The term blues ballad is used to refer to a specific form of popular music which fused Anglo-American and Afro-American styles from the late 19th century onwards. Early versions combined elements of the European influenced "native American ballad" with the forms of African American music. From the 20th century on it was also used to refer to a slow tempo, often sentimental song in a blues style.
Structure and variations
Popular blues ballads
The first blues ballads tended to deal with active protagonists, often anti-heroes, resisting adversity and authority, often in the context of industrialisation. They usually lacked the strong narrative common in European ballads, and emphasised instead individual character. They were often accompanied by banjo and guitar and often followed a standard 12-bar the blues format, with a repeated refrain in the last line of every verse. Blues ballads are usually anonymously authored and were performed by both black and white musicians in the early 20th century. Ballads about anti-heroes include "Wild Bill Jones", "Stagger Lee" and "John Hardy". The most famous blues ballads that deal with heroes in the context of industrialisation include those about John Henry and Casey Jones.
Sentimental blues ballads
From the late 19th century the term ballad began to be used for sentimental songs with their origins in the early ‘Tin Pan Alley’ music industry. As new genres of music, including the blues, began to emerge in the early 20th century the popularity of the genre faded, but the association with sentimentality meant led to this being used as the term for a slow love song from the 1950s onwards.
Today the term is used to describe a song that uses a blues format with a slow tempo, often dealing with themes of love and affection. Examples include songs like B. B. King's "Blues on the Bayou", Fats Domino's "Every night about this time", Percy Mayfield's love song "Please Send Me Someone to Love", and Buddy Johnson's "Since I Fell for You". The format is also popular in country music, such as Freddy Fender's songs "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" and "Before the Next Teardrop Falls".
- T. A. Green, Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art (ABC-CLIO, 1997), p. 81.
- Boyd, Jack (1991). Encore!: A Guide to Enjoying Music, p.31. ISBN 978-0-87484-862-5. "[32-bar form] is sometimes called ballad form because so many of our popular ballads, middle-of-the-road popular songs, and Country Western songs use this form."
- N. Cohen, Folk Music: a Regional Exploration (Greenwood, 2005), pp. 14-29.
- R. DeV Renwick, Recentering Anglo/American Folksong: Sea Crabs and Wicked Youths (University Press of Mississippi, 2009), pp. 25-6.
- D. M. Randel, The Harvard Dictionary of Music (Harvard University Press, 4th edn., 2003), p. 73,
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- R. Coleman, "Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock 'n' Roll (Da Capo Press, 2007), p. 63.
- Blues Ballad's real beauty comes through with Staton, a review by Chicago Tribune writer Larry Kart of performances by Dakota Staton.