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Now isn't that nice? - Skip James, in hospital, to Fahey and Barth after they show him a discography listing his known records

Author Topic: Relationship between vocals and education of early bluesmen  (Read 814 times)

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Offline harriet

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Relationship between vocals and education of early bluesmen
« on: February 15, 2015, 11:18:29 AM »
I'm a fan of Rev Wilkins lyrics and vocals and I recently listened to his spoken bio included on the Bear Family cdwhere he noted education to the 4th grade. Something struck me when I read that.

I am wondering if the limited book reading/writing experience  of the bluesmen with similar lack of education contributes to the power and immediacy, sometimes the extraordinary poetic way the words  and phrases are put together and delivered- these would be people who primarily used words and language with other people - not reading much other than the bible.

Any thoughts?

Harriet
« Last Edit: February 15, 2015, 11:59:38 AM by harriet »

Offline frankie

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Re: Relationship between vocals and education of early bluesmen
« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2015, 06:14:42 AM »
Seems to me that the bible would be a rich source of poetic imagery and usage.

Offline wreid75

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Re: Relationship between vocals and education of early bluesmen
« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2015, 07:35:49 AM »
bible would be damn hard to read for the barely literate and might have prevented some from learning to read

Offline onewent

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Re: Relationship between vocals and education of early bluesmen
« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2015, 08:03:35 AM »
harriet, I believe you're wondering is correct, since many grew up and lived where an oral tradition was predominant, rather than a written word tradition.  ...that and other cultural influences.  Tom

Offline RobBob

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Re: Relationship between vocals and education of early bluesmen
« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2015, 08:39:43 AM »
My grandfather died at 99 in 1993.  While educated he could recall meetings and conversations he had had decades before with stark clarity.  The people back in his time paid more attention to detail, listened closely and absorbed more readily than people today. Speech is learned from imitation and a kind of absorption.  The storied predominate about sneaking off to hear the bluesmen.  That's how it was done then.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Relationship between vocals and education of early bluesmen
« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2015, 09:59:01 AM »
I think that it's a lot more complicated than that. There's a selection bias at work here. I think these people were insightful, had talent and creativity, and a gift for expression that would have manifested itself regardless of their level of education and literacy--and how much they read or wrote. Opportunities were limited--educational and otherwise. There are just too many variables and "what ifs" to say anything about any individual--and individual circumstances--with any level of certainty--IMHO anyway.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Relationship between vocals and education of early bluesmen
« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2015, 05:54:38 PM »
I work and interact on a daily basis with several of my Amish neighbors. They generally quit school at 8th grade and go work with family on the farm and on other jobs.

I quickly noticed a characteristic wisdom they have when communicating, as in not having to say anything more than once to make a point. I've learned from them to trim unnecessary verbiage out my speech accordingly. They get right to the point, and seem to appreciate it when I do too. That was difficult for me at first and took a conscious effort.

Some, not all, have some cool aphorisms, sometimes indirectly biblical, they sprinkle into conversations to illustrate a point. After thanking one Amish gentleman for taking time-out from his work to show me around his farm he said "Oh, it (work) will still be there when I go back to it. I ain't never had work run away from me yet". We laughed, probably because it was so true.

Perhaps this is the same, or similar to, what harriet is noticing. This thread is also directly related to the 'best lyricists' thread, I think, since it is a possible explanation for why there were so many great, natural lyricists in country blues. So I'm with harriet on this one.

edit, this came up on the quote generator after I posted:

Quote
We can hardly get our breath, taxed and schooled and preached to death. Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live? - Blind Alfred Reed, 1929
« Last Edit: February 16, 2015, 06:25:08 PM by Rivers »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Relationship between vocals and education of early bluesmen
« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2015, 09:29:32 PM »
Can't beat the economy of expression. I used to hear it more often than not when I drove a cab. But I still think that the singers who had a with a way with words would not have had it educated out of them.

Offline Lyndvs

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Re: Relationship between vocals and education of early bluesmen
« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2015, 01:23:00 AM »
I think it`s wrong to presume all early bluesmen were Illiterate or semi-literate or even poorly educated by the standards of their time.Look at Willie McTell,an intelligent man who attended blind school and learned braille or Leadbelly who could read and write and wrote songs pertaining to topical and news worthy events he read in his daily newspaper.
           I think the oral tradition of  passing on songs and lyrics played a huge part regardless of a singers education.I don`t believe education or lack of it would be a factor.William Blake for instance only stayed in school long enough to learn reading and writing,he left school at ten years old.He wrote "And did those feet in ancient time","The Tyger","The Human Abstract" etc..Poems full of rich images and complex ideas.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Relationship between vocals and education of early bluesmen
« Reply #9 on: February 18, 2015, 06:47:00 PM »
I did not know that, about William Blake. The nature of education though, like all things, has changed over time. In one sense, Blake's abbreviated education might tend to reinforce the original point. But I know what you mean, genius is genius.

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