What is Man? The Blues as Theological Protest

While all music genres incorporate religious imagery, the blues has its origin in the soil of the church. In its infancy, the blues was considered the “Devil’s Music,” often dismissed as undermining the church’s gospel songbook. The initial resistance, however, could not suppress the organic development of a genre of music born from suffering. The great Mississippi Delta bluesman, Muddy Waters, once said, “The blues was born behind a mule.” Behind a beast of burden the working man found in the blues a way to console the everyday experiences of struggle, sin, loss, despair, love, grief, sin, death, and the fear and hope of crossing the River Jordan into eternal life. More specifically, Blues music reflects the experiences of African Americans, who have faced systemic oppression and discrimination throughout American history. Through its lyrics, the Blues often speaks to the realities of life for African Americans, including poverty, racism, and violence. In this sense, blues music serves as a form of cultural and anthropological protest, giving voice to a marginalized group and documenting their experiences. Though the Blues is often viewed outside the realm of traditional protest music, in this paper I argue that the religious imagery imbedded within this musical genre creates a specific form of theological protest. Using insights from the Bluesman and preacher, Son House, I maintain that the Blues forms theological protests in the form of lament, confession, and transcendent hope.

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