Guest Blog by Byron Washington
"Blues" isn’t a fancy new term. In fact, most of us grew up hearing, seeing, or just feeling the Blues. Similarly, Baton Rouge isn’t a new city. In fact, it’s actually more than 300 years old.
The story of the Blues in Baton Rouge is much like the story of the people that make up Capital City. Many of us are “from“ but not "actually from" Baton Rouge, meaning we trace our families in surrounding cities, towns, and parishes. It is the story of people moving from the rural communities to the city area.
The origin story of the Red Stick's creation of the Blues is not common knowledge. Why not? Baton Rouge is the home of the Blues. Many of us know about the the Blues festival that has become an international sensation, but we don’t really know our own Blues history and legends. They have paved the way so much that our Baton Rouge has been on the worldwide Blues scene for decades.
The Blues in Baton Rouge was a sort of protest music against the injustices that many of the musicians saw on a racial and economic level. Many artists would hide the meanings of their songs in the rhythm and rhyme of poetry that only those who truly understood the meaning behind the music could understand. Many of these early blues musicians - or as many called them, folk musicians, names are lost to history due to the lack of mechanisms to record who they were and what they did; but their memory lives on through the tales of their music throughout the surrounding areas of music scene. The tenor of the Blues evolved to speak upon the lifestyles of the locals around the surround areas.
For a long period of time, people did not care for the Blues. In fact, it was banned only to be played in underground settings. It was called numerous names including "devil's music", "black music", "poor music" to name a few.
Most of our Blues music went on to get acclaim outside of the city of Baton Rouge. Famous artists would go to places like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles to play and sing the Blues talking about the Baton Rouge area they came from. Even more artists went overseas to earn multiple international awards for music. This Blues went on to inspire the British Invasion music best known by groups like The Beatles. One could argue that the brooding music scene in the city, parish, and surrounding areas of Baton Rouge put the capital region on the map of leaders when he comes to the Blues music scene in the country.
When listening to the Blues music of Baton Rouge, you get a real tenor of the culture and heartbeat of the area. Much like the music that came to be known as Jazz told the story of the greater New Orleans area, or Cajun/Zydeco for the Acadiana areas, music gave a glimpse of the day-to-day activities and what it was like living in those great cultures. Blues told the story of the rural community and the ever-growing life of a multicultural multi-economic people who are struggling and surviving in the same elements. Blues and the City sort of grew up together.Blues Fest, 225 Photo
The original Blues Fest started with a gathering of local Blues artists on Southern University’s campus in 1981. We should remember to visit the local Blues venues like Teddy’s Juke Joint, Buddy Stewart’s Rhythm And Rhymes Museum, Kenny Neal’s Juke Joint, American Legion Hall, Phil Brady’s Bar and Grill, and Henry Turner Jr’s listening room just to name a few. We should remember Tabby’s Blues Box and the Grand Theatre that had so many memories...and maybe we can collectively bring them back.
As we take time to appreciate the great music history of the capital region, we should also take time to remember those who have made the scene so diligent. From juke joints to porch music, to sitting on the railroad track with a guitar, our Blues gives you that feel good mood in your soul. That great river that carried so many tunes and tales gives the very essence of our Blues heritage. Remember the local heroes, remember the forerunners whose names you may not know, remember Baton Rouge. Remember the Blues.
If you're looking for some artists to listen to, try some of these Baton Rouge Blues Heroes. Though we may not know every single artist that blessed us with their music, these are a few to get yourself into the Blues mood: Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, Lazy Lester, Silas Hogan, Lonesome Sundown, Katie Webster, Tabby Thomas, Chris Thomas King, Raful Neal, Kenny Neal, Jackie Neal, Buddy Guy, Larry Garner, John Tilley, Henry Gray, Luther Kent, Rudy Richard, Silas Hogan, Clarence Williams, Oscar Davis, and Arthur Kelly.
Mr. Byron Washington, Baton Rouge,La studied economics at the University of North Texas and received his M.B.A. from Southern University. He is the founder Sky-Walker Productions , arts and culture engagement group. He is also the founder of Scotland Saturdays, a local community open market for small businesses vendors. He works as a business accounts specialist at Verizon. He is the President/Board Chair, NBR Now Blue Really Commission Inc.The NBR Now Blue Ribbon Commission is dedicated to enriching the north Baton Rouge communities and economy through the public,private, partnerships, and grassroots efforts. It is a nongovernmental task force providing research and recommendations to the Metro Council and other decision makers. He also serves on the Mayors Transition team and the Historic Preservation Council for the City of Baton Rouge.
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Supporting the Blues Festival
In light of the postponement of this year's Blues Festival, the organization is hosting a weekly streaming series called #MYBRBLUES live on Instagram and Facebook every Wednesday at 8 p.m. (CST). The series has featured artists such as Kenny Neal, Amythyst, Michael Juan Nunez and more. Upcoming performers include Jonathan "Boogie" Long, Nikki Hill, Dege Legg, Chicago Al and Josh Garrett.