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Southern Cultures 12.4 (2006) 10-19, 22-26


In B.B. King's Words . . .
["Everything leads me back to the feeling of the blues."]
[Sidney A. Seidenberg, 1925-2006]

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Figure 1
"It was a handed-down thing. A song you used to hear as a kid, maybe you heard your grandmother or your mother sing it. When you grew up, some of these things you still would sing. Now if you go in and around where I came from, you would still hear a few of the older songs that I heard when I was a kid." New Haven, 1974.

Where Blues Began

I think this is how the blues actually started. During slavery, they didn't always think in terms of God freeing them because they were being sold and separated from their families. Many things of that sort were happening to them, and singing to God didn't seem to do much good. So they would sing about it, but not to a heavenly body. They were singing to the bodies down here on earth. A lot of the chanting and singing was to warn other people in the field that the boss was coming or something else was happening.

The earliest sound of the blues that I can remember was in the fields, where people would be picking or chopping cotton. Usually, one guy would be plowing by himself, or take his hoe and chop way out in front of everybody else. You would hear this guy sing most of the time—just a thing that would kind of begin, no special lyrics, just what he felt at the time. The song would be maybe something like this:

"Oh, wake up in the mornin' 'bout the break of day."

And you could hear it, just on and on like that. Another early sound that I used to hear was my uncle Jack Bennett. Uncle Jack would go out early evenings, and on his way back home at night, you would hear him sing that same kind of thing. Let's see if I can remember one:

"If I don't get home in the mornin', things are gonna be all right." [End Page 10]

And you could hear it all over the bayous, all around the many little places. You could hear people say, "There goes Jack. He's going home." These early sounds stay with me even today. When I sing and play now, I can hear those same sounds that I used to hear as a kid.

On Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays, in our little neighborhood, there was nothing else hardly to do but sing, and usually we would go from house to house each week singing. Monday night, we would go to my house, and Wednesday night, we'd go to yours—and probably even Friday night, because there wasn't much else to do. Singing kept us close together. That was another part of the blues that's sort of like church social workers. They keep you up on everything that's happening, and the feeling that you get from that, especially when the kids are growing up, is really togetherness.

It was a handed-down thing. A song you used to hear as a kid, maybe you heard your grandmother or your mother sing it. When you grew up, some of these things you still would sing. Now if you go in and around where I came from, you would still hear a few of the older songs that I heard when I was a kid. For instance,

You go your way and I'll go mine.
We'll meet again . . . some old time.
But now she's gone, and I don't worry,
Cause I'm sittin' on top of the world.

Now that's an old one that was made a long, long time ago. I don't know where it came from. I've heard it all my life. People still sing those kinds of things. We're playing them...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 10-26
Launched on MUSE
2006-10-18
Open Access
No
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