chapter
Introduction
Pages 6

Fort)' years aga, BluCJ People, Amiri Baraka's (Leroi Iones) groundbreaking book on African-American rnusic and culture, was published. Not everyone was feelin' the brother. In his oft-cited review of Blues People, Ralph Ellison WIote in the pages of the New York Review, "[Baraka] appears to he attracted to the blues for what he believes they tell us of the sociology ofNegro American identity and attitude .... Tbe tremenclous hurden of sociology which Jones would place upon this bady of music is enough to give the blues the blues,'" Baraka's desire was to examine the tradition of black papular music-jazz, the blues, gospel, and soul-within the context of the lived realities of the communities of black folk who produced and organically consumed this music. So groundbreaking was Baraka's effort that forty years later the book shows littie wear and is still among the two or three books most crucial to understanding the relationship between America's race politics and the cultural production of America's black citizens. Baraka also had other designs. At the time of the publication of Blues Peop/e, it was the mainstream critical establishment that was Iargely rcsponsible for bestowing "credibilityn to black art outside the segregated confines of black life. Baraka and Ellison, for instance, were two of the few black critics who were given access to mainstream critical organs like Down Beat. Thus Blues Peop/e was also inspired by Baraka's burgeoning cultural national-

ism and was part of his design to reclaim the critical terrain where black expressive culture was evaluated (and often condemned). The idea, of course, was to have critics whose aesthetic sensibilities were closer to those who produced the music. Even Ellison was forced to admit as much, arguing that "It would do weil if all jazz critics did likewise," adding that it "would expose those who have no business in the field."2