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Blues Music: An Introduction: Books and Audiovisual

Subject Guide to Blues Music Sources

Selected Catalog Searches

Click the links below to see some of what we have to offer. Explore the library's collection by trying your own searches as well.

In addition to performing keyword or subject searches, you can also try searching for popular blues authors such as Samuel Charters, Paul Oliver, William Ferris, or Peter Guralnick.

Need a Book?

If you need a book about the blues, search our online catalog.

Tip: Use "Subject" searching to produce more focused search results. 

If you are browsing for a book, use the call numbers below as a guide.  

ML 1-3930 Literature on Music
ML 100-109 Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
ML 198-360.6 By Region on Country
ML 385-429 Biography
ML 459-1380 Instruments and Instrumental Music
ML  3469-3541 Popular Music
ML 3544-3776 Folk, National, and Ethnic Music
ML 3800-3923 Philosophical and Societal Aspects of Music

Please note that the subclasses above are not specific to the blues genre alone. For instance, in the ML 385-429 range, you will find biographies on such blues legends as Howlin' Wolf or Bessie Smith, but you will also find bios on Beethoven and Mozart in the same area. Similarly, the ML 3469-3541 range contains plenty of great books on the blues, but you'll also find books on country, rap, reggae, jazz, and other styles of popular music. 

Also be aware that not all books relating to the blues will necessarily be in the same area. Depending on the book's primary subjects, it can be classed in E (American History), F (Local History), or even in HM or HN (Sociology and Social History, respectively). Therefore, while browsing is a great way to find books, you should search the catalog to ensure that you find everything on your topic.

Click here for more catalog search tips.


Selected Reference and Other Works


  • 100 Books Every Blues Fan Should Own by Komara and Johnson [ML 128 .B49 K65 2014 Ref] -- For fans building a blues collection, or researchers trying to unearth that last bit of hidden information, 100 Books ... is a great place to start. In addition to the core bibliography, the authors examine relevant reference materials.
  • African-American Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel and Zydeco on Film and Video, 1926-1997 by Vernon [ML 158.6 .A35 V47 1999 Ref] -- Serves the purposes of filmmakers and general consumers alike. This guide mostly caters to filmmakers interested in identifying good source material; however, Sections 5 and 6 point to commercially available sources for fans. 
  • The Blues: A Bibliographical Guide by Hart, Eagles, and Howorth [ML 128 .B49 H3 1989 Ref] -- This bibliography takes a thematic approach, annotating sources in categories such as Afro-American Folklore, Music of the Blues, Poetry of the Blues, Blues and Society, Blues in Literature, and Blues Biographies.
  • A Blues Bibliography by Ford [ML 128 .B49 F67 2007 Ref] -- This massive bibliography mostly covers biographical information, but it also contains worthwhile sections on blues history and record labels.
  • Mississippi Black Folklore by Ferris [Z 5984 .M5 .F43 Ref] -- Covering a broad spectrum, this title provides about nine pages of on-target sources along with a discography and filmography on Mississippi singers.


  • The Big Book of the Blues by Santelli [ML 102 .B6 S26 1993 Ref] -- Biographical encyclopedia with over 600 entries.
  • Blues Who's Who by Harris [ML 102 .B6 H3 1981 Ref] -- Just shy of 600 entries, this encyclopedia provides basic biographical data; it also includes influences (by and on) when available, famous songs, and trivia such as quotes about or attributed to the subject.

You can also find biographic profiles of blues musicians in most of the library's music encyclopedias:

  • Encyclopedia of Popular Music [ML102.P66 G84 2006 Ref]
  • Encyclopedia of the Blues (Routledge edition) [ML 102 .B6 E53 2006 Ref]
  • Encyclopedia of the Blues (2nd Arkansas edition) [ML 102 .B6 H413 1997 Ref]
  • New Grove Dictionary of American Music [ML 101 .U6 N48 2013 Ref]
  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd Edition) [ML100 .N48 2001 Ref] 

In addition to the reference works listed above, you can also search the catalog for biographies on individual artists or bands (e.g. Big Mama Thornton, Buddy Guy, Little Walter, etc.). Furthermore, the library owns a number of invaluable biography collections. To locate these collections, perform a subject search in the catalog for blues musicians and biography. Two examples of many are The Bluesmen by Samuel Charters and Blues Singers by David Dicaire. 

Blues Readers

  • Walking A Blues Road: A Selection of Blues Writing, 1956-2004 by Charters [ML 3521 .C52 2004 Circ Desk] -- According to the book's acknowledgement, "much of the writing that has made its way into this book appeared first as liner notes or as longer essays for more ambitious record releases." This title also includes previously unpublished essays and excerpts from larger works such as The Legacy of the Blues and The Roots of the Blues.
  • Write Me a Few of Your Lines: A Blues Reader by Tracy (ed.) [ML 3521 .W75 1999 Circ Desk] -- A selection of writings, published between 1911 and 1998, on the subject of blues music. Topics include roots, folklore, religion, style, performance, society, literary criticism, and the influence of the blues. 

Blues Sites

  • The Blues Highway: New Orleans to Chicago by Knight [ML 3521 .K65 2003 Ref] -- A music and travel guide. Knight lists all of the relevant blues spots from New Orleans to Chicago, but he also provides information on when to go, where to stay, what to eat. etc. 
  • Blues Traveling the Holy Sites of Delta Blues by Cheseborough [ML 3521 .C53 2001 Circ Desk] -- Sticking closely to its topic, this source provides nice annotations of famous blues sites in the Mississippi Delta. The author also branches out to Jackson, Oxford, and other popular destinations in Mississippi and Tennessee.
  • Memphis and the Delta Blues Trail by Gage and Gage [F 444 .M5 G34 2009 Ref] -- Comprehensive travel guide for the Memphis and Delta area. The authors go beyond the blues scope including information on such locations as The Pyramid, FedEx Forum, and even Autozone Park in Memphis.


  • All Music Guide to the Blues (3rd edition) by Bogdanov, Woodstra, and Erlewine (eds.) [ML 156.4 .B6 A45 Ref] -- Evaluation of the "definitive picks" of all artists included. Additionally, this guide includes descriptions of no less than 47 styles of blues, a number of brief but helpful essays on blues topics such as the "Roots of the Blues," a "Beginner's Guide ...," and several music maps. 
  • Blues & Gospel Records, 1890 - 1943 (4th edition) by Dixon, Godrich, and Rye (compilers) [ML 156.4 .B6 D59 1997 Ref] -- This edition intends "to include all sound documents within the musical field covered" including issues and reissues. With so much information available in this one source, users are encouraged to read the introductory material fully. This title also includes interesting sections on the Library of Congress archive and Race labels. 

General Reference

  • Blues: A Regional Experience by Eagle and LeBlanc [ML 3521 .E24 2013 Ref] -- This source primarily indicates origin of birth by ecoregion of blues artists. Listing by region allows users to compare artists easily and to understand how local cultural forces affect the individual and the music.  
  • Encyclopedia of the Blues (Routledge) by Komara (ed.) [ML 102 .B6 E53 2006 2 vols. Ref] -- An A-Z encyclopedia of all things blues. This sources includes entries on biographies, culture, geographic regions, historiography, instruments, music business, music styles, technique, record labels, and song titles.
  • Encyclopedia of the Blues (University of Arkansas) by Herzhaft [ML 102 .B6 H413 1997 Ref] -- A primarily biography-oriented publication, this encyclopedia earns its keep in the back matter. One section traces the lineage of famous blues standards while another describes the playing styles of famous blues musicians.
  • A Guide to the Blues: History, Who's Who, Research Sources by Sonnier [ML3521 .S58 1994 Ref Archives] -- Part 1 covers history, development, and influences, while Part 2 covers musicians. A filmography, bibliography, and discography are also included. 
  • The New Grove Dictionary of American Music (2nd edition) by Garrett (ed.) [ML 101 .U6 N48 2013 8 vols. Ref] -- Includes a ten-page entry on blues music ("Blues") along with an excellent bibliography. Be sure to check for other entries for more detailed information on artists and other related topics. 

History and Influences

  • Africa and the Blues by Kubik [ML 3521 .K83 1999 eb] -- Kubik searches for the African roots and tradition in blues music. (Note: This is an electronic book and therefore can only be accessed with a DSU login and password.)
  • The Devil's Music: A History of the Blues by Oakley [ML 3521 .O18 1997] -- Traces the course of the blues from slavery all the way through to the mid-90s.
  • Exploring American Folk Music: Ethnic, Grassroots, and Regional Traditions in the United States (3rd edition) by Lornell [ML 3551 .L67 2012] -- A history of American folk music.
  • The Rise of Gospel Blues by Harris [ML 3187 .H37 1992 Circ Desk] -- Seeks to connect gospel and blues through an examination of the life of Thomas Andrew Dorsey.
  • Slave Songs of the United States by Allen, Ware, and Garrison (eds.) [782.4216213 S631 SCORE] -- Lyrics and sheet music for over 100 slave songs. An introduction traces the history and significance of these songs. 
  • The Spirituals and the Blues: An Interpretation by Cone [ML 3556 .C66 1992 Circ Desk] -- Suggests that spirituals and the blues go hand in hand, each describing and lamenting the black experience. 

It is impossible to list in this guide all relevant books on the influences of blues music -- not to mention the wealth of information on the impact and influence that blues has had on modern society and other musical genres. To dig deeper into the collection, try searching for the Subject Blues (Music) -- History and criticism or just try some general keyword searches like minstrelsy or gospel music; or, if you're looking for modern influences of the blues, try looking for popular bands like The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin.   


  • Blues Unlimited: Essential Interviews from the Original Blues Magazine by Greensmith, Rowe, and Camarigg (eds.) [ML 3521 .B645 2015 Circ Desk] -- Interviews with musicians from Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Mississippi, Texas, and the West Coast.
  • The Voice of the Blues: Classic Interviews from Living Blues Magazine by O'Neal and Van Singel (eds.) [ML 394 .V62 2002 Circ Desk] -- Popular interviews with bluesmen such as Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, and John Lee Hooker.

Lyrics and Meaning

  • Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary by Calt [ML 3521 .C35 2009 Ref] -- An etymological dictionary of blues slang. If you ever wanted to know what the terms "goofer dust" or "monkey man" mean, this is the book for you.
  • Blues Fell This Morning by Oliver [ML 3521 .O42 Circ Desk] -- A classic study, this work attempts to understand blues musicians and to a broader degree, black life and history, through lyrical themes. 
  • The Blues Line by Sackheim (ed.) [PS 593 .L8 B58 1969 Circ Desk] -- Blues as poetry. This anthology presents the lyrics of 270 songs grouped geographically and historically. Includes illustrations. 

Sound Recordings

The DSU Archives holds hundreds of 78 RPM records donated by Steve LaVere. Genres include country, popular music, pre-war blues, post-war blues, and jazz. According to the inventory, this collection includes:

  • Labels produced in Mississippi
  • Compositions by Mississippi Delta residents
  • Music pertaining to the South in general, or to Mississippi or the Delta in particular, its residents or any of its indigenous subject matters
  • Music by recording artists from Mississippi or the Delta or named after Mississippi or the Delta or any of its unique attributes.

For more information on these recordings, please contact the DSU Archives at 662-846-4781 or


  • The Blues, a Musical Journey [781.643 B658 DVD IRC] -- A seven-part documentary film series exploring the evolution of the blues.
  • M for Mississippi: A Road Trip Through the Birthplace of the Blues [781.643 M111 DVD IRC] -- Provides a snapshot of what the blues looks like today.
  • The Search for Robert Johnson [781.643 J688 DVD IRC] -- A sketch of one of the blues most popular and mythical figures - Robert Johnson.
  • We Juke Up in Here: Mississippi's Juke Joint Culture at the Crossroads [781.643 W361 DVD IRC] -- Documents the fading authentic juke joint culture. 
  • You See Me Laughin': The Last of the Hill Country Bluesmen [781.643 Y675 DVD IRC] -- Profiles traditional blues musicians from northern Mississippi who record for Fat Possum Records.




Click the icon below to search our E-Book Collection


Selected Blues E-Books

Click the icons below to read these popular ebooks (you must login with your Delta State Username/Password to view ebooks):

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The Blues: A Very Short Introduction by Elijah Wald

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Blues Music in the Sixties: A Story in Black and White by Ulrich Adelt

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Jim Crow's Counterculture: The Blues and Black Southerners, 1890-1945 by R.A. Lawson