When you think of the history of The Blues in America, you are struck by two, stark, gender realities:  Women sing The Blues and Men play The Blues on guitar.


I am left to wonder about the why of that genetic disparity between artist and performance.

Were women only culturally allowed to sing and not play or was there something more sinister going on with The Blues?

Men also sing The Blues, but mostly, The Blues made the most history via a man’s fingers on a guitar.

Can you name an important female Blues guitarist in antiquity?  There might be one or two in the last century — but are any of them as famous as the men who made The Blues an American tradition?

14 Comments

  1. Wow.
    I can’t think of any woman playing guitar, in fact I think I like man playing guitar much much better.
    Am I gender biased? May be.
    I can think of a similar example: women usually don’t play “Tabla” here in India, men rarely learn classical dance.
    http://www.radioandmusic.com/content/editorial/special-reports/women-musicians-a-rare-breed-uphill-journey
    In fact, I admit my bias. The way I admire Zakir Hussain…I dont think I will ever admire a woman….

  2. Great article, David — and so true because I cannot for the life of me think of a single female blues guitarist from the last century. When I think of “blues guitarist” I think of an older African-American singing about hard times. I wonder to what extent people would think of the same image if asked.

  3. This is definitely and interesting topic, Katha, and I, too, wonder if there is gender bias, cultural bias or some unknown economic or social bias at play, too.
    When I look back in the history of The Blues, I don’t really remember many men who just sang The Blues. If you were male, and if you wanted to sing The Blues, you did it most often playing the guitar while you sang. Women, on the other hand, rarely picked up a guitar to perform a similar expression and I find that fact fascinating.
    I can’t think of many female Blues singers today who also play the guitar.
    Is there also an unspoken cultural bias here, too: Can Whites sing The Blues as good as Blacks can — and should they even try? Or do The Blues belong to every gender and every nation and cultural identity? I’d wager some New Orleans musicians would claim The Blues was birthed from and belongs to a very narrow cultural band in history despite current claims that anyone can “sing The Blues.”
    Loved your links!

  4. Some say Bonni Raitt is the current singer/guitarist Queen of The Blues in the USA, Gordon, and while that might be true… it does feel forced in its essence to me.
    http://www.bonnieraitt.com/bio.php
    When I think of a mainstream, popular, Blues Guitarist who also sings — Eric Clapton must be the current king only because he’s dedicated albums and entire concert concepts to honoring the history and the base of The Blues in every way… yet he’s a boring, English, White Guy…

  5. Thoughtful topic, David. Are there white soul singers? Didn’t soul come from jazz and blues and now has become hip hop and rap? Are there a lot of male rappers that play any musical instrument.

  6. I think there are White Soul Singers, Anne. Wasn’t Michael Bolton considered one? I think your musical progression is on target. I wonder what the old Blues guys would think of Rap today? There is so much loss of musicality in the evolution.

  7. I can remember a legend in Indian Classical music who really broke the gender bias, till early ’50s, Indian classical music was absolutely a male dominated area:
    http://www.thedailyindian.com/gangubai-hangal-the-rising-octave-that-transcended-barriers/
    I personally enjoy both male and female voice in various form of music but I can’t think of a male performing something similar:


    The only male classical dancer I could handle was Uday Shankar:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uday_Shankar

  8. It is interesting how our cultural training influences our ongoing taste, Katha. In couples dancing the focus is always on the woman. She is the center of the dance and deserves all the attention. Is that gender bias or an artistic requirement?

  9. Hi David,
    I think it’s artistic requirement and gender bias – both.
    A women dancing is artistically appealing that’s what makes us biased – I think.

  10. I am not sure David, but when I think of an example of a dance clipping of a male dancer that ever appealed me in any mainstream hollywood movie it’s only Patrick Swayze in “Dirty Dancing” and Chayanne in “Dance with Me”…
    The rest are females.