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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Michael S SF Blues Fest cancelled after 36 years (30) RE: SF Blues Fest cancelled after 36 years 27 Feb 09


I'm surprised that some people took my inquiry about race and concluded that it was a variant of "can a white boy sing the blues?" I have no problem with either white blues artists or the venues that present them. My earliest blues exposure was John Hammond Jr. A trust-fund revivalist? Sure. But a good musician and--more importantly to me-- my personal gateway to decades of blues enjoyment.
My concern was different. I asked why it appears that young blacks don't embrace the blues in significant numbers. In my adult life I've lived in NYC, San Francisco, and Austin. I've attended many blues concerts in each location, featuring black and white artists. My experience comports with that expressed by PoppaGator. Overwhelmingly, the audiences are white. Can we post the names of some black blues artists--old and "younger" and maybe even young? Sure, but black audiences aren't interested, and that's what interests me.
I've read supposition on this, though I've heard of no real ethnographic work (assuming valid scholarship in this regard is even possible). Some say young blacks understand that this stuff is somehow linked to old ways, sharecropping, and shacks, and they want no part of it. (And it attracts all those white people.) Some say that young blacks--like all young people--want to create their own styles. Makes sense to me. It may be simple demographics. Blues is many things, one of which is--and I agree with Matt Milton here-- "commodified entertainment" that's been marketed commercially for almost 100 years. Of course whites picked it up. In America (which is what I know) blacks are about 12% of the population and, in the aggregate, they have less disposable entertainment funds than whites. Makes sense that white audiences would dominate the SF Blues fest and other events.
It bothers me that the words racist and racism entered this discussion so easily. I don't think asking how and why vernacular heritage moves around is racist. I find such discussion useful. Again, I take no issue with people adopting artistic forms that are not part of their own personal heritage. That's been good for blues, for old-time, for Cajun music, and probably more. But personally, I think it would be sad if all the soul singers were young white English women like Joss Stone or Duffy. (My curious 18-year-old son--who wants to hear my music and wants me to hear his--didn't like Aretha's performance at Obama's inauguration. He told me, "she sounds like Duffy." Will my work ever be done?)
This is too long, so I'll stop, but I'm not really finished.

--Michael Scully


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