Future Readings for the Course: The Divides Exposed in Music

Earlier, we discussed the symbolism of the train in Hurston’s Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Reverend J.M. Gates’ “Death’s Black Train is Coming,” along with a secondary article, John M. Giggie’s After Redemption: Jim Crow and the Transformation of African American Religion in the Delta, 1875-1915. These readings and listenings led me to explore religion in the delta. To understand faith in the delta, one must understand the importance of the blues, but, as Mississippi Public Broadcasting Reporter Alexandra Watts notes, “to know the blues, you need to know the history of the delta,” as discussed in this podcast:

In this podcast, Watts details the story of the blues in the delta, particularly the life of Robert Johnson. In Johnson’s lifetime, community members of Greenwood, MS, where Johnson grew up, thought of the blues as “devil’s music,” which contrasts to the origins of many musicians in the area, as Sylvester Hoover, a local historian and grocery store owner, notes that”

If you are a black musician, Robert Johnson, B.B King, I don’t care who you are, you start playing your music in the Baptist church. On Sunday, I’ll be singing ‘nobody knows my God. How my God makes me fell’ and when you leave the church and go to the juke and start playing your music on Saturday, it’s ‘my baby’ ‘Nobody knows my baby. How my baby makes me feel.’ It’s the same music just change God, Jesus, and church, to baby and honey on Saturday nights, and that’s why they say you sold your soul to the devil


As shown above, the blues seems to hold a unique divide between the religious and secular. Earlier, I wrote about the symbolism of the train in film, music, and literature to represent the divide between the community and the individual. I think a further exploration of blues music would shine a light on multiple “crossroads” in the class, such as religion/secular and the individual/community.

One song that is an example of that further exploration is the song “Like a Ship” by Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth Christ Choir (1971). I choose this song because the opening lyrics start with T.L. Barrett singing “I’m not worried because I know” while the choir sings, “I know we can take it” (1:00). This relationship between the singular and plural is a broader example of the divides that music explores, such as the individual and community. While this is not blues music, it is still a musical avenue I would be interested in learning about more.

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