Blues on Stage

The Blues Entertainment Industry in the 1920s

By John L. Clark Jr.

Subjects: Music, Performing Arts, General Interest, African American Studies, American Studies, Popular Culture
Series: Suny Press Jazz Styles, Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Hardcover : 9781438491554, 242 pages, January 2023
Paperback : 9781438491547, 242 pages, January 2023

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Table of contents


1. Beginnings: The Rise of the Black Entertainment Industry

2. “Yonder Come the Blues”

3. “Crazy Blues”: Cabaret Blues

4. “Lost Your Head Blues”: Vaudeville Blues

5. “It’s Tight Like That”: Downhome Blues

Conclusion: The End of the Era

Subject Index
Song Index

Tells the story of classic blues singers from Ma Rainey to Bessie Smith.


Blues on Stage presents a new history of the development of the "Classic Blues" of the 1920s, offering a comprehensive review of various Black singers who recorded and were influential in this era, including Bessie Smith, Trixie Smith, Butterbeans and Susie, and Ma Rainey. The business of music recording and publishing, including songwriting and touring theater circuits, is explored as part of the narrative of how and when these artists became nationally popular. The most highly regarded singers of this period were not folk or rural artists, but rather highly experienced stage professionals whose careers often extended two decades or more prior to their first recordings. These artists, some of the most famous acts on the Black vaudeville and tent show circuits, were preceded in the recording studio by many cabaret and nightclub singers with a different entertainment perspective and were followed by artists who came from a more rural, less professional background. For anyone interested in the roots of jazz and blues, Blues on Stage offers a new and comprehensive introduction to the development of this American musical style.

John L. Clark Jr. is a musicologist and performing arts musician. He teaches music at MassBay Community College and is the author of Experiencing Bessie Smith: A Listener's Companion.


"…Clark admirably assembles information about the era that will appeal to blues scholars." — Library Journal

"…an easy read with a large index of songs and artists." — The Antique Phonograph