Study Guide

Blues Music History Timeline

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Dec 19, 2019

Slaves Arrive in the Americas

The first African slaves are brought to the American colony of Virginia.

Jan 1, 1808

The End of Slave Importation

Congress legislates an end to the importation of slaves to the United States.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Apr 12, 1861

Civil War Begins

The Civil War begins with the first shots on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.

Jan 1, 1863

Emancipation Proclamation Issued

President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, nominally freeing the slaves.

Apr 18, 1865

Civil War Ends; Reconstruction Begins

The Civil War ends with the surrender of the Confederate Army. Reconstruction begins in the South.

Dec 19, 1867

Slave Songs Published

Slave Songs of the United States, the earliest collection of African-American spirituals, is published.

Jan 1, 1877

Radical Reconstruction Ends

Radical Reconstruction ends when federal troops are withdrawn from the South.

Dec 19, 1890

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.

Dec 19, 1899

"Maple Leaf Rag" Published

Scott Joplin publishes "Maple Leaf Rag." Ragtime will become a key influence on the Piedmont style of blues.

Dec 19, 2019

Black Music First Recorded

Victor Records issues the first known recording of Black music, "Camp Meeting Shouts."

Dec 19, 2019

Bluesman Discovered

The musician W.C. Handy sees a bluesman playing guitar with a knife at a train station in Mississippi.

Dec 19, 2019

Blues Songs First Recorded

The first blues songs, including W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues", are published as sheet music.

Apr 6, 1917

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.

Feb 1, 1920

Mamie Smith

Mamie Smith records for Okeh Records. Her "Crazy Blues" becomes the first blues hit, beginning the business of "race" recording.

Dec 19, 2019

Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey

Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, the defining performers of the classic blues, make their recording debuts.

Jun 14, 1923

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.

Dec 19, 2019

First Folk Blues Records

The first male folk blues records, featuring singers Papa Charlie Jackson and Daddy Stovepipe, are issued.

Dec 19, 2019

New Recording Technology

Electrical recording technology is introduced.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

Charley Patton

The early Delta bluesman Charley Patton is first recorded.

Oct 24, 1929

Great Depression

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.

Nov 1, 1936

Robert Johnson

Legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson begins his short recording career.

Dec 19, 2019

Electric Guitar Introduced

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.

Dec 19, 2019

Muddy Waters Recorded

Alan Lomax records McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, for the Library of Congress at Stovall's Farm in Mississippi.

Dec 7, 1941

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.

Dec 19, 2019

T-Bone Walker Goes Electric

Bluesman T-Bone Walker plays electric guitar on the recording of his standard "Call it Stormy Monday."

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

"That's All Right" Recorded

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.

Dec 19, 2019

"Rhythm and Blues" is Born

Jerry Wexler, an editor at Billboard magazine, substitutes the term "rhythm and blues" for the older "race" records.

Dec 19, 2019

B.B. King

B.B. King has his first major rhythm and blues hit with a version of "Three O'Clock Blues."

May 17, 1954

Brown v. Board of Education

The Supreme Court rules on Brown v. Board of Education, a unanimous judgment in favor of school desegregation.

Dec 19, 2019

Elvis Debuts

Elvis Presley makes his recording debut on Sun Records with a version of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "That's All Right."

Dec 19, 2019

The Country Blues Published

Samuel Charters publishes The Country Blues, fueling the blues element of the folk music revival.

Jul 3, 1960

Muddy Waters Performs

Muddy Waters performs at the Newport Jazz Festival to tremendous acclaim.

Dec 19, 1961

Robert Johnson Revival

John Hammond pushes to have a selection of Robert Johnson's recordings reissued on LP by Columbia.

Jun 1, 1964

British Invasion

The first U.S. tour by the Rolling Stones marks the invasion of British blues rock bands.

Jun 1, 1964

Freedom Summer

Freedom Summer, the civil rights campaign to register Black voters, draws young whites to the South.

Jul 1, 1964

Delta Bluesmen Perform

The recently "rediscovered" Delta bluesmen Son House and Skip James perform at the Newport Folk Festival.

Dec 19, 1969

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.

Dec 19, 1990

Robert Johnson Re-Released

Columbia's release of the complete Robert Johnson recordings on CD goes gold, selling 400,000 albums in six months.

Dec 19, 2019

"Year of the Blues" Declared

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.

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