Muddy Waters and Langston Hughes Spreading the Blues at Newport and Beyond

Valencia E. Epps and Dr. Kenneth V. Anthony


Muddy Waters (born McKinley Morganfield) grew up in the Mississippi Delta, yet he helped transform popular music in America and Europe. Waters’s notable innovation of amplified electric guitar sound not only expanded the blues but also helped shape rock and roll. His performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island in 1960 was a pivotal point in his career. This event, which incorporated the Muddy Waters Band, was the first of many to bring blues to a larger, White audience. Muddy Waters’s long, lasting, living legacy lives on in rock and roll music. The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and other rock and roll musicians credit Muddy Waters's influence as critical to their development as musicians. This lesson explores blues music and Muddy Waters’s influence on popular music.

Curricular Connections

Mississippi Social Studies Standards

Mississippi Music Standards

National History Standards

Mississippi Social Studies Standards

  • 1.H.1 Analyze the influence of significant historical figures and events from the history of the United States. 2. Examine the significant contributions of historical figures to the local community, state, and United States.

  • 2.CR.1 Determine how traditions and customs create unity and celebrate diversity within and across various groups. 1. Recognize the cultural contributions of various groups within our community.

  • 4.MS.9 Explain how literature, the arts, architecture, and music distinguish Mississippi from other places. 1. Identify Mississippians known for their artwork, music, architecture, and literature (e.g., Wyatt Waters, William Herd, Walter Anderson, B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Marty Stewart, Eudora Welty, Willie Morris, etc.).  

  • MS.11 Examine the impact of Mississippi artists, musicians, and writers on the state, nation, and world. 1. Identify and describe the accomplishments of Mississippi artists, musicians, and writers (e.g., William Faulkner, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Walter Anderson, Elvis Presley, etc.). 3. Examine the role of cultural diversity in the artistic, musical, and literary traditions of Mississippi. 4. Identify locations in Mississippi that have artistic, musical, or literary significance (e.g., Delta—Blues, Coast—Walter Anderson, Jackson—Eudora Welty, etc.).

  • MU: Re9.1.4 Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work. Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’/performers’ expressive intentINTERPRET a. Demonstrate and explain how the expressive qualities (such as dynamics, tempo, and timbre) are used in performers’ and personal interpretations to reflect expressive intent. ENDURING UNDERSTANDING Through their use of elements and structures of music, creators, and performers provide clues to their expressive intent. ESSENTIAL QUESTION(S) How do we discern the musical creators’ and performers’ expressive intent?

National History Standards 

  • Standard 6A: Regional folklore and cultural contributions that helped to form our national heritage. The student understands folklore and other cultural contributions from various regions of the United States and how they help to form a national heritage. Examine the art, crafts, music, and language of people from a variety of regions long ago and describe their influence on the nation. 

Teaching Level

          Grades 4 through 12


  • Smartboard

  • Worksheets

  • Readings


The students will:

  • Analyze blues music.

  • Write a definition of blues music.

  • List ways that Muddy Waters influenced the development of popular music.

Opening the Lesson:

Objective 1: The teacher will play the song "Goodbye Newport Blues" for students (twice)

1. The student will analyze the using the Observe Reflect Question Process (Library of Congress). Primary_Source_Analysis_Tool_LOC.pdf

2. The teacher and student will review the ORQ responses and discuss their impressions of the song.

3. The student will describe blues music.

4. The teacher will ask students to contextualize the song using the 5Ws—who, what, when, where, and why. Students' responses will focus on the lyrics and performance of the song. The teacher will contextualize the song in the next step.

5. The teacher will provide a broader historical context of the song. Specifically, how it was written by Langston Hughes and performed by the Muddy Waters Band at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 3, 1960. The teacher will provide a short description of the Newport Jazz Festival and explain that Langston Hughes invited Muddy Waters to the festival to expand the audience of blues music. The teacher will explain why the song was hastily written by Hughes and performed as the last song of the festival (a riot the previous night had led to the last day of the festival being canceled).

Developing the Lesson

Objective 2: The student will write a definition of blues music.

1. The teacher will print copies of Langston Hughes’s “The Blues” from the Yale Library. (Transcription document attached)

2. The teacher will pass out copies of the Defining the Blues Langston Hughes’s “The Blues” call and response. The teacher will explain that the document was a part of the script for the festival. The performance included an education session where music was interspersed with educational information about the blues. This call and response was one part of the program. 

3. The student will conduct at Readers’ Theater using Langston Hughes’s “The Blues” call and response. The teacher will read L.H. (Langston Hughes) and selected students can read the ANS (Answer). There are 9 call and response combinations on the document.

4. The student will individually read the call and response document and conduct the Sentence-Phrase-Word routine.  

5. The student will share the results of the Sentence-Phrase-Word routine.

6. The teacher will ask the students what the author's purpose was. The teacher will explain that Langston Hughes was trying to help the audience understand the nature of the blues.

7. The teacher will conduct the Color-Symbol-Image routine. Students will share the results.

8. The teacher will ask the students to write their definition of the blues using what they have learned so far (in the activities in Objectives 1 and 2: ORQ response, description of blues music, 5Ws response, Sentence-Phrase-Word response, and Color-Symbol Image response).

9. The teacher and students will compare their definitions of the blues to other formal definitions of blues.

Closing the Lesson

Objective 3: The student will list ways that Muddy Waters influenced the development of blues music.

1. The teacher will take students on a Google Earth tour of Muddy Waters's life and influence.

2. The student will read “Growing Popular Culture: Muddy Waters and Langston Hughes Spreading the Blues” or other appropriate informational text on Muddy Waters. (PDF document attached.) 

3. The student will list ways that Muddy Waters influenced the larger culture and music.

Recommended Readings

    • “Mississippi Writers and Musicians article on Muddy Waters”


  • Whole group discussion

  • Class participation

  • Question and Answer

  • Evaluate student analysis of the blues song.

  • Evaluate student contextualization of the blues song (5Ws).

  • Evaluate student Sentence-Phrase-Word routine.

  • Evaluate student definition of the blues.

  • Evaluate student ability to accurately list at least 3 influences Muddy Waters had on culture and music.

Additional Resources

Backlash Blues. “Goodbye Newport Blues.”  

Lomax, A. (1941) Alan Lomax Collection, Manuscripts, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas, -1942. to 1942. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,  

Lomax, A. (1941) Alan Lomax Collection, Manuscripts, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas, -1942. to 1942. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,  

RIRocks. “Newport Jazz Festival 1960.”  

Mississippi Blues Trail. “Muddy Waters Birthplace.”  

Mississippi Arts Commission. “Blues Trail Curriculum.” August 2017.

Wolfgang’s. “Goodbye Newport Blues.”  

Yale University Library. “Goodbye Newport Blues” by Langston Hughes. 1902-1967,1961  

Yale University Library. “The Blues” by Langston Hughes.  

Yale University Library. “Newport Blues” by Langston Hughes.,1265/0/default.jpg