blues genres.

Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five - Caldonia (1945)

Jump blues song composed by Jordan himself and credited to Fleecie Moore, his wife, to be able to work with a different music editor than the one who forced him to have a contract.

Louis Jordan was born in Brinkley (Arkansas). Since his childhood he had played with The Rabbit Foot Minstrels, the orchestra led by his father, who had taught him to play the saxophone. In 1935 he settled in New York, where he founded The Tympany Five and became a model for all black artists. A version of the song Caldonia, released by trumpeter Erskine Hawkins in 1945, was described as rock and roll by Bilboard magazine, several years before it appeared in the musical style.