WRTG 27003 The Blues

Beale Street, Memphis

Digital Blues

Jazz Music Library : Over 10,000 albums and 130,000 tracks--more than 500 of which are classified as Blues. Search by sub-genre, artist, or song title.  Also check out the  database which uses the same interface and under Genres covers the blues (this one is limited to 3 simultaneous users).

IC Library Print & Media Resources

Subject Searches: Blues in Black & White

     Note: In general, Subject Headings denoting a music genre--sometimes subdivided by time and place--will retrieve recordings of musical performances on CD, vinyl, DVD, or VHS.  Most of the textual material about the genre will be found under a variety of subheadings, the most common of which is --History and criticism.

Blues (Music)   [mainly recordings]
Guitar music (Blues)

     There are also Subject headings for blues recordings by decade:
Blues (Music)--To 1931
Blues (Music)--1931-1940
Blues (Music)--1941-1950
Blues (Music)--1951-1960
Blues (Music)--1961-1970
Blues (Music)--1971-1980
Blues (Music)--1981-1990
Blues (Music)--1991-2000
Blues (Music)--2001-2010

     and blues recordings by place:
Blues (Music)--Illinois--Chicago
Blues (Music)--Louisiana
Blues (Music)--Mississippi
Blues (Music)--Mississippi--Delta (Region)
Blues (Music)--Southern States

     For books about the blues, look especially for the subheading "History and Criticism":
Blues (Music)--History and criticism
Blues (Music)--Mississippi--History and criticism
Blues (Music)--Southern States--History and criticism

     Other subheadings may indicate specific critical concerns:
Blues (Music)--African influences
Blues (Music)--Political aspects
Blues (Music)--Religious aspects
Blues (Music)--Social aspects--United States
Blues (Music)--Southern States--History

     Individual blues performers may be studied collectively or individually:
Blues musicians
Blues musicians--United States
Handy, W. C. (William Christopher), 1873-1958
Johnson, Robert, d. 1938-
Smith, Bessie, 1894-1937
Morton, Jelly Roll, d. 1941
Waters, Ethel, 1896-1977
Howlin' Wolf, 1910-1976

     Considerable discussion of the blues may be found in works on Black music:
Blacks--Music--History and criticism
African Americans--Music--History and criticism
African Americans--Songs and music--History and criticism
Music and race

     In its roots, variations, and influence the blues touches on a wide range of music:
Music--Africa   [mainly recordings]
Music--Africa--History and criticism
Music--Africa, West--History and criticism
Music--African influences
Blacks--Africa--Music   [recording]

Popular music--United States--History and criticism
Folk music--United States--History and criticism
Ballads, English--United States--History and criticism
Hymns, English--Southern States--History and criticism
Hymns, English--United States--History and criticism
Music--United States--History and criticism

Slavery--Songs and music
Minstrel shows
Minstrel shows--United States--History

Spirituals (Songs)   [recordings]
Spirituals (Songs)--History and criticism

Gospel music   [recordings]
Gospel music--History and criticism

Work songs   [recordings]
Work songs--History and criticism

Prisoners' songs   [recordings]
Prisoners' songs--United States

Ragtime music   [mainly recordings]
Ragtime music--History and criticism

Piano music (Boogie-woogie)   [recordings]
Piano music (Boogie-woogie)--History and criticism

Swing (Music)   [recordings]
Swing (Music)--History and criticism

Jazz   [mainly recordings]
Jazz--History and criticism
Jazz--To 1921  [recordings]
Jazz--1921-1930   [recordings]
Jazz--1921-1930--History and criticism
Jazz--1931-1940   [recordings]
Jazz--1931-1940--History and criticism
Jazz--Political aspects--United States
Jazz--Social aspects
Jazz--Social aspects--United States
Jazz musicians

Bop (Music)
Bop (Music)--History and criticism

Rhythm and blues music   [recordings]
Rhythm and blues music--History and criticism

Soul music   [recordings]
Soul music--History and criticism

Rock music--History and criticism
Funk (Music)
Rap (Music)--History and criticism
Rap (Music)--Social aspects
Hip-hop--United States

Not in the IC Library??

Note: The universe of books, CDs and DVDs on the blues--especially on particular artists and styles--is wider than the IC collections.

     WorldCat via FirstSearch  is a "union catalog" that allows you to search the holdings of over 10,000 libraries from accross the country and around the world. Check WorldCat to discover what the entire universe of possible resources looks like for your topic. 
User Advisory:
  • Because this is such an enormous database you need to choose a "Limit Type to" before you begin. Most commonly you will be looking for "Books," "Visual Materials" (for example DVDs), or "Sound Recordings."
  • I recommend you avoid the "Author phrase," "Title phrase," and "Subject phrase" search fields and use "Author," "Title," or "Subject" instead. The "phrase" searches must be exact and are unforgiving.
  • If your topic is time-sensitive, try focusing on a recent time span under Year.
  • When you find an item you want you can request an interlibrary loan by opening the WorldCat record and clicking on "ILL (order via interlibrary loan)," which you'll find toward the top of the record under "External Resources." This will connect you to Ithaca College Library interlibrary loan, where you log in using your usual Netpass name and password. Logging in opens a form where all the identifying data will have automatically been transferred from the WorldCat record. All you have to do is click "Submit."

IC Library Databases (Articles)

Selected Databases

     ProQuest Research Library : is a comprehensive database with substantial full text.  Note the "Thesaurus" of Subject Headings used in Proquest, where you can check on what terms are available.  This can be a more efficient way to search than Keyword, since it guarantees that the articles retrieved actually be about the Subject--not just use a particular word. 
     Begin by running a Subject search on Blues Music for a sense of the range of resources here. User Advisory: ProQuest is fussy about entering Subject searches in the designated search slot. If your subject is a person, enter the name--last name first--in the "Person" slot (two slots below Subject): for example, Morton, Jelly Roll.  If you want to search a place, put the name in the Location slot: for example Memphis Tennessee.
     Above each set of articles you retrieve ProQuest will display useful "Suggested Topics"--related Subject searches to help either broaden or narrow your focus.

      Academic Search Premier  Comprehensive subject coverage with considerable full text.  Note that there is a “Subject Terms” link just above the search boxes, allowing you to search the index of Subject Headings--often a good first stop for more efficient Subject searching whereby you are guaranteed that your topic is indeed a main subject of the articles retrieved.
     A good initial strategy in this database is to search a likely topic in the Subject Terms and when you find it “explode” the term by double clicking it--this brings up a list of related Subject terms.  You can check as many terms as you like before "adding" them to your search by AND-ing or OR-ing them together.  Among the Subjects related to Blues (Music) here are Blues Musicians, Rhythm & Blues Music, Blues-rock Music, Guitar Music (Blues) and Piano Music (Blues).
     If you want to target a particular musician by name: don't use the "Subject" search; use the "People" search, last name first.
    For any retrieved set of articles, there will be a box displayed on the left that will limit the articles to “Scholarly” journals—just check the box and click the “Update Results” button below.

     : Like Academic Search Premier above, this is an EBSCO database and can be searched in much the same way--except that instead of a "Subject Terms" option above the search slots there is "Indexes," where you can  select the index of "Subject Terms."  There are pages of blues-related terms to browse here.

     General OneFile : is the most user-friendly of our comprehensive databases, covering almost any topic from a wide range of disciplinary angles and offering lots of full text.  Use the "Browse Subjects" search to find the best subject heading for your topic (and when you find a good one be sure to look at the "Related Subjects" to see if there's something even better).  For this topic you might try Blues (Music), Blues Musicians, Rhythm and Blues Music, and Blues Guitar Music.
     When you settle on a subject heading, open the "Subdivisions" link below it.  Most General OneFile subject searches produce very large retrievals and the "subdivisions" help you narrow your search to a particular aspect: Appreciation, Criticism and Interpretation, History, Personalities, and Social aspects..
      If the best available Subject or Subdivision is still too broad, open it and add your own Keywords in the "Search within these results" slot at the upper left.
     User Advisory: When first viewing your retrievals in General OneFile, note that you are seeing onlythe "Magazines" (popular articles) and must click on the tabs for "Academic Journals" (scholarly articles) or "News" (newspaper articles) to see those results.

      JSTOR : covers a wide range of scholarly journals in most disciplines, always beginning with the first issue of each one.  This provides 100% full text access to articles from not only the first half of the 20th century but even the second half of the 19th.  Be aware, however, that at the other end of the date range articles don't appear in JSTOR until at least 2-3 years after publication.
     JSTOR offers only a Keyword search of its complete full text, so retrievals are large, but the relevancy ranking does a good job of putting the strongest matches on the first few pages.  "Blues" is somewhat problematic as a Keyword, so be sure to combine it with at least one other term to indicate that you are interested in the musical genre: for instance, blues and memphis, blues and delta, blues and guitar, blues and song*, or blues and "Robert Johnson." (The asterisk * is the truncation symbol here, so song* retrieves both song and songs.  And remember to put phrases or names in quotation marks as a signal you want all the words in exactly that order.)
     User Advisory: The academic journals covered here feature numerous book reviews, so it's a good idea to tick the "Article" limit below the search slots so you won't be overwhelmed by book reviews on your topic.  
     Also note the "Date Range" limit, which in a database with an archive this deep can be very useful. You can use it to target articles written anytime during the last 150 years.

     Project Muse , although a smaller database, it complements JSTOR. LIke JSTOR it provides 100% full text of mostly scholarly journals, but its coverage is entirely current--mainly spanning the last 10-15 years.  Muse uses a "black box" search approach--you enter your search terms in one slot with no designated field options--but in addition to slapping in keywords, you can use the same Library of Congress Subject Headings that work in the Library catalog (see above under "Subject Searches").  This broad approach to searching tends to generate large retrievals, so it's best to be as specific as possible, but for an overview you might begin with "Blues (Music)."  And note--once you have a retrieval set, you can add more search terms by clicking "Modify Search" at the top.

     Music Periodicals Database  If you open up the drop-down menu for either of the top two search slots, you can switch the default "anywhere except full text" to more targeted search fields. I find that the "Narrow Subject Heading" field works best with a topic like the blues. Also note that you can search for a specific "person" or performing arts "company/organization." This allows you to run a Subject search on individuals and musical groups: John Cage, New York Philharmonic, Rolling Stones.  Whereas a keyword search will retrieve any mention of that word--no matter how fleeting--a Subject search will only return articles that are substantially about that person or group.

     America: History and Life : In addition to searching politicians and presidents by name as Subject searches, this database allows you to set a "Historical Period" limit (below the search slots on the left).  If you set this for 1890-1920, any Subjects or Keywords you enter above will retrieve articles on that topic as it played out during that 30-year period.  But: be aware that setting a Period limit of 1890-1920 will also retrieve any Period that contains those 30 years: 1850-1950.
     A Subject search on "Blues" will retrieve articles on both Blues (Music) and Blues Musicians.
     Be sure to set the "Document Type" limit to "Article" to weed out all the many book reviews that will otherwise clot your search for articles.
     There's a good deal of full text here, but where there isn't be sure to use the "Find Full Text" link below citations to see if another IC database can supply it.

     New York Times (1851-2009)  gives access to the full text of the New York Times 1851-2006. Reset the default search of "citation and document text" to "citation and abstract" (since this is a Keyword search of 100% full text, you are likely to generate too many passing mentions of your search terms if you search all the text; first try the more focused "citation and abstract" search and only broaden it to "document text" if you retrieve too few hits). 
     Use the "date range" limits to target the primary sources available here--contemporary reports. Without a date range limit you may retrieve hundreds of articles written decades after the events they discuss.
     User Advisory: With only the Keyword option, searching "blues" or "the blues" here will overwhelm you with irrelevant articles--even in combination with words like "music" or "singer."  The name of a particular blues performer or event will work best.

     LexisNexis Academic  News:  Offering a keyword search of 100% full text from a vast number of national and international newspapers, this is an easy database to use poorly and a bit tricky to use well. In order not to be overwhelmed with articles in which your search terms are mentioned anywhere—first or last paragraph—or any number of times—once or ten times—use commands to target articles in which your topic words are mentioned early or mentioned often.
     Use the hlead command (headline and lead paragraphs) to target articles in which your topic words occur in the prime news-story position of headline or first paragraphs. For example: hlead(fracking and pollution) will retrieve just the articles in which the words “fracking” and “pollution” are used in the headline or first paragraphs. Note: the term or terms to which you want this command to apply must be put in parentheses after hlead, with no space between.
     Use the altleast command to target articles in which your topic words occur a set number of times. For example: atleast5(“gay marriage”) will retrieve only the articles where this phrase is used at least 5 times—indicating that it must be a main topic. You can plug in any number after atleast—atleast3 or atleast7. Note: the term or terms to which you want this command to apply must be put in parentheses with no space between the number you choose and the first parenthesis.
     Use the date range offered under Advanced Options. Because this is a large database of 100% full text, one of the most effective ways to retrieve fewer than 1000 hits is to set up a time frame. Note: if you use the calendar icons to set beginning and end dates, you need to choose a year, a month, and a day for each. Without the day, the date won’t register.

Contact Us

picture of Dr. Brian Saunders

Dr. Brian Saunders

Humanities Librarian
(607) 274-1198

Search Argos

Expert Assistance

Kris Shanton is the IC Library Music Librarian.  You'll find general search tips and contact information here and an online research guide here.  For help during Library hours, remember that the Music Reference Desk is located on the Library's third floor at the end closest to the Whalen Center.

Web Resources

Web Directories

    Web Directories differ from search engines like Google in that all the online resources have been selected and annotated by editors, thereby promising a much higher degree of quality control.  

Web Search Engines

  Google Advanced Search: When doing research on the Web, always use the Adanced Search version of Google. This not only provides more flexibility in entering search terms, but more importantly it allows you to target the Web domains that are likely to provide the most authoritative information.
     Under "Need More Tools?" you will find the "Search within a site or domain" slot. You may enter only one domain at a time, but it's worth targeting each of the three domains likely to supply the best information: colleges and universities (enter the "edu" tag), nonprofit organizations (enter the "org" tag), and the United States government (enter the "gov" tag).

Selected Web Sites

Note: Blues on the Web includes many broken links and abandoned sites.  Below I have focused on generalist sites that provide content and might be helpful for research purposes.  But conducting your own search on a particular style, location, or musician could turn up excellent resources not included here.

  • Blues Foundation: Memphis-based organization with pockets of information scattered around their site.  See especially the "What is the Blues" link at the top right (and note that links to content then appear in the left margin), as well as the "Member & Affiliate" links (especially Education and Internet), "Blues News" and "Blues Hall of Fame" with its Inductees links.
  • Blue Highway: Curtis Hustan's fan site, some parts are not maintained, but some are and there is a wealth of information about blues Web resources under Blues Links.
  • The Blues: Support site for the PBS series offers a fair amount of content.
  • Earlyblues.com: British site with quite a bit of content and coverage of the history.  Use the handy index across the top, and don't overlook Earlyblues Website Treasure Trove at the bottom.
  • National Jukebox: Historical recordings from the Library of Congress.  Under "Genres" open "Popular Music" and first on the list is "Blues."
  • Red Hot Musicians: Essays and audio covering jazz and blues music.  Note that the alphabetical musicians list on the home page scrolls and that there is a Table of Contents for the site just below the musicians list--including a keyword search option.
  • Blues World: A fan site with a fair amount of content that requires you to take a hit-and-miss approach with all those confusing boxes on the home page.  Better to use the categorized Blues Links.
  • AllMusic: Blues:  This works as a thesaurus of the blues: a categorical approach that allows you to burrow down by style, artist, album, and song. 
  • Blues History: Not much still works here except the Essays which may be worth a visit.
  • Online 78 Discographical Project: 78 RPM records were once the standard and this site offers extensive, but very basic, information on who recorded what song when, arranged by record company.  Covers approximately 1899-1959.

Citation Help

MLA Citation

MLA is the citation style used by most disciplines in the Humanities. Here is my guide to the latest (2016) update of the MLA style.