Korea Blues

 

The slow transmission of information, as well as the lack of opportunities provided to African-Americans in the late 1800s and early 1900s had a large influence on the content of most traditional blues songs. Prison workers in the southern states, for instance, sang songs about inmate conditions and hard task masters. Work songs like “We Don’t Have No Payday Here,” protesting prison conditions illustrate how most blues songs dealt with very local issues and problems [1]. The emergence of broadcasting mediums like radio and the realities precipitated by the Second World War, however, led to blues songs dealing with these issues. Blues songs like “Obey the Ration Laws” by Bus Ezell criticized inequity in the country, but still very much supported American war efforts [1].

Fats Domino was born in New Orleans in 1927, and grew up during the Second World War. His father and uncle were well regarded jazz musicians [[2]], and he was likely exposed to politically charged blues like Ezell’s at a young age. His recording of “Korea Blues” reflects the slow evolution of some branches of blues music into a powerful tool of criticism and discussion about national and international policy.

With forced conscription during the Korean War, the re-enlistment of WWII veterans was seen as a way to escape poverty for African Americans. But old soldiers, often with PTSD were loath to return to the battlefield [3].  “By the end of the war, probably more than 600,000 African-Americans had served in the military” [4]. This high involvement brought the war in Korea to the forefront of the African-American consciousness.

“Fightin’ over in Korea, and you know that ain’t no fun,
Every minute of the day, I can’t hear nothing but noisy guns”

Back to Korea Blues, Sunnyland Slim[5]

Fats Domino’s “Korea Blues” expresses distaste with the idea of forced conscription, but still supports the Korean War effort. By 1952, however, public opinion on the war was waning [3]. A genre of anti-war blues emerged, expressed deep concern for soldiers in Asia.

“Why don’t you say a prayer for our boys in Korea,
That are fighting and dying over there?
Lord! ‘Struction on every hand,
There is blood running in the sand”

Say a Prayer for the Boys in Korea, Joseph Cook [3]

Most scholarly discussion about blues in the 1950s view it a tool for “socio-cultural, political and economic protest” [5] solely for African-Americans. While the music unquestionably played an important role in the self-determination of African Americans, the broadening of the issues songs dealt with increased the demographic appeal of the genre as a protest art form. A longer paper might analyze the almost ironic use of the bugle in the song to express dissatisfaction with the military, as well as analyzing the change in protest song material with the dawn of the Vietnam War. It could be argued that several iconic protest songs of the 1960s trace their lineage back to “Korea Blues”.



[1] Library of Congress, Blues as Protest, http://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197401/

[2] Friedlander, Paul. Rock And Roll: A Social History. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2006. 28–32. Print.

[3] Guido van Rijn, The Truman and Eisenhower blues: African-American blues and gospel songs, 1945-1960. New York: Continuum. 2003.

[4] Govt. of New Jersey. The Beginnings of a New Era for African Americans in the Armed Forces. http://www.nj.gov/military/korea/factsheets/afroamer.html. Accessed 9/25/2013.

[5] Yancy, Eddie. Rhythm and Blues Protest Songs: Voices of Resistance. (Diss, Atlanta University Center). 2007.

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