The Rhythm and the Blues is a Great Migration story. Through the 20th century, from 1900-1970, millions of African Americans moved north from the southern states, seeking good jobs and a better life, fleeing the harsh cotton field bosses, many of whom still acted like slavemasters.  The first wave of migrants had many educated people who set up a business and cultural community on the South Side of Chicago.  After World War II, the cotton planters adopted machines, putting many people out of work, and a second wave of migrants flooded into the city.  

Many Black migrants prospered. (Isabel Wilkerson's book "The Warmth of Other Suns" compares the northbound African Americans to other American immigrants.) Their children grew into an urban generation, thriving on soul music.  But as northern factories moved overseas, people lost jobs and many faced poverty.  Many blues songs , in addition to the battle of the sexes, talk about hard times--both in the South and the North, as Terry Messman shows in this piece for the AFSC "Street Spirit". 

Like jazz, blues music came to Chicago with the Great Migration. Blues became electrified on Maxwell Street, and settled in scores of neighborhood clubs along State Street on the South Side, and along Roosevelt Road and Madison Street on the West Side.