Anyone familiar with blues music history is well aware that it’s a style of music that was born in the plantations and slave fields of the Deep South, yet when you mention the blues, Chicago is usually the first city that comes to mind. The distinction is made in the fact that Chicago is known as The Blues Music Capitol, while the moniker of Birthplace of the Blues is reserved for a location a good deal further south. The reason that Chicago plays such a large part in blues music history is because it is where the genre finally became known to a larger part of the country, as well as having all of the major blues artists of the time hailing from the Windy City.
The truth is that Chicago Blues and the Delta Blues are pretty much structurally and stylistically the same, but it’s perhaps the effect that Chicago had on the popularity of the music that makes it stick in the mind. The shift from the swamps of the south to the industrial north came as a result of the black slaves finally getting their freedom combines with the Great Depression. There were already few opportunities for men of color in the racially insensitive south, and when the depression hit, those became even scarcer.
That forced many north to the likes of Chicago and Detroit, where there was work to be had and plenty of nightclubs to play music in. It was during this period of blues music history that some of the most recognizable name in the genre arrived on the scene. It was almost as though a perfect storm had hit the city, with the blues being the very eye of the hurricane. Rather than leaving a trail of destruction though, it dropped blues legends like Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley in its wake. With so many great artists arriving on the scene at one time, it’s little wonder that Chicago is synonymous with blues music history.
A huge number of clubs opened in Chicago to accommodate the popularity of the blues and Chess Records became the label that all the biggest names in the industry were attached too. It was great while it lasted, but Chicago blues music history was forever changed in the period between the 50’s and 70’s. It was then that a major re-zoning of the city saw many of the biggest, most successful blues clubs closed and torn to the ground almost overnight. Chess Records didn’t even survive the cut, but by the time it was all over, enough had been done to establish Chicago as the adoptive home of the blues. That lives on today with the Chicago Blues Festival considered to be one of the biggest and most respected dates on the blues music calendar.
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