Bessie Smith and the Blues Essay

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Sweet Momma

What I liked about I Used to Be Your Sweet Mama was how it looked at the lyrics of so many different blues songs from the era in question. I had never really examined this music much before and did not really know anything about it. So examining the lyrics up close was very interesting. In fact, usually when I hear a song I am curious to see what the actual lyrics are so that I can better understand what is being communicated. With this music, it was exciting to see how spirituality and sexuality and life experiences all mingled together in the music to present something soulful and unique. The songs obviously had poetic quality to them as well as a raw, earthy authenticity. The emphasis on companionship among the sexes and the tug of war between the next life and the here and now was particularly striking for me.

Reading the lyrics of these songs, I was almost able to even hear the blues music even though I have never actually heard these songs. I could imagine how they would be sung. In the songs that touched on domestic violence, I was particularly struck because these, at least on paper, seemed to be both mournful and upbeat -- for instance in the song "Sweet Rough Man" in which the woman describes being beaten by her husband but also loved by him. There were so many contradictory feelings contained in this song that it was interesting to see how a woman might love a man for his "lovin'" even though he was very rough with her. At the same time, other songs depicted women being rough with their men -- as in "Sinful Blues" in which the woman describes shooting a man because he "done me wrong.
" So the intermingling of love and violence in blues seems to reflect a way of life that was real and palpable for these people in the 1920s and 1930s and it certainly comes across in the lyrics, which is what I liked most about this particular reading.

This chapter examines the blues songs by Gertrude Rainey and Bessie Smith from the early 20th century. To judge of these songs by the lyrics alone and the context in which they were written seems unfair. It would help me to better understand them to hear them performed. Music is more than just the words that are composed. Having to dissect the lyrics without actually hearing the songs is what I did not like about this chapter. I am not very familiar with blues music so I also did not really know how to hear these songs in my head.

I also wondered about differences between "blues men" and "blues women" and if the lyrics and music of the two groups were much different. For instance, this chapter looks mainly at the songs of these two blues women. Did they differ much from what men….....

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