Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism Reading

The handout focused upon the misconceptions and the truths of women in the Blues. The second part of the handout based upon Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit,” explored the meaning behind the song as well as its social implications. The blues was used as a way to deal with reality and in a way acknowledge it’s existence Davis mentions in the chapter that blues served as a way to make known which would have otherwise not had a voice, “they begin to articulate a consciousness that takes into account social conditions of class exploitation, racism and male dominance as seen through the lenses of complex emotional responses of black female subjects.”(Pg 119)
Throughout the first handout Davis is responding to other authors criticisms of blues singers, and the idea that blues is music of apathy. When you hear the blues there is not a feeling of apathy left within you, as much as there is a feeling of sadness. Davis describes them as addressing, “seemingly insurmountable but obscure social forces that have created the overall contest of misery and oppression.”(Pg 116) The feeling or portrayal of apathy that Paul Oliver expresses is because none of the blues songs actually say “Action.” Davis comes back to this by saying that they were not really in a position to be saying things like take action. I mean Billie Holiday said she remembered not even being able to eat at restaurants in the south when she performed with one of her bands.
Davis also points out that by just describing a situation, they were calling attention to the harshness of life in the poor community which would later help the flame of the uprising. Davis commented directly on the nature of these songs, “requires absolute honesty in the portrayal of black life.......As a rule, these songs do not criticize the institution, but simply treat it as an existing reality.” (Pg 107)
It was strange reading this quote because if we were to read any text describing the religious spirituals at the time, all of them were about hope, and escaping the hardships on earth. The blues was about recognizing the harshness, and embracing and mourning their way of life. I use the word mourn because of the feeling it evokes, like a helpless cry, but none-the-less a cry. Humans need this expression, even if it isn’t supposed to get at something directly, there still needs to be expression. Their worth is in the sincere human suffering that is catalogued in these songs. Davis said they do not criticize a poor mans way of life, but simply relay it.
It is this recognition of the living conditions that these people endured that allowed some identification from all the poor community in general. In the Strange Fruit chapter they mention how the depression had an effect on race relations, “circles of people who had been sensitized by both the transracial economic and social tragedies of the Great Depression and by the multiracial mass movements seeking to redress the grievances of the blacks and whites alike.” She goes on to talk about the movement among the white community which began to trickle into mainstream mentality. Because of the depression there was a recognition that the power was not just in the hands of white people, but a very few white people. This distinction left for identifications with class instead of race.


Jessica Markham said...

I found "Blame it on the Blues" and "Strange Fruit" from Angela Davis' Blue Legacies and Black Feminism to be very powerful. Like Davis, I disagree with Samuel Charters' argument that "the blues form, which demands an intensely personal perspective on the part of the composer or performer, is rarely compatible with social commentary or political protest" (92). Yes, the blues allow for individuals to reflect on their own personal plights, but the personal pain expressed in blues tends to be closely linked to major social issues, namely racism and poverty. In other words, the reason why the individual is hurting is because of social issues that are affecting many others.

In terms of protest, I feel that blues music has served as fuel for protest and action. With its emotionally raw lyrics, blues music has the power to open people's eyes and to allow them recognize the horrors occurring within this society, and also, blues music can inspire people to work for social change.

As for "Strange Fruit", I was horrified by the description of the lynching of Claude Neal described in "Strange Fruit" on 188. It's awful to think that it really happened and that people could murder another human being in such a terrifying manner. How could someone cut off a person's genitals and force him to eat them, slice him with knives, and torture him to death? The sick truth is that people did this.

I personally find quite the lyrics to quite a few blues songs to be hauntingly beautiful. They do not let us as a society forget the pain that people in this nation have endured.

Christina Decker said...

I think these posts touch on an important aspect of art that really makes music and particularly the blues an effective element of protest. in class we have talked many times about the invisibility of different struggles of marginalized people. Even if we were to read a news article about their plight, this would not convey the true experience of these people, largely because of the formal tone expected of news reporters and because and uninvolved party is reporting to another uninvolved party. But when we hear a blues song, we really do feel the haunting effect of being clued into the actual emotions and suffering of the singer. This is far more powerful than hearing some written report about the same issues. Conveying emotions, as I see it, is key in any kind of social movement. One of the best ways to gain ground for your struggle is to make previously uninvolved people care.

Jean Strandberg said...

I agree with Christina. I think that the feelings evoked when listening to a blues song was a way of creating solidarity. As we talked about in class, the blues may have also been an effective way of creating a vocabulary that could be used to create a unified movement.

I think it is also important to recognize that the blues went beyond the African American audience. The emotion that the blues evoked translated (at least somewhat) to white audiences, the content reminded and informed them of the injustices that were (and still are) happening in the African American community.

Also, not all lyrics were specific to the black audience. Many female blues singers sang about love, lust, and other matters that translate across race lines to all women. This is an important tool for breaking race lines, and showing people that they can relate to people of other colors.