Auto[blues]ography: Autobiography in Memphis Blues

Much of the power music possesses lies in its ability to express emotions that words fail to. Furthermore, music has played an intricate part in the documentation of expressed sentiment through various periods in history. For my 20% Project, I am focusing on a particular era of blues music in the 1920s and 30s. The most popular genre of blues during this period is referred to as Memphis blues, a style born out of the southern depths of the United States by African Americans. Considering this monumental period in American history, I’d like to examine the lives of two or three popular musicians and the content of their lyrics during the Prohibition and likewise during the Depression. It will be interesting to see how the lives of these musicians were affected by the Great Depression and if that translates through their music.

For my project, I created a blog entitled Auto[blues]ography: Autobiography in Memphis blues.  The blog is set up in a somewhat chronological manner that examines important periods in the early 1900s that had an immense effect on the production of blues music.  Using Henrietta Yurchenco’s article “Blues Fallin’ Down Like Hail” as a guide, I picked out some of the most influential Memphis blues artists and select lyrics that demonstrate a wide variety of autobiographical concepts.  I chose around ten different songs to analyze autobiographically in historical contexts.  The blog includes important quotes from Yurchenco to emphasize the importance and relevance of these artists in the depiction of a culturally oppressed race.



Smith, Sidone, and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. 2nd ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

Yurchenco, Henrietta. “Blues Fallin’ Down Like Hail: Recorded Blues 1920-40s.” American Music 13.4 (1995): 448- 69.



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