Blog note: Very interesting question raised by the author Joe Gioia –in his new book The Guitar and the New World– re: Native American influence on the Blues. You have to read the entire excerpt (see link below) to really appreciate what he’s arguing.–Tlak
“The question of North America’s original, or indigenous, inhabitants hardly ever comes up in popular histories of American music, the assumption being that the land inhabited by the European arrivals, and their slaves, had been mainly clear of earlier people and empty of song. Africa and the British Isles were seen as the only possible sources of the music that evolved from that place and time. The possibility that the musical traditions of indigenous peoples might be central to American harmony has never been articulated, much less considered at length.
This is pretty remarkable, not only because so many of the musicians—black, white, and brown—had pronounced Native American roots, but by the given historical details of the settlement of the North American continent. Professor Peabody’s reactions to the workmen’s songs—“monotonous” and “weird,” he said—is pretty much how Europeans described American Indian music. That Peabody may have been closer to the mark when he said the music sounded Asian is, for many, counterintuitive.
Between 1600 and 1840, three cultures—Native American, African, and European—each with a highly evolved choral tradition, came to encounter one another, in war and peace, by choice and under duress, in the old and new settlements of the vast American interior east of the Mississippi. To assume that only one of these cultures predominated in how the music evolved, or that another had no influence whatsoever, flies not only against logic but also in the face of any practical knowledge about how musicians work.
Consider also how connected to the specific landscape the Indigenous tradition would have been. If any musical style prevailed, it was probably the one that reflected the strangeness of the new land to those who had only recently, either by force or choice, arrived there; one that also reflected the despair, the blues, of those who saw the old way of life die.”