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146 THE INSTRUMENTS, THE SOUNDS, THE PERFORMERS
was common to the vagrant blues moaners and the singers in Negro churches all over America in the late nineteenth century.
The first singers who, unconscious of their role, set a pattern for vocal interpretation in jazz, were a thousand faceless blues callers in the South. Of them, the earliest to reach records and survive in the memories of jazz critics are Blind Lemon Jefferson and Ma Rainey. As Orrin Keepnews points out, "Lemon, who was singing for years before they ever got him to a recording studio, symbolizes all the anonymous people who may have been his contemporaries or predecessors."
Bending notes, leaning heavily on blue thirds and sevenths, limiting themselves most often to the 12-measure blues, these early singers had as much in common with the Sarah Vaughans of today as a mud hut with a Hollywood hacienda; they were neither able nor called upon to read music, and the stories they told, generally self-composed or improvised, reflected the poverty, squalor and deprivation of the Jim Crow lives they led. They sang the Jail House Blues, Graveyard Blues, Cemetery Blues, Boll Weevil Blues, House Rent Blues, Sing Sing Prison Blues. The men often accompanied themselves on battered guitars, unleashing a repeated strain set to the pattern of the three-line stanza that became the core of the blues.
As Jimmy Rushing has said, the blues "came from way back in slavery days, from the time when those people weren't treated right. A man would have a plantation with as many as 200 working for him-150 of them would be singing spirituals, and the other 50 would be singing he or she songs, or songs about other private affairs.
"And some would be singing about the time when they wouldn't be doing that hard work any more. 'The sun will shine in your backyard some day.'
"The blues came out of that—the spirituals, the he-and-she songs, and work songs, too. Today as it was then, the blues comes right back to a person's feelings, to his daily activities in life. But rich people don't know nothing about the blues, please believe me."
A complete understanding of every nuance of the word iDlues" is a prerequisite of any study of the vocal history of