Jazz Age- song analysis of Bessie Smith & Duke Ellington (600 words)

Humanities

Question Description

Read the particle, listen to the music then analysis the song

Part 1: (300 words)

Listen Bessie Smith's "Downhearted Blues" and "Empty Bed Blues." What is innovative or unique about her vocal style, and her artistic approach? How does her voice contrast with the music. How are these recordings emblematic of Classic blues music in the 1920s? Review the lyrics for both songs (attached below), and discuss what the songs are seemingly about; and describe her use of language and colorful imagery. How might these songs exhibit a sense of liberated feminism?

Down hearted Blues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go6TiLIeVZA

Bessie Smith - "Empty Bed Blues" (1928): Bessie Smith - "Empty Bed Blues" (1928)



Part 2:

Listen to the following three Duke Ellington compositions. Compare and contrast these songs and create a list of musical attributes or characteristics that define the Ellington style. How does Ellington use instrumentation and space in his compositional pieces? What sounds unique about Ellington's style? Which of the three did you enjoy the most? (300 words)

Duke Ellington Orchestra - "Black and Tan Fantasy" (1928)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O_VqmgoB4o

Duke Ellington - "It Don't Mean A Thing" (1931)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FvsgGp8rSE (Links to an external site.)

Duke Ellington Orchestra - "Sophisticated Lady" (1933)


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Y__G3Pa5Fw

Unformatted Attachment Preview

Bessie Smith – Downhearted Blues (1923) Gee, but it's hard to love someone When that someone don't love you I'm so disgusted, heartbroken, too I've got those down-hearted blues Once I was crazy 'bout a man He mistreated me all the time The next man I get has got To promise to be mine, all mine Trouble, trouble, I've had it all my days Trouble, trouble, I've had it all my days It seems that trouble's going to follow me to my grave I ain't never loved but three men in my life I ain't never loved but three men in my life My Father, my brother and the man that wrecked my life It may be a week, it may be a month or two It may be a week, it may be a month or two But the day you quit me honey, it's coming home to you I got the world in a jug, the stopper's in my hand I got the world in a jug, the stopper's in my hand I'm going to hold it until you didn't come under my command Bessie Smith – Empty Bed Blues (1928) I woke up this morning with a awful aching head I woke up this morning with a awful aching head My new man had left me, just a room and a empty bed Bought me a coffee grinder that's the best one I could find Bought me a coffee grinder that's the best one I could find Oh he could grind my coffee, cause he had a brand new grind He's a deep sea diver with a stroke that can't go wrong He's a deep sea diver with a stroke that can't go wrong He can stay at the bottom and his wind holds out so long He knows how to thrill me and he thrills me night and day Oh he knows how to thrill me, he thrills me night and day He's got a new way of loving, almost takes my breath away Lord he's got that sweet somethin' and I told my girlfriend Lou He's got that sweet somethin' and I told my girlfriend Lou From the way she's raving, she must have gone and tried it too When my bed get empty make me feel awful mean and blue When my bed get empty make me feel awful mean and blue My springs are getting rusty, sleeping single like I do Bought him a blanket, pillow for his head at night Bought him a blanket, pillow for his head at night Then I bought him a mattress so he could lay just right He came home one evening with his beret way up high He came home one evening with his beret way up high What he had to give me, make me wring my hands and cry He give me a lesson that I never had before He give me a lesson that I never had before When he got to teachin' me, from my elbow down was sore He poured my first cabbage and he made it awful hot He poured my first cabbage and he made it awful hot When he put in the bacon, it overflowed the pot Duke Ellington’s Melodies Carried His Message of Social Justice Michelle Scott and Earl Brooks/ April 2019 At a moment when there is a longstanding heated debate over how artists and pop culture figures should engage in social activism, the life and career of musical legend Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington offers a model of how to do it right. Ellington was born on April 29, 1899 in Washington, D.C. His tight-knit black middle-class family nurtured his racial pride and shielded him from many of the difficulties of segregation in the nation’s capital. Washington was home to a sizable black middle class, despite prevalent racism. That included the racial riots of 1919’s Red Summer, three months of bloody violence directed at black communities in cities from San Francisco to Chicago and Washington D.C. Ellington’s development from a D.C. piano prodigy to the world’s elegant and sophisticated “Duke” is well documented. Yet a fusion of art and social activism also marked his more than 56year career. Ellington’s battle for social justice was personal. Films like the award-winning “Green Book” only hint at the costs of segregation for black performing artists during the 1950s and 60s. Duke’s experiences reveal the reality. Cotton Club to Scottsboro Boys Ellington first rose to fame at Harlem’s “whites only” Cotton Club in the 1920s. There, the only mingling of black and white happened on the piano keyboard itself, as black performers entered through back doors and could not interact with white customers. Ellington quietly devoted his services to the NAACP and its racial equality activities in the 1930s. Whether it was demanding that black youth have equal entrance rights to segregated dance halls or holding benefit concerts for the Scottsboro Boys, nine black adolescents falsely imprisoned for rape in 1931, Ellington used his growing fame as a prominent band leader for a greater good. In our literary and historical research on African American entertainment, Ellington’s ability to travel and perform across national boundaries stands out. After success in Harlem’s night spots, Ellington composed, recorded and appeared in film shorts like 1935’s “Symphony in Black” as himself. He traveled the world with his orchestra, at first performing in the U.K. in the 1930s. Later, Ellington continued to perform on behalf of the U.S. State Department as a “jazz ambassador” in the 1960s and 70s. Audiences in such places as India, Syria, Turkey, Ethiopia and Zambia were given the opportunity to hear and dance to Ellington’s compositions. However, not even international popularity ensured that hotels would host Ellington’s all-black ensemble during a tour in the U.K. in June 1933. Members scrambled to find boarding homes in London’s Bloomsbury neighborhood when mainstream hotels turned them away on account of their race. Despite success, racism Ellington’s 1932 “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing” was the soundtrack for the nation’s swing era of the 1930s and 40s. The tune stayed on the Billboard charts for six weeks in 1932 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008. But when Ellington traveled in the South, he still had to hire a private rail car to avoid crowded, poorly maintained “colored only” train seating, or hotels and restaurants that refused service to black Southerners. Ellington and band members playing baseball in front of the ‘colored’ only Astor Motel while touring in Florida in 1955. Library of Congress/Charlotte Brooks photographer Northern or western engagements in the 1930s and 1940s often proved no better. While there were no “white only” signs on the doors of these hotels or restaurants, establishments enforced segregation by telling black customers to enter through back doors or purchase their meals to go. Bassist Milt Hinton recalled that Ellington and fellow band leader Count Basie often stayed at black-owned boarding houses rather than risk being thrown out or ignored. White band managers attempted to protect the black bands they managed from these racist practices, but this still did not prevent Ellington from being denied service in a Salt Lake City hotel’s cafe in the 1940s. Subtle style Once the civil rights movement of the 1950s began to fight for racial equality through direct-action techniques like mass protests, boycotts and sit-ins, activists in the early 1950s criticized the older Ellington. His subtle activism style had focused on benefit concerts, and not “in the streets” protests. But as the movement continued, Ellington included a non-segregation clause in his contracts and refused to play before segregated audiences by 1961. He maintained in an interview in the Baltimore Afro American newspaper that he had always been devoted to “the fight for first class citizenship.” This was a devotion best seen in his music. Ellington used his creative musical talents against racist beliefs that African Americans were inferior or unintelligent. His diverse and wide-ranging catalog of music demanded the kind of serious attention and respect that had previously only been reserved for elite, white composers of classical music. Songs such as “Black and Tan Fantasy” completely challenged what was then called “jungle music,” a negative term used to reference music inspired by the African diaspora. As a fusion of sacred and secular black culture, both the “Black and Tan Fantasy” composition and film combined the speaking traditions of black preachers with the humor and rhythms of black life. Modern black variety shows such as “Wild ‘N Out” and “In Living Color” share a lineage with Ellington’s major stage production of 1941, “Jump for Joy.” “Jump for Joy” combined comedy skits and music into a revue that featured African American stars of the mid-20th century, including actress, singer and dancer Dorothy Dandridge and poet Langston Hughes. Ellington claimed that his production “would take Uncle Tom out of the theater and say things that would make the audience think.” He used his music to showcase black excellence as a resistance tactic against the negative stereotypes of African Americans made popular in American blackface minstrelsy. Ellington also used “Jump for Joy” to call out those who borrowed from black music without any credit or financial compensation to its creators. Duke Ellington, Paramount Theater, New York, 1946. Library of Congress/William P. Gottlieb photographer Melody’s other purpose One of Ellington’s most powerful works is the orchestral piece “Black, Brown and Beige.” This work shows his ability to infuse the blues into classical music and his commitment to tell the history of black America through song. “Black, Brown and Beige” had an elaborate scenario, which Ellington only hinted at in his spoken remarks. The first and most richly developed section, “Black,” began with a powerful work song launched on the timpani and moved on to a homemade hymn of celestial longing; Ellington spoke, rather obliquely, of these related aspects of the lives of slaves. (A recording of the concert, complete with Ellington’s remarks, was released in the nineteen-seventies.) “Brown,” far more disjointed, took on Emancipation and the Negro’s loyal service in a series of American wars (a matter of obvious relevance in 1943), before concluding with a darkly discordant, sung blues. “Beige,” which brought the piece up to contemporary Harlem, was the weakest section, perhaps because Ellington was still working on it the night before the concert, but it stirred him to remarks about the “veneer” of progress and a people who still “don’t have enough to eat and a place to sleep.” Even these mildly critical observations were quickly buried, however, with his reassurance that, these days, “we, of course, find the black, brown, and beige right in there for the red, white, and blue.” The patriotism and the exuberance are affecting, and entirely apt for a concert that served as a benefit for Russian war relief and also marked Ellington’s twentieth anniversary in music. What these sentiments do not jibe with, entirely, are the stark and angry words that he meant the music to express. From the spirituals developed through the trials of slavery to the fight for civil rights and the modern rhythms of big band swing music, Ellington sought to tell a story about black life that was both beautiful and complex. For Ellington, melody became message. ...
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