Angela Davis starts her first chapter off by saying that “What is distinctive about the blues, however, particularly in relation to other American popular musical forms of the 1920s and 1930s, is their intellectual independence and representational freedom” (3). In what ways do you see this as being true in regard to the information Davis presents later in the chapter and to the music of Rainey, Smith, and Holiday? How do you see this as relating to blues as we know it today? (Davis says in the introduction that “the scope of black music and its historically broad cultural implications can no longer be confined to African-American communities” because of the global music economy [xviii].)

In chapter two, Davis states, “It is important, I think, to understand women’s blues as a working-class form that anticipates the politicalization of the ‘personal’ through the dynamic of ‘consciousness-raising,’ a phenomenon associated with the women’s movement of the last three decades” (42). She soon after calls the blues “aesthetic evidence—of freedom” (45). How do you see the songs Davis presents as representational of the women’s movement and freedom? Some songs to consider looking at are “Rough and Tumble Blues,” “Empty Bed Blues Part II,” “Trust No Man,” “Safety Mama,” “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” and “Moonshine Blues.” Feel free to look at other songs as well.

Chapter 3 is all about the traveling blues singer. What, to you, are the most intriguing and insightful images of traveling blues singer you’ve seen? What makes them meaningful? Do they match up with any examples Davis writes about?

One of the themes running through Davis’ book is utilizing the blues to talk about tough life circumstances and other social issues and help implement needed change. The blues, Davis asserts, can do this because it’s not afraid to talk about taboo subjects—blues is, at its heart, protest music. How do you see the blues functioning as protest song, both historically and modernly?

Please take the time to consider this song: