August Wilson’s 4 B’s part 3- The Blues

Dear All,

Here are two quotes from August Wilson concerning the importance of Blues to his work.  You will readily recognize that, for Wilson, the Blues functions, in part, as a powerful agent for the kind of cultural black nationalism that has permeated much of our recent readings.

“I think that the music contains a cultural response of black Americans to the world they find themselves in.   Blues is the best literature we have.  If you look at the singers, they actually follow a long line all the way back to Africa, and various other parts of the world.  They are carriers of culture, carriers of ideas—like the troubadours in Europe.   Except in American society they were not valued, except among black folks who understood.  I’ve always thought of them as sacred because of the sacred tasks they took upon themselves—to disseminate this information and carry these cultural values of the people.  And I found that white America would very often abuse them.   I don’t think that was without purpose, in the sense that blues and music have always been at the forefront in the development of the character and the consciousness of black America., and people have senselessly stopped or destroyed that.  Then you’re taking away from the people their self-definition—in essence, their self-determination”

“Blues provides a mediational site where the contradictions between the lived and recorded experiences of African-Americans might be resolved.  The story of Joe Turner’s chain gang is a case in point.  Although the chain gang affected the personal lives of many African Americans, traditional histories of the United States make little or no mention of the phenomenon; historians have in effect written this experience out of existence.  At the turn of the century however, a group of African American women musicaly documented the effect of the chain gang on their lives: ‘They tell me Joe Turner’s come and gone…..Got my man and gone.’  By singing the blues, these women became their own cultural historians and moved from an absent to an always present subject position.”


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