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America's Music: A Film History of Our Popular Music from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway: The Blues & Gospel Music

Your Project Scholar

 Richard Mook, Ph.D.

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Arizona State University
Herberger Institute
for Design and the Arts
School of Music

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Printable Essay: The Blues and Gospel Music

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Session 2

Wednesday, October 16, 7:30 p.m.
ASU Tempe, Hayden Library, Room C-6A
300 E. Orange Mall, Tempe, AZ 85281


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Featured Films

The Blues and Gospel Music
Explore the birth of the blues from its African roots to its eventual prominence in places like Memphis, Chicago, New York and beyond.
Film 1: Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Episode 1, Feel Like Going Home
Produced and Directed by Martin Scorsese, 2004
Film 2: Say Amen, Somebody
Produced and Directed by George T. Nieremberg, 1983

Film Discussion Points


1. Both blues and gospel sprang from the everyday experiences of black Americans, secular and spiritual. How does the story of how both types of music originated support or deny this idea? Is it true today?

2. Other than lyrics, do you hear meaningful differences between gospel and blues? Which is more powerful to you?

3. Why did some religious people find gospel music “sinful” in the music’s early days?
4. Based on the stories of the musicians you met in the film, how did the spread of gospel music through churches provide women performers new opportunities? How did it challenge their traditional place in their communities?
5. What is the difference between the Delta Blues and the blues heard in cities like Chicago? How did the music of early blues pioneers -- Leadbelly, Son House, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson – impact the blues you might hear today? Can you trace blues rhythms and styles in other musical genres of today, such as rock or country music?
6. Both blues and gospel are quintessential “American” musical forms. Yet both are widely recognized and popular around the world. Why do you think this is true? What characteristics of these two kinds of music could be called universal?
7. Listeners and practitioners both often refer to blues along with gospel as “soulful” music. What does that mean to you? Why is “soul” so important for those who create and embrace the music?


Your Librarian

Christopher Mehrens's picture
Christopher Mehrens
Music Library



Printable Film Discussion Points: The Blues and Gospel Music

America's Music

“America’s Music: A Film History of Our Popular Music from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway” is a project by the Tribeca Film Institute in collaboration with the American Library Association, Tribeca Flashpoint, and the Society for American Music.  “America’s Music” has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor.

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