The Mississippi Delta is considered the birthplace of the blues since it was here that the blues was first documented around 1900. Blues scholars cite Charley Patton (1891–1934) as a central player in the development of the blues. Some even call him the founding father. Clearly, Patton influenced blues legends such as Son House, Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and a whole host of others. In the 1960s, folk singer Bob Dylan would also come to emulate Patton's style.
Ragtime is a style of music that uses stride piano techniques and syncopated rhythms. It is also notated, not improvised. Ragtime was influenced by European classical. However, it played a role in the development of jazz. Scott Joplin is the best-known ragtime composer. His piece “Maple Leaf Rag” was published in 1899.
Despite his musical legacy, Patton was not the inventor of the blues. Historians believe that Patton was strongly influenced by a man named Henry Sloan. Little is known about Sloan, except that he probably taught Patton how to play the guitar. It's estimated that Sloan began playing the blues as early as 1897, making him one of the first known blues musicians.
The blues remained confined to the Deep South until the arrival of W. C. Handy (1873–1958). Handy single-handedly transformed the blues from a backwoods style of music to a new form of entertainment that could be bought, sold, and marketed. Handy's blues was informed by the Delta but only in the most indirect of ways. Songs such as “Memphis Blues,” “St. Louis Blues,” and “Beale Street Blues” were influenced more by ragtime than anything else.
Even though Handy's music was not purely blues based, it was transformed into down-home blues by those who interpreted his songs. Most important, Handy's music brought the blues into the limelight during a time when America's musical identity was changing. By the 1920s, musicians of all races were performing and recording the blues. The blues could be heard on concert stages and on 78 rpm recordings by record labels such as Victor, Okeh, the American Record Corporation, and Paramount. The blues was developed by men in the American South. However, it was best promoted by women during the teens and twenties. Blues singers such as Mamie Smith, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, and Victoria Spivey helped bring the blues into the forefront of the American musical consciousness.