Blues Music History Timeline
How It All Went Down
Slaves Arrive in the Americas
The first African slaves are brought to the American colony of Virginia.
The End of Slave Importation
Congress legislates an end to the importation of slaves to the United States.
Minstrel Shows Gain Popularity
The minstrel show, with its blackface performers, crude racial caricatures, and the song "Jump Jim Crow" becomes part of American popular culture.
Civil War Begins
The Civil War begins with the first shots on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.
President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, nominally freeing the slaves.
Civil War Ends; Reconstruction Begins
The Civil War ends with the surrender of the Confederate Army. Reconstruction begins in the South.
Slave Songs Published
Slave Songs of the United States, the earliest collection of African-American spirituals, is published.
Radical Reconstruction Ends
Radical Reconstruction ends when federal troops are withdrawn from the South.
Rise of Jim Crow
Southern states move to the "Jim Crow" system of legal segregation, passing laws to circumscribe many aspects of African-American life and producing, in effect, a quasi-slave society reinforced by the economics of the sharecropping system. Racial violence and lynchings increase.
"Maple Leaf Rag" Published
Scott Joplin publishes "Maple Leaf Rag." Ragtime will become a key influence on the Piedmont style of blues.
Black Music First Recorded
Victor Records issues the first known recording of black music, "Camp Meeting Shouts."
The musician W.C. Handy sees a bluesman playing guitar with a knife at a train station in Mississippi.
Blues Songs First Recorded
The first blues songs, including W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues", are published as sheet music.
The Great Migration
The United States enters World War I. Military and economic mobilization accelerates the great internal migration of African-Americans that is already underway.
Mamie Smith records for Okeh Records. Her "Crazy Blues" becomes the first blues hit, beginning the business of "race" recording.
Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey
Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, the defining performers of the classic blues, make their recording debuts.
Folk Blues Debuts
Ralph Peer, the famous Artist & Repertory man for Okeh and Victor Records, makes his first field recordings in Atlanta, Georgia, marking the recording debut of both the folk blues and what will later be called country music.
First Folk Blues Records
The first male folk blues records, featuring singers Papa Charlie Jackson and Daddy Stovepipe, are issued.
New Recording Technology
Electrical recording technology is introduced.
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Lemon Jefferson is first recorded. He will become the dominant blues figure of the late 1920s and the first star of the folk blues.
The early Delta bluesman Charley Patton is first recorded.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 begins on Black Thursday, signaling the beginning of the Great Depression in the United States. Amid widespread economic ruin, sales of records and phonographs plummet, crippling the recording industry.
Legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson begins his short recording career.
Eddie Durham records the first music featuring the electric guitar. The modern instrument, first developed by musician George Beauchamp and engineer Adolph Rickenbacher in the early 1930s, will help to transform the sound of the blues.
Muddy Waters Recorded
Alan Lomax records McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, for the Library of Congress at Stovall's Farm in Mississippi.
U.S. Enters World War II; Migration Continues
The Japanese bombing attack on Pearl Harbor marks the entry of the United States into World War II. As had been the case during World War I, economic and military mobilization creates new opportunities for African Americans, particularly in the urban centers of the North.
T-Bone Walker Goes Electric
Bluesman T-Bone Walker plays electric guitar on the recording of his standard "Call it Stormy Monday."
Muddy Waters and Chicago Blues
Muddy Waters makes his first Chicago recordings, beginning his tenure as the dominant figure in the Chicago blues and a key link between the Mississippi Delta and the urban styles.
"That's All Right"
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup records "That's All Right," a tune that recalls Blind Lemon Jefferson's "That Black Snake Moan" from twenty years earlier. Within a decade, Elvis Presley will record "That's All Right" for his debut.
"Rhythm and Blues" is Born
Jerry Wexler, an editor at Billboard magazine, substitutes the term "rhythm and blues" for the older "race" records.
B.B. King has his first major rhythm and blues hit with a version of "Three O'Clock Blues."
Brown v. Board
The Supreme Court rules on Brown v. Board of Education, a unanimous judgment in favor of school desegregation.
Elvis Presley makes his recording debut on Sun Records with a version of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "That's All Right."
The Country Blues
Samuel Charters publishes The Country Blues, fueling the blues element of the folk music revival.
Muddy Waters Performs
Muddy Waters performs at the Newport Jazz Festival to tremendous acclaim.
Robert Johnson Revival
John Hammond pushes to have a selection of Robert Johnson's recordings reissued on LP by Columbia.
The first U.S. tour by the Rolling Stones marks the invasion of British blues rock bands.
Freedom Summer, the civil rights campaign to register black voters, draws young whites to the South.
Delta Bluesmen Perform
The recently "rediscovered" Delta bluesmen Son House and Skip James perform at the Newport Folk Festival.
White Fan Base
Muddy Waters and B.B. King perform at the Fillmore East, a concert venue in the East Village region of New York City, to a predominantly white audience.
Robert Johnson Re-Released
Columbia's release of the complete Robert Johnson recordings on CD goes gold, selling 400,000 albums in six months.
"Year of the Blues"
Congress declares 2003 the "Year of the Blues," commemorating the 100th anniversary of W.C. Handy's encounter with an unknown early bluesman at a train station in Mississippi.