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The University of Southampton

“The Blues in the Trenches: African-American Soldiers and the Blues in World War 1” Event

Great War: Unknown War
4 December 2014
Lecture Theatre B Avenue Campus University of Southampton Southampton SO17 1BF

For more information regarding this event, please email Tracy Storey at .

Event details

This lecture series, “Unknown War”, is designed to show-case original research at the University of Southampton from across the Faculty of Humanities.

This talk will explore the traces of ‘the blues’ as a musical tradition brought to the trenches of the Great War by African-American soldiers. It will centre on the work of John Jacob Niles, a ferry pilot for the US Army during the First World War who, during his time in France between April of 1918 to Dec 1919, collected the songs of a number of African American soldiers in the various sectors of the Western Front. African American soldiers from all parts of the US shared different performance styles and traditions and important cross-pollinations occurred here that foreshadow the country blues recordings of the 1920s and 30s of Charley Patton, Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Geechie Wiley, Ma Rainey, Elvey Thomas, Blind Willie Johnson and notable others. However this history, as I will show, is filtered through a discourse of the authentic in which Niles and other folk ethnographers of the time were immersed. ‘The blues’ was a hybrid of popular and folk forms and the experience of this music at the Front had lasting implications for all who heard it. It laid an important base for the profound impact jazz and blues has had on both US and European popular music and culture to the present day.

This is a free lecture, to attend please book a place via the Online Store.  Closing date for bookings is Tuesday 2 December 2014.

Speaker information

Dr Michael Hammond,Senior Lecturer in Film

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