The Original Blues: The Emergence of the Blues in African American Vaudeville

The researchers Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff have made a monumental contribution to scholarship on the history of American popular music. In three large, thoroughly documented, lavishly illustrated volumes, they have produced a rich narrative illuminating the broad streams of African American music and entertainment that developed into jazz and blues in the early twentieth century. The authors used African American newspapers as their chief source, exhaustively mining publications like the Chicago Defender and the Indianapolis Freeman, which for years functioned as a sort of mobile messaging service for performers on the road. The culminating volume of the trilogy, The Original Blues: The Emergence of the Blues in African American Vaudeville, confirms the scope of their achievement. Focusing on the 1910s and early 1920s, the book puts the lie to received myths about the origin of the blues. It offers a more compelling story, with enough context and detail to advance how we understand both the birth of the blues and the gestation period that preceded it. In 2002, Abbott, a curator at the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University in New Orleans, and his colleague Seroff published Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895. This book is structured as an annotated press diary with more than a thousand entries, chronicling the careers of a wide range of performe
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Roger Kimmel Smith is a freelance wordsmith ( based in Ithaca, New York. He’s written many musician profiles for Contemporary Black Biography. His all-20s/30s program “Crazy Words, Crazy Tune” airs Friday Afternoons (12-2pm) on WRFI Community Radio (

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