Blues was and still is the music which best encapsulates and expresses the experiences and feelings of the Afro-American community. Its ingredients are all the elements that accompany the daily life of an oppressed and discriminated society, such as poverty and misery, the pain caused by segregation and racial hatred, and the loves and misfortunes through which the existence of all humans inevitably passes. But blues, as a musical manifestation of all these experiences, also acts as an antidote to despair and self-pity, turning this music into a form of expansion to face adversity and, therefore, it incorporates other elements of a positive nature: the simple joy of living, irony, a sense of humor, protest, whether veiled or blunt and direct, and the pride of not letting oneself be defeated.

Women have had a very important role in blues. We should bear in mind that, in addition to everything we have said, they have to fight against everything that negatively affects females: they are black and they are women. Enough said. It is perhaps for all these reasons that female blues performers have emerged as leading figures in the style. 

They are historically famous: Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Clara Smith, Mamie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Memphis Minnie, Victoria Spivey, Ruth Brown, Carrie Smith, Aretha Franklin, etc. It is a whole saga of great singers to which we can add those who have basically moved into the world of jazz orchestras, such as Ethel Waters, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Helen Humes and Dinah Washington.

Their biographies are often real dramas, are examples of struggle and confrontation in the face of a society that oppressed them due to their double condition of being both black and female. Their songs, subtle or stripped, whispered or shouted, sublimely express everything that burns inside their hearts and lifts their souls. Blues women are an important part of black American culture.


Ricard Gili, Fundació Catalana Jazz Clàssic