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Images of The Apocalypse in African American Blues and Spirituals

Destruction in this Land


Małgorzata Ziółek-Sowińska

This book explores the recurrence of Apocalyptic motifs and imagery in blues and spirituals recorded by blues musicians. It looks at the ways in which Black Americans portray Apocalypse ideas about the Last Judgement from the Book of Revelation. It also focuses on how literary themes in spirituals and blues depict the destruction of the world, death, Christian judgement, heaven and catastrophic events in personal lives of African Americans that result in loss. Selected blues lyrics and texts of spirituals show the persistence of these themes. The book was written with a broad potential audience in mind especially among those interested in religion, eschatology, spirituals, blues and African American studies.

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Chapter 1.The Spiritual Dimension of the Emergent Blues


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Chapter 1.   The Spiritual Dimension of the Emergent Blues

The blues arose during the harsh times of the post-Reconstruction South, when African Americans experienced political disfranchisement, economic exploitation, physical violence, and death at the hand of white racists and terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. I will explore political and social conditions of ex-slaves in the post-Reconstruction era that resulted in the rise of the blues.

This chapter also examines the link between the spirituals and the blues and the emergence of blues music from the spiritual tradition by men and women who performed in both music styles. It is important to note that a significant number of blues musicians were raised in the black church and were familiar with the spirituals. Concurrently, we will see that many seminal blues singers viewed the blues as a sacred musical genre and frequently borrowed from the language of the spirituals when they created their blues songs.

It is generally asserted that the blues is bereft of spirituality and the lyrics of the blues only depict the secular dimension of human life such as love, drunkenness, poverty, or violence. Questioning the notion that blues singers only performed the “devil’s music,” we will observe that blues texts contain profound spirituality which is reflected in the mythology, theology and theodicy of the blues.

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