National Geographic : 1995 Feb
On Television The Blues: Traveling On Down the Road long the routes out of the Deep South, like Highway 61 and the Illinois Central railroad line, came a swelling of sound sensual, bittersweet, moody. It was "the blues." American youth and much of the world were soon up and moving to the beat of the blues and its kin-jazz, country, rock-and-roll. The center was Chicago, "sweet home, Chicago," in the words of the influential blues man Robert Johnson, whose song forms the refrain in National Geo graphic's EXPLORER feature "Blues Highway." The journey north to industrial cities such as Chicago from the rural South has become part of the his tory of millions of families. In the largest and most rapid of our inter nal migrations, five million blacks came north between 1940 and 1970, traveling on to escape racial segre gation and poverty. As the Second World War effort opened up salaried jobs in the North and mechanization closed out share croppers in the South, families like this one in 1940 (above right) packed up their belongings and moved. They brought with them two strong traditions-their faith and their music. Airing at the end of Black History Month, "Blues Highway" takes viewers along on those memo rable journeys by combining period still photographs and moving pic tures, eyewitness accounts, and, above all, music. "Blues Highway" plays the sounds that blacks brought with them and gave to the world, the music that underpins LIBRARYOF CONGRESS American popular musical culture. The film goes back home to the birth of the blues, showing where and why it flowered. For filmmakers Vince DiPersio and Bill Guttentag its sounds embody the themes of the great black migration. The blues grew from roots in the deep, alluvial soil of the Mississippi Delta, cleared of forest and drained of swamp by black labor after the Civil War. Enriched with remem bered rhythms of West African music, the blues at the local juke joint on Saturday night gave a lift to sharecroppers beaten down by the grind and sweat of daily work. The blues: Plaintive lyrics sing of faithless women, bad whiskey, hard driving bosses, good love gone bad, and-sometimes-a sigh of joy. What makes the blues the blues is not only the musical form-usually a three-line verse of 12-bar phrases in 4/4 rhythm, with a rhyming word pattern-but the emotional intensity of the singer. As Riler "Iceman" Robinson (left) says, "I work out my anger. Happiness, love, and sorrow-I shoot all of it right through that guitar." EXPLORER's "Blues Highway" airs Sunday, February 26, at 9 p.m. ET on TBS Superstation. BOB SACHA NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSPECIALSAIRON NBC;CHECKLOCALLISTINGS.NATIONALGEOGRAPHICEXPLORERAIRSON TBS SUPERSTATION,SUNDAYSAT9 P.M. ET. FOR INFORMATIONON NATIONALGEOGRAPHICVIDEOS, CALL1-800-343-6610, MONDAYTHROUGHFRIDAY,8 A.M . TO5 P.M. ET, IN THE U. S. AND CANADAONLY.