Houston Music

Where's the Blues in the Black Community?

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First and foremost, blues music is an art form capturing the pain of the black experience in America. A response to the endurance of of a lifetime of suffering, working endless physical labor in the worst conditions imaginable and, at the end of the day, not being treated remotely equal compared to the American population at large.

The blues arose out of the long transition out of slavery in the United States, and responded to the needs of a people in a particular socioeconomic situation; namely, that of being poor, hungry and destitute. It's a political-protest genre that allows for the release of tension in a socially acceptable manner, and the cathartic expression of tensions created by socially intolerable living conditions, heartbreak and economic deprivation.

Once, blues artists needed this opportunity for release to feel functional in society, and audiences in African-American communities desperately needed this release as well. People who sang the blues not only heard the blues, they actually felt bluesy. The person who sang the blues and actually felt the blues was able to return to society and deal with the impossible odds crushing his or her quality of life and dramatically shortening lifespans.

In recent decades, though, there has been a change in perception. The forefathers of today's younger generations would do anything they could do to move one small step forward in society, whether making money or acquiring an education. That sense of urgency against impossible odds has been misplaced, forgotten or lost.

Unemployment in the African-American community is still very high, only now there is a lack of a sense of urgency to achieve. Starving to death is as a factor in this loss of urgency, as hunger is a serious motivation to strive. There is little real hunger driving young African-Americans, or anyone else in America, to roll up his or her sleeves and literally work an ugly, grueling job simply to put food on the table.

Instead, the United States as a whole is fed so well, it's fat. When you are starving, you'll do anything to survive. Young African-American people 50 years ago were very aware of how bad life was for them. They saw the cloud of doom hanging closely overhead with little chance of a healthy, happy future unless they seized any opportunity to climb out of their dismal situation presented itself.

What it boils down to is the perception of the circumstances. Younger generations of African-Americans do not have the same awareness of urgency for socioeconomic achievement as in previous generations. Despite numbers showing African-Americans at the bottom of social achievement, those in the black community, especially the youth, no longer feel they are at the bottom. They no longer feel as oppressed as the people who came before them, even though the numbers show they are in the same situation or worse off than previous generations.

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Kerry Melonson
Contact: Kerry Melonson