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James H. Cone's The Spirituals and the Blues

Powerful Essays
James H. Cone's The Spirituals and the Blues

The book, The Spirituals and the Blues, by James H. Cone, illustrates how the slave spirituals and the blues reflected the struggle for black survival under the harsh reality of slavery and segregation. The spirituals are historical songs which speak out about the rupture of black lives in a religious sense, telling us about people in a land of bondage, and what they did to stay united and somehow fight back. The blues are somewhat different from in the spirituals in that they depict the secular aspect of black life during times of oppression and the capacity to survive. James H. Cone’s portrayal of how the spirituals and the blues aided blacks through times of hardship and adversity has very few flaws and informs the reader greatly about the importance of music in the lives of African-Americans. The author aims to both examine the spirituals and blues as cultural expressions of black people and to reflect on both the theological and sociological implications of these songs.

James H. Cone was born on August 5, 1938 in Fordyce, Arkansas. He attended three small colleges, including a theological seminary, before receiving his Masters and Ph.D. from the prestigious Northwestern University. Cone is married and has two children. He has held membership to many prominent boards and organizations including the National Committee of Black Churchman (member of board of directors), American Academy of Religion, Congress of African Peoples, and Black Methodists for Church Renewal. His career includes being a professor of religion and theology at Philander Smith College, Adrian College, and Union Theological Seminary, where he now teaches. James H. Cone is now an American clergyman and author. Cone achieved his greatest acclaim in 1969 with the ground-breaking book, Black Theology and Black Power. This book attracted a great deal of attention due to its defense of the black power movement from a Christian point of view. He has since written many theological works including Risks of Faith, where he provides vital insights into American realities and the possibilities for American theology. Cone has been the Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminar in New York City since 1977.

Cone’s The Spirituals and the Blues is split into two distinctive section...

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...t and also talks about how blues could be classified as "a secular spiritual". His points can still be easily understood by the reader, but I feel that he nontheless contradicts himself while making these statements.

Overall, I thought the book was very enlightening when it came to the point of revealing the central theme and foundation of these two distinct but also similar types of songs. The spirituals were built on a steadfast belief in God, while the blues ignored God and accepted the joys and sorrows of life. Although they were somewhat different, both partake of the same black experience in the United States. The spirituals and the blues both aided blacks through times of severe hardship and suffering. It was interesting to me to find out how even through oppression, blacks who were considered "believers" and those who were considered "non-believers" remained faithful to the fact that one day, they would beat their oppressors and situation. I liked the book most when it came to the point of identifying that the spirituals and the blues are not songs of despair or defeated people, but represent one of the greatest triumphs of a peoples in the history of the world.
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