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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 2.Visions of the Apocalypse and Cataclysmic Events in Religious Disaster Songs and the Blues


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Chapter 2.   Visions of the Apocalypse and Cataclysmic Events in Religious Disaster Songs and the Blues

The Civil War and Emancipation reaffirmed the enormous strength of the black slave’s religion. For three quarters of a century after Emancipation, travelers, folklorists, and local inhabitants collected a vast body of songs and delineated religious meetings which differed little from those the slaves had taken part in the antebellum era.1 Importantly, the line between the purely secular and religious music was not clear to the slaves and this dichotomy between secular and sacred songs remained well after freedom and consequently religious songs were frequently used to talk about secular events.2

This chapter explores selected religious disaster songs composed by black Americans after the Emancipation Proclamation and Apocalyptic blues lyrics. As a point of departure, we will examine the language of the Apocalypse, the rise of eschatological thinking in the blues and define kinds of Apocalyptic blues songs. In my analysis of cataclysmic events in the disaster religious songs I suggest that they displayed a tremendous influence on blues musicians who not only tackled the motif of natural disasters but also dealt with classical kinds of dialectical terms such as man/nature, life/death or good/evil. Blues songs addressing the theme of natural calamities reveal the profound religious consciousness among black Americans, their feelings and experiences about natural disasters.

The Power of Apocalyptic Rhetoric and the Rise of Apocalyptic Thinking in the Blues

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