The book depicts ten blues singers who rocked the world, starting with a grandfather talking to his granddaughter about the history of the blues when she comes to visit her grandfather every summer. The grandfather has always told stories about Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr. Now, he wants to tell her about some of the great blues singers, and he starts by telling her that he used to play a guitar and do a lot of singing, and he saw a lot of blues singers. He starts with the music that he is playing in the background; he tells her that many of the singers today are walking in the footsteps of blues singers such as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters. She asks the question, “Who’re they?” He says, “Well, I’m glad you asked,” and explains that the roles of grandfathers are to remember how things used to be so we can tell our grandchildren. Grandfather says that he remembered Bessie and Muddy Waters and passed the story on to her. So, she responds by asking, “So what are the blues?” “Well, the blues are like having the flu in your feelings. But instead of your nose being stuffed up, it’s your heart that feels like it needs blowing.” Grandfather explains that blues is not only a feeling; it’s also a kind of music that cures the blues. The music and the beat wrap around your heart like one of your grandmother’s hugs. Grandfather states that the roots of the blues go back to slavery, and that if anything gave you the blues it was slavery. One of the ways black people fought against slavery was with the breath in their bodies. They wove hope on the air by singing songs called spirituals—songs for the spirit. Grandfather ends by saying that blues music probably started out in the fields when slaves worked from sunup to sundown: “Honey, if it wasn’t for the blues, we probably wouldn’t have anything to listen to except our toenails growing.” Criticism Resource Guide - Center for the Humanities
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