Young People and the Future of the Blues
ED GORDON, host:
When Youth Radio's Jordan Monroe looks at his friends' musical tastes, he's worried about the future of the blues. Back when the blues began, the music was popular and the best artists started as kids. Jordan says today his young peers are more interested in rap, but Jordan grew up around the blues, and he hopes it still has a chance with his generation.
(Soundbite of song, "Stormy Monday")
Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Oh, they call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad.
Mr. JORDAN MONROE (Reporter, Youth Radio): Blues has been in my life since Oshkosh B'Gosh.
Ms. GEORGE GIBSON(ph) (Jordan Monroe's Grandmother; Former Blues Club Owner): Pay attention what you're listening to and you'll enjoy it because you got to enjoy it for yourself.
Mr. MONROE: This is my grandmother, George Gibson. Her house was always full of Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Little Johnny Taylor - oh yeah, my personal favorite, Bobby "Blue" Bland.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. BOBBY BLUE BLAND: (Singing) (unintelligible) you don't need no money to qualify...
Ms. GIBSON: And even since you have been up in age a little, you come in and play the blues, sit there and pat your foot, and have a good time by yourself.
Mr. GIBSON: For many years, she owned two popular night clubs in Oakland, California, My Club and Al's House of Smiles. She got her introduction to the blues back home in Texas when she was young, just like me.
Ms. GIBSON: Years ago, they had different clubs, and they would have a person playing guitar. It was the only instrument they had, a guitar, and they played the guitar and sang the blues. And I was very young then, but I enjoyed it then.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. MONROE: Last year, my grandma was inducted into the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame. While attending the ceremony, I came across an old blues musician by the name of Guitar Mac. His bright orange suit, white hat with a feather, had a lot to say, so I figured he might, too.
Mr. GUITAR MAC (Blues Musician): Exhilarating, yeah. Yeah, blues is exhilarating because a lot of people think of blues as a downer, but then the blues can also be an upper, too, you see. So blues is here to stay.
Mr. MONROE: But I ask myself, where is it? I am 23 years old and I am in love with the blues. But I often feel this relationship is destined for heartbreak. You see, I can't seem to find my love anywhere, except at the occasional blues festival. I turn on the radio and she's not there; all I hear is...
(Soundbite of rap song)
Unidentified Man #3: (Rapping) Girl, you know you got, got me, with your pistol shot me, shot me...
Mr. MONROE: That sounds fine, too, but there is nothing like my blues. I ask my friends if they've seen her, but they claim to have never known her. My coworker Adrian(ph) is a self-declared rock 'n' roller. I ask him has he heard from my ladylove, the blues?
ADRIAN: It was in a - some of those commercials with the blues music.
Mr. MONROE: Okay, so you are - you're pretty much exposed to the blues through commercials.
Mr. MONROE: Are you familiar with the role the blues has played in the development of rock 'n' roll?
ADRIAN: No, I'm not.
Mr. MONROE: Okay.
How can one possibly claim to love rock 'n' roll, rap, country, without knowing and loving their mother, the blues? Young people certainly have the blues now more than ever. I look around Oakland and I see people my age or younger abusing drugs and alcohol and becoming victims of homicide. When my grandmother opened her first blues club, she said Oakland didn't have this kind of blues at all.
Ms. GIBSON: Oh, my God, the neighborhood was a different thing than what it is now. It was just wonderful. You had people that came in from all walks of life. It was nothing like it is now. You could walk the streets; you could come by yourself. Everything was fine.
Mr. MONROE: Today's youth commonly express the blues through music like rap and rock. But, fortunately, the blues still reaches young people through sampling. Here's an example in Nas' song Bridging the Gap. The blues riff you hear is an interpretation of Muddy Waters' song, Mannish Boy, and is performed by Nas' father.
(Soundbite of song, "Bridging the Gap")
Unidentified Man #4: (Singing) I told him as a youngster, he'll be the greatest man alive. Let's go!
NAS: (Rapping) I'm the magnificent. La, la, la, la, la, la, la, La, la, la, la, la, la, la. Hey, hey, hey, hey. I'm (unintelligible)…
Mr. MONROE: Nas had a parent who introduced him to blues when he was just knee high to a grasshopper. But many young people spend less time with their parents and grandparents than past generations did and miss this exposure. My grandmother introduced me to the love of my life, the blues. Call me a hopeless romantic if you wish, but I am wholeheartedly in love with the blues. But this is not a jealous love. I would want everyone to embrace my lover. Take a little time to listen to her words, and I promise, despite the alarming breakup rates you hear about, this is a love that will last forever.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. MONROE: For NPR News, I'm Jordan Monroe.
GORDON: That story was produced by Youth Radio.
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