Looking up at Down : The Emergence of Blues Culture / Edition 1

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More than just a history of a musical genre, Looking Up at Down traces the evolution of the various strands of blues music within the broader context of the culture on which it commented, and discusses its importance as a form of cultural resistance and identity for Afro-Americans. William Barlow explores the lyrics, describes the musical styles, and portrays the musicians and performers who created this uniquely American music. He describes how the blues sound—with its recognizable dissonance and African musical standards—and the blues text, which provided a bottom up view of American society, became bulwarks of cultural resistance.

Using rare recordings, oral histories, and interviews, Barlow analyzes how the blues was sustained as a form of Afro-American cultural resistance despite attempts by the dominant culture to assimilate and commercialize the music and exploit its artists.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"If you want to find your way back to the roots of the blues, this book is your ticket."
Taj Mahal

"A masterwork.... [Barlow] includes all types of blues in his analysis, without losing sight of the music’s density, its humor, and its satire, when the blues get so bad that we are 'lookin’ up at down.'"
Ruth A. Banes, Popular Music and Society

"Bill Barlow’s fine study is a major contribution to our understanding of blues. He carefully traces the music from its roots in the rural South to urban traditions in Memphis, St. Louis, and Chicago. Barlow’s broad portrait of the blues and his perceptive analysis make this study a classic."
Bill Ferris, Director, Center for the Study of Southern Culture, The University of Mississippi

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this encyclopedic work of interest to specialists rather than general readers, Barlow, who teaches radio, television and film at Howard University, traces the blues as music and culture from its origins on cotton plantations in the 1890s through migration to urban ghettos in the 1920s, to its commercialization in today's recording studios. Basing much of his study on interviews with blues musicians and scholars, Barlow analyzes the music and examines in depth the lives of the men and women who wrote and performed it. He devotes sections to the major blues personalities and includes numerous examples of lyrics, demonstrating that the blues, a powerful emotional outlet for an oppressed people, also tells the story of African-American resistance to white domination. (Dec.)
Library Journal
Many books have been written about the blues, but few with the depth and comprehensiveness of this one. Barlow (radio, television, and film, Howard Univ.) divides his subject into rural and urban blues. Whether exploring the Chicago Blues, the Memphis Blues, or the St. Louis Blues, he makes good use of rare recordings, oral histories, and interviews to trace the genre's powerful emergence. The book offers a fresh view of the way the blues helped Afro-Americans survive in a hostile social environment. This cultural and musical history is an important balance to the more biographical approach of books like Barry Lee Pearson's Sounds So Good to Me: The Bluesman's Story (Univ. of Pennsylvania Pr., 1984).-- Daniel J. Lombardo, Jones Lib., Inc., Amherst, Mass.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780877227229
  • Publisher: Temple University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/1990
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 440
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

William Barlow is Associate Professor in the Radio, Television, and Film Department of Howard University. A music programmer for alternative radio stations for more than fifteen years, he currently produces "Blue Monday" on WPFW-FM. He is also the author of Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio.

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