An invited blog post I wrote recently for the British Library on the arrival of blues music in 1920s Britain.
A large part of my research over the past few years has examined the British reception of the blues before the ‘blues boom’ of the early 1960s that kicks off most histories of the genre’s international spread. For my PhD, I’ve had to keep the time period of my research quite firm to avoid overstretching myself, meaning I have focused primarily on the postwar period. But recently I have had the chance to look a little further back, thanks to the generous support of the British Library’s Edison Fellowship scheme.
In the Autumn of 1923, ‘the blues’ seems to have suddenly invaded British popular music. While we tend to think of the genre arriving on sound recordings, the 1923 blues invasion was a multimedia phenomenon: the blues could be heard in concert, on the theatrical stage, on record, through sound recordings, and on the dance floor. This latter venue was particularly important, as the blues of 1923 signalled both a style of music and a style of dance.
By looking at one particular piece of music held in the Library’s collections, I reflect on what British audiences found most appealing about the blues, how they incorporated it into existing social dancing culture, and how reactions to the genre reflected contemporary ideas around music and race.