Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. Abel Bartley

Committee Member

Dr. Vernon Burton

Committee Member

Dr. James Burns


Blues music is profoundly important to not only Black history but also to American history as a whole. While the blues has been examined by several scholars and writers throughout the years such as Samuel Charters, Paul Oliver, and Elijah Wald, much of the work done seems to be geared toward biographical information on these artists or defining what exactly the blues is. In my thesis, I argue that blues is important for another reason: it speaks to the individualism that was found within the African American community following Emancipation and this can be found primarily through a robust examination of the blues lyrics themselves. In this work, I focus on the early blues from the beginning of the 20th century up until World War II. These pre-war blues can be divided into three distinct regions: the Mississippi Delta, Texas, and the Piedmont. As a result, this work focuses in on major representatives in the blues of these three areas: in the Mississippi Delta with Robert Johnson, Son House, Charley Patton, Big Bill Broonzy, and Skip James, in the Piedmont region with Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Willie McTell, and Joshua White, and finally in Texas with Blind Lemon Jefferson. By examining three distinct themes in the blues, including religion, leisure, and relationships, I show how the blues lyrics themselves were important to understanding the lived experiences of these African American artists and the Black community at the time.



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