Back Songs in the night: Spirituals and James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”

Watch: Farah Jasmine Griffin with LOA President and Publisher Max Rudin (3:00)

“He really did believe that in the music, the aspirations, the struggles, the difficulties . . . are all there. . . . One could go back to them and find the stuff of art—and find the stuff that have gotten a people through.”

That’s literary scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin, chair of the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University, in the above video, discussing James Baldwin and his relationship to the African American musical tradition. Griffin made her remarks last week in a Library of America online conversation centered on Baldwin’s 1957 short story “Sonny’s Blues,” whose title character is a jazz musician contending with a drug habit. The story appears in Baldwin’s 1965 story collection Going to Meet the Man, which is included in the Library of America volume James Baldwin: Early Novels & Stories.

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