Blues and Evil

  • Author(s): Spencer, Jon Michael
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 1993-04-30
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $24.95 | Buy Now

The term “blues” has traditionally conveyed an image of hard-living, hard-drinking, carousing singers and musicians grinding out melancholy tunes and evil lyrics. Contesting that stereotypical notion, this study argues that spiritual values are clearly reflected in the blues’ mythologized history, folk-theological language, and philosophical speculation on the dual existence of good and evil.

By using a theomusicalogical approach, Jon Michael Spencer is able to push aside accepted attitudes and present a unique study of the blues and the culture that created it. He reveals religious substance in this music’s content and language that has been gradually obscured as the blues evolved from a simple rural music following Reconstruction to its present urban form. The evidence strongly implies a fundamental religious concern for the same life issues expressed in orthodox religious music.

Spencer suggests that white blues scholars have tended to overlook the religious nature of the blues partly because they have not fully understood African-American culture. They have tended to give validity to the old southern folkloric belief that blues music was “devil’s music,” disregarding the ethos of the blues as it exists on the periphery of doctrinal Christianity where religious pondering, as well as opposition to white oppression, could be expressed behind a protective veil of music.

The Author: Jon Michael Spencer is an associate professor of African and Afro-American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.