Blues music is an American popular music form derived from the music of enslaved Africans, Black Americans, and sharecroppers in the mid-nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century, the blues entered the mainstream consciousness, thanks to musicians such as W.C. Handy and Ma Rainey, as well as father-son archivists John and Alan Lomax.\n\nTraditional blues music is often characterized by emotive lyrics, guitar-driven accompaniment, and a twelve-bar AAB [song form](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/songwriting-101-learn-common-song-structures#what-are-variations-on-common-song-structures) that blues musicians can embellish as they wish. Blues bands and solo artists can play the style of music on acoustic or electric instruments. While the roots of blues music definitively draw from the Black American tradition, artists of all races play contemporary blues. \n\nThe genre has inspired many genres, from jazz to rock to hip-hop.\nMuch of the early blues tradition began in the Mississippi Delta, where formerly enslaved people and their descendants worked as sharecroppers. \n\n- __Blues has its origins in the late 1800s__. The spirituals, work songs, and "field hollers" of the time served as popular music within this community. Over the latter decades of the 19th century, these melodies inspired a new genre unto itself.\n- __The blues was born in the 1910s__. The blues began to enter popular music in the first decade of the twentieth century. Memphis was an early hub for the musical style, hosting artists like Memphis Minnie and W.C. Handy (who paid homage to the city in his composition "Memphis Blues"). Handy composed "St. Louis Blues" in recognition of another ascendant blues city. \n- __Juke joints helped popularize the genre__. During this era, juke joints (a blues lounge in an informal setting) popped up in southern towns and cities. As the Great Migration of Black Americans blossomed from the 1910s–1930s, juke joints became popular in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York.\n- __Women played an important role in advancing the blues__. Among the stars of the genre were vocalists Bessie Smith (deemed "empress of the blues"), Mamie Smith, and Ma Rainey, who recorded major hits with Louis Armstrong.\n- __Blues artists were prolific in the mid-twentieth century__. Bluesmen like B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Leadbelly, and John Lee Hooker drew large crowds throughout the United States and Europe. This, in turn, inspired new genres of music including soul, rock ‘n' roll, and subgenres of jazz. Rhythm \u0026 blues music (R\u0026B) directly names blues as one of its jumping off points.\n\nToday, nearly all popular music genres in Western music can trace at least some of their harmonic language to the blues.\nBlues music has existed in popular culture for over a century. Yet, even contemporary blues remains faithful to many core tenets of the genre, including: \n\n1. __Guitar or piano-based instrumentation__: Guitar (including slide guitar) is the most iconic blues instrument; although piano drives some blues songs. Rhythm sections led by bass and drums round out most blues combos, while many blues singers double on harmonica.\n2. __Twelve-bar song form__: Countless blues songs utilize a twelve-bar song form using the [I, IV, and V chords](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/music-101-what-is-a-chord-learn-the-difference-between-major-chords-vs-minor-chords) from a diatonic scale.\n3. __Largely diatonic plus blue notes__: Most blues music centers around the major and minor [pentatonic scales](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-the-pentatonic-scale-learn-music-theory) with several key "blue notes" thrown in. These blue notes include the sharp 11th, sharp 9th, and flat 7th scale degrees.\n4. __Country blues__: Some subgenres of blues music fit under the banner of "country blues." This includes Delta blues, Texas blues, and Piedmont blues. These subgenres emphasize fingerpicking on acoustic guitars, in the style of Robert Johnson, Son House, Tampa Red, Charley Patton, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.\n5. __Urban blues__: The blues infiltrated live music scenes in many cities following the Great Migration. This spawned an urban blues tradition where electric guitars replaced acoustics, particularly after World War II. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and guitarist Buddy Guy all fit this plugged-in style. The most famous of these subgenres is Chicago blues, but West Coast blues also carved its own niche in mid-twentieth-century Los Angeles.\nBecome a better musician with the [MasterClass Annual Membership](https://www.masterclass.com). Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by the world’s best, including Herbie Hancock, Itzhak Perlman, St. Vincent, Sheila E., Timbaland, Tom Morello, and more.\n\nAmerican blues is a musical genre with enduring cultural importance that originated in the mid-nineteenth century.