This is a new, thoroughly revised edition of Paul Oliver's classic study of the blues. First published in 1960, this remarkable book has not been superseded and its reappearance will be welcomed by all who wish to understand the complexity of meaning in the blues and the experiences which they expressed. The book examines the functions of the blues as black American folk music recorded during the 78 rpm era, from the 1920s to the 1950s. The lyrics are quoted extensively throughout the book, revealing their significance as a means of communication within black society. The author shows how the themes of labour and unemployment, migration and the Depression years, love, sex, and marriage, crime, violence and imprisonment, disasters, sickness, war and death are expressed in black idioms and he discusses their meaning on many levels.