Blues are the songs of despair, but gospel songs are the songs of hope… Mahalia Jackson


This book is a supposedly in-depth study of blues and the women who have the right to sing them. In reality it is a white bread girl living in her white bread world who is short on music history and long on the rights of anyone who claims to be liberated to proclaim themselves an artist – no matter how small their musical talent or how outrageous their behaviour. All music begins with folk music – there were songs and ballads long before the were symphonies and recording labels. Most organized music begins in religion where the voices of the faithful were first organized. Thus the drinking songs of the Roman Legions are adapted into Gregorian Chant and wind up on the tracks of the Moody Blues. The experience of the Jews in captivity becomes the voice of the cantor just as the experience of the blacks in slavery transitions from the mournful spiritual to the blues. The Jewish experience winds up in Hava Nagila –  Let us rejoice – and the blues wind up in jazz which is pretty much the same thing. Although she is not featured prominently in the work we begin our illustrations with Mahalia Jackson who is the real first lady of Gospel and blues music in the first half of the twentieth century.

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A bad woman feeling good: blues and the women who sing them New York: W.W. Norton, c 2005 Buzzy Jackson Women blues musicians United States Biography Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xiii, 319 p.: ill.; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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An exciting lineage of women singers — originating with Ma Rainey and her protégée Bessie Smith — shaped the blues, launching it as a powerful, expressive vehicle of emotional liberation. Along with their successors Billie Holiday, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Janis Joplin, they injected a dose of reality into the often trivial world of popular song, bringing their message of higher expectations and broader horizons to their audiences.

These women passed their image, their rhythms, and their toughness on to the next generation of blues women, which has its contemporary incarnation in singers like Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams (with whom the author has done an in-depth interview). Buzzy Jackson combines biography, an appreciation of music, and a sweeping view of American history to illuminate the pivotal role of blues women in a powerful musical tradition. Musician Tommy Dorsey said, “The blues is a good woman feeling bad.” But these women show by their style that he had it backward: The blues is a bad woman feeling good.

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