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The blues, which began as secular music called “devil’s songs” by European plantation owners, probably assumed their present form during the 19th century. They were sung by street musicians accompanying themselves on banjo or guitar, by entertainers in small public places, and by country people off the beaten track.

A number of scholars have noted the persistence of archaic blues songs, along with other classically “Negro” songs, in the cultural backwaters of the South, and have taken this as an indication that the blues form may be far older than is generally recognized. Musicologists have traced the earliest roots of the blues to the minor pentatonic scales developed in parts of West and Central Africa. This entry reviews the African linkages of the blues, ...

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