Sonny's Blues

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In James Baldwin's, Sonny's Blues, the title itself is symbolic of the blues in the matrix of the African-American culture of music and suffering. To understand the significance of the blues, one must first define the blues, where the blues originated, and how it is related to suffering and how it is communicated in music.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines blues as (1) a state of depression or melancholy, and (2) a style of jazz evolved from southern American Negro secular songs. It is also inclusive of pensive reflection and contemplation which is descriptive of Baldwin's writing of Sonny's Blues.

It is very difficult to determine the exact origin of the blues. Although its earliest roots evolved from West Africa, the blues probably emerged in the United States around the 1800's relative to the African America plight into slavery, as spirituals, work songs, and "arhoolies" (traditional, vernacular, or regional music) (The Arhoolie Foundation). All had some form of influence on the blues as a distinct form of music. The emergence of the blues would have occurred with the social and economic circumstances of the African Americans. (Crosby) Blues was a way of communicating discontent. But it was the spiritual blues that was the music of an unhappy people - the music that told of death, and suffering, and a cry for some hope of freedom and liberation from their torment. Yes, the slaves did get their freedom but were still bound to their "Chains" by racism.

The content is written in the style of the blues not only in the music but in the social perspective of the times in Harlem in respect to the sufferings and struggles of the African-American past and present experiences, and what they were going to encount...

... middle of paper ... that this was only a moment..." (246) But it was that moment that bridged Sonny and his brother. "They all gathered around Sonny and Sonny played. Every now and again one of them seemed to say, amen." (246)

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. "Sonny's Blues." Literature: A Portable Anthology.

Ed. Janet E. Gardner, et al. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004.


The Arhoolie Foundation.

Cosby, Ethan. "Rural Blues." An Essay on Blues History

Anoca Organization.

Akst, Harry, and Grant Clarke. Lyrics: "Am I Blue."

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