Sister Suzie on Women in the Blues
Susan Simms has had a busy year. Not to be browbeaten by Covid she got through the lockdown by continuing to dress up on Fridays with her then landlord Bevali Francis. That led to the launch of the Frock up Friday Facebook community – with 12,000 members from all over the world within just a few weeks. The next step was a book to celebrate dressing up under lockdown due out in about a month (pre-order your copy at frockupfriday.com).
Within a short time, Susan’s alter ego, Sister Suzie, was also popping up online and then at open-air gigs, appearing – amongst other venues – at the amazing Hastings Pier concerts.
Last year saw the completion of Susan’s degree in social sciences which included research into the blues in the southern states of America. And she’s now been persuaded to make her dissertation available for others to read – just in time for Black History Month. sistersuzie.co.uk/my-paper-on-women-in-the-blues.
If you’re interested in the blues, it’s a fascinating read. But it’s also an absorbing read if you want to learn more about pre-60s America, the struggles for black emancipation or the empowerment of women. The paper is written in an accessible style and the introduction gives a taste of what’s inside.
Talking of the myriads of stories, theories, songs, versions and arguments about the blues she says: “My aim is to bring to the reader a new or an enlightened standpoint on this sacrosanct genre of music. I endeavour to highlight what the blues is as a sound, what may have influenced the sounds and lyrics historically and sociologically, and then explore the entire subject from a female perspective.”
She explains how her paper “celebrates the women who began singing the blues and how they broke through societal structures that bound them, achieving a form of gender equality and liberation within a specific music form.”
The first chapter introduces the blues as a musical form: in just 820 words plus illustrative song she provides an engaging background to what is to follows. Chapter 2 provides harrowing details of life during slavery as well as following emancipation, and how these factors shaped the blues.
But it’s the focus on women in Chapters 3, 4 and 5 that is unusual; a story that includes their experience of slavery and how that informed the development of the blues. It’s to some extent the untold story of the blues, since history has traditionally been told from the perspective of men.
She tells how that ‘traditional story’ begins with ‘the ragged wanderer’ who had left the fields to seek his fortune – inevitably a poor black male; she then introduces another perspective of how it was also forged in brothels of cities like New Orleans. In this narrative the sexualised words were to attract business – and sung by women such as the obscure Mamie Desdoumes (who was not even the descendent of slaves).
It’s interesting stuff and pro-vides useful insights into where
we are today, both musically and sociologically.
• To see the full dissertation go to https://tinyurl.com/yxwlvbjm
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