The evolution of the various strands of blues music
Looking Up at Down
The Emergence of Blues Culture
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More than just a history of a musical genre, Looking Up at Down traces the evolution of the various strands of blues music within the broader context of the culture on which it commented, and discusses its importance as a form of cultural resistance and identity for Afro-Americans. William Barlow explores the lyrics, describes the musical styles, and portrays the musicians and performers who created this uniquely American music. He describes how the blues soundwith its recognizable dissonance and African musical standardsand the blues text, which provided a bottom up view of American society, became bulwarks of cultural resistance.
Using rare recordings, oral histories, and interviews, Barlow analyzes how the blues was sustained as a form of Afro-American cultural resistance despite attempts by the dominant culture to assimilate and commercialize the music and exploit its artists.
"A masterwork.... [Barlow] includes all types of blues in his analysis, without losing sight of the music’s density, its humor, and its satire, when the blues get so bad that we are 'lookin’ up at down.'"
"Bill Barlow’s fine study is a major contribution to our understanding of blues. He carefully traces the music from its roots in the rural South to urban traditions in Memphis, St. Louis, and Chicago. Barlow’s broad portrait of the blues and his perceptive analysis make this study a classic."
"...a definitive work on black culture. The major value of the book is its exhaustive scope and its demonstration that blues continues African culture in America under new conditions. A rare jewel in the scholarship of Afro-American culture."
Before the Blues
Part I: Rural Blues
Part II: Urban Blues
William Barlow is Associate Professor in the Radio, Television, and Film Department of Howard University. A music programmer for alternative radio stations for more than fifteen years, he currently produces "Blue Monday" on WPFW-FM. He is also the author of Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio.