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Whose Blues?Facing Up to Race and the Future of the Music$
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Adam Gussow

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781469660363

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469660363.001.0001

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Blues Expressiveness and the Blues Ethos

Blues Expressiveness and the Blues Ethos

(p.86) Bar 5 Blues Expressiveness and the Blues Ethos
Whose Blues?

Adam Gussow

University of North Carolina Press

The preceding two chapters investigate blues conditions and blues feelings, the first two elements of a four-part schema elaborated by the author as an aid to classroom instruction. This chapter explores the third and fourth elements, blues expressiveness and the blues ethos. Blues expressiveness includes the AAB stanzaic structure employed by blues singers and adapted by blues poets; call-and-response or antiphony, the staging of a musical (or romantic or ideological) dialogue; vocalizations, the “making it talk” element of blues instrumental performance; blues idiomatic language, the rich linguistic stew in which members of the blues subculture conduct their daily lives, on and off the bandstand; and signifying, often with sexual overtones, which consists of saying one thing but strongly implying another. The blues ethos—an attitudinal orientation towards experience, a sustaining philosophy of life—expresses itself in a range of ways, including a stoic determination to persist in the face of disaster; a readiness to improvise one’s way out of trouble, and a kind of dark, rough comedy described by Kalamu ya Salaam as “[a] combination of exaggeration and conscious recognition of the brutal facts of life.”

Keywords:   Blues feelings, ethos, Call and response, Signifying, Sexual, Orientation

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