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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 4.Images of Death and Heaven in Spirituals and Blues Recorded by Blues Musicians


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Chapter 4.   Images Of Death and Heaven in Spirituals and Blues Recorded By Blues Musicians

In the Reconstruction period (1865–1877) death was an inescapable fact in the lives of ex-slaves due to numerous barbaric acts of terror and violence directed at black Americans. Thus, a large body of songs demonstrated the freed blacks’ testimony to death and the process of dying. This chapter explores images of death and heaven in selected spirituals recorded by blues artists from the 1920s till 1960s. We will see that whereas some spiritual songs reveal the Christian view of death and the closeness of the dying man with God, while others demonstrate human fear of death and the need of spiritual conversion. The chapter also traces the themes of death in selected blues songs recorded from the 1920s till 1970s. In exploring the motifs of death in blues we will observe that these songs portray the loss of a beloved person, reflect on the process of dying and employ sounds connected with death, trumpets, bells and the imagery of transport.

Blues musicians were “eschatological people” who not only pondered on the end of human existence but also life after death. It is no wonder that they performed numerous spirituals that addressed the theme of heaven and the hereafter. The last section of this chapter is devoted to the examination of visions of heaven and the afterlife in selected spirituals recorded by blues artists from the 1920s...

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