A Practice-Led Investigation Into 1950-1979 Female British Blues Singers

  • Chloe Fenech

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This dissertation investigates female British blues singers between 1950 and 1979that are missing from music histories. This thesis specifically examines Ottilie Patterson, Hylda Sims, Beryl Bryden, Maggie Bell, Jo Ann Kelly, Christine McVie, and Julie Driscoll who are not well-known, or not well-known for their blues repertoire. The purposes of this thesis are to uncover whether there was a ‘British blues standard’ for these women, and if their vocal styles were comparable to their male contemporaries. This research includes important discussion of the history of blues, its movement to Britain, and how this was reflected in the vocal style. Discussion of ‘the white sound’, appropriation, and authenticity are included, as these themes support this genre of music’s history. As my research considers gender and performer identity issues, I have constructed a framework to aid in the dissection of the vocal choices of the women in this dissertation. This framework provides an insight and understanding of their vocal choices in relation to their identities. Integral to this research are the elements of reflective practical research throughout the analysis of these women’s vocal styles, as opposed to a purely theoretical one. Using my voice as a research tool has aided my understanding of how these women used their voices, and whether they conformed to traditional female expectations in this period of music or built a different identity. In addition, I have performed their repertoire, and documented how the recovery and analysis of their vocal styles helps me as a contemporary singer. Through documenting practice, rehearsal, and performance, my research sheds light on the use and execution of the singers’ individual vocal styling in a larger framework of blues technique and aesthetic. From this analysis, I explain why they have been hidden from music histories. I also explore the influence of these women’s vocal style on my own practice as a contemporary singer, alongside the implications of this research on popular music histories. My findings conclude that there is not a definitive ‘British blues standard’, but there are many crossovers in vocal choices between these women. Many of the vocal traits that the women adopted were not in line with expectations of the time. This, alongside the fact that many gig reviewers, promoters, and managers were men, meant that this was a genre in which women were easily side-lined. In terms of my own practice, I reflect upon vocal traits of these women that I have adopted into my own style, alongside traits that I have not, discussing my own authenticity as a singer. The implications of this work could impact upon the way that other popular music is discussed and written about in relation to blues, but also wider genres that stem from this music.
Date of Award18 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLaurie Stras (Main Supervisor) & Lisa Colton (Co-Supervisor)

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