Review: Blues People

What it is: Blues People by Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) details the history of blues, jazz, and other African-derived musical genres. He describes how culture and music affect each other, and the history of race relations in the United States via the interaction between African-influenced and European-influenced music.

What I liked about it: Baraka does an excellent job of explaining why certain musical elements and shifts in genre are important in the context of black cultural history. I’ve never been a huge fan of either blues or jazz–most of the songs I’ve heard from those large genres seemed too raucous and repetitive–but Baraka arms the reader with knowledge to better comprehend, and thus enjoy, these styles. I learned a lot about how to analyze my own preferences, and I finished the book with a greater appreciation of both blues and jazz.

What I didn’t like about it: Baraka is a good writer, and often his word choice is precise and spot-on. Towards the end, however, he shifts from writing more universally understood explanations of genre to specific technicalities. I’m not a musician, I don’t understand his big fancy music words or his references to artists I’ve never heard of, and I was LOST. And that’s saying something considering I read this book as part of a class curriculum, so I had supplementary lectures and videos to help me understand.

Memorable quote: “A freed Negro, and there were quite a few of them even before the so-called Emancipation, would always remain an ex-slave. Otherwise, what was he doing in this country?”

Overall rating: 3.5/5 stars.

Challenge satisfied: #6, read a book written by a person whose gender is different from your own.

Additional notes: I never would’ve picked this book on my own, and reading it for a class is very different from reading it for fun (notes are involved, plus I knew I’d be tested on it). I really enjoyed the first half of the book surrounding blues, but once in the highly specific jazz portions I was so frustrated that I would’ve put it down and not returned, but I didn’t exactly have that choice because college.


Blues People is book 8 of 24 for my Read Harder Challenge (eeeek 1/3 done!). You can also read my reviews of Fun Home and I Am No One You Know.

An affiliate link is used in this post. All opinions in this review are my own and are not influenced by the affiliate.

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11 thoughts on “Review: Blues People

  1. Someday, if you have a HUGE amount of disposable time, you should watch Ken Burn’s “Jazz”. If you don’t like jazz going in, you will coming out, and the themes are often the same as this book – it was almost more a documentary on race relations in America during the 20th century than one on music. (Good jazz is far, far less repetitive than rock or pop).

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    • That’s kinda how the class I read this book for was too, more about context than the music itself. I have more of an appreciation for jazz now, but I still wouldn’t say that I LIKE it. Some of it is enjoyable, but I find myself shying away most of the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been watching this book for quite sometime, because of the research for my novel, you know, and I think that, in spite of you dounts, I’ll read it. It was a very good review, thats so much.

    I’m not an expert of jazz, but I like it, even the early jazz I’ve listened to for my reserch. I suppose this is a kind of music you either like it, or don’t like it, there isn’t a middle point. Some kind of art is like this ;-)

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  3. Funny story, there was a long segment about the history of blues and jazz as part of the reading comprehension questions in the GRE, and now I’m interested. Those tests are awful, I’m fascinated by the excerpts but don’t know where they came from… Maybe I should read this book.

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  4. Pingback: Reading Harder | Victim to Charm

  5. Pingback: Read Harder Challenge BOOK GIVEAWAY | Victim to Charm

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