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The Spirituals and the Blues

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  224 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Cone explores two classic aspects of African-American culture--the spirituals and the blues. He tells the captivating story of how slaves and the children of slaves used this music to affirm their essential humanity in the face of oppression. The blues are shown to be a "this-worldly" expression of cultural and political rebellion. The spirituals tell about the "attempt to ...more
Paperback, 141 pages
Published October 1st 1992 by Orbis Books
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Jason Gordon
Aug 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
I have to say that this book is wonderfully written. Dr. Cone is quite at home talking about Christianity in the African American community. Christianity in the African American community shares the same iconography as the Christianity of whites, but the iconography in the former community is interpreted differently in so far as these icons are imbued with African traditions. Dr. Cone uses the spirituals to provide a cogent reading/interpretation of African American/Black Christianity and there ...more
Jacob Starr
Mar 11, 2021 rated it liked it
A completely new area of study for me. The book wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just very academic and sometimes a little dry. Also, the topic wasn’t something that I personally was extremely interested in. It’s always good to expand one’s horizons though 🤷🏼‍♂️
Michael Doerr
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The language of music and the liberation struggle
Adam Shields
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Summary: A explication of the theological roots of spirituals and the blues. A good example of why White seminary students need to be reading Black and other authors of Color. 

Over the past couple years there have been several minor controversies in US seminaries about assigned texts. Masters Seminary (started by John MacArthur) about a year ago had a former student write about the fact that he had not read a single book by a Black author during his seminary studies. That prompted a response by
Theon Hill
Jun 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Cone offers an excellent analysis of the theological, historical, and social roots of spirituals and the blues. While I disagree with certain tenets of Cone's liberation theology, his perspective gives him keen insight into the vital role that these forms of music played in African American cultural life as people of color have sought to maintain their humanity against the backdrop of America's vicious legacy of White Supremacy. ...more
Brooke Scott
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As usual, Cone beautifully bears witness to the Black experience. This time, he lays out a basic primer on Black music and how it has been used to affirm Black humanity and survival. Though the spirituals and the blues have often been pit against each other (the blues being more “secular and profane”), Cone argues that they are two sides of the same struggle for surviving a white racist world. Grateful for his voice always.
Joe T.
Dec 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was a great book. I would like to see similar treatment given to rap music.
David Withun
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Izaiah Dawkins
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Dr.Cone is a master at making a clear connection between pain and music. If you understand that the best music,that transcends time ,comes from pain. Loved the book.
J Percell Lakin
Apr 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A really good contribution by James Cone to capture how African-Americans used music (spirituals and the blues) as artistic expressions of black life in America in order to survive. These musical genres helped (and continue to help) African-Americans endure living in a contradictory society, holding on to their dignity and worth in a culture that tries to undermine it at every turn while telling the complete truth of their experiences so as not to be in denial about the harshness of life in a so ...more
Anwar Robinson
Mar 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Must For Every Educator and Musician

James H. Cone stands as a major contributor to Black Liberation and reconciliation of using art as a means of coping and survival through our worst experiences. Professor Cone created this book as a means of filling a void from the destruction of Black leadership of the 1960s, and to offer a historical account and then-modern template (which is very much applicable today) to make meaning as an oppressed people and to rebuild the world.
Joy Reinbold
This is the third work of James H. Cone that I have read this year (after The Cross and the Lynching Tree and Black Theology and Black Power) and I was expecting it to be my favorite. I didn't like it as much as Black Theology and Black Power, but it was still a wonderful book that left me wanting to read much more on the topic. ...more
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture, lament, theology
Short, but a very intriguing overview and theological analysis of the spirituals and the blues. My primarily problem with it, especially having read Cone’s more systematic works, is that it at times he seems to be finding his own theology in the theology of the spirituals and not doing justice to places where his views would be inconsistent with those of the spirituals he cites..
This is the first book of James Cone's that I have read and I am confident that it won't be the last. I found this to be a fascinating exploration of the meaning/ significance/ power of Black spirituals. For this reader, it was also a sound introduction to the work of James Cone the theologian. As Cone remarks, '...[I]t is through the strength of their hope in God that the oppressed are saved (Romans 8:24). It was this transcendent element of hope (as expressed in black music) which elevated bla ...more
Sooho Lee
Dec 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Easily one of the most beautiful theological works that analyzes the black spirit in and through the spirituals and the blues. These musical outlets are more than ascetic get-aways under oppressive regimes, rather they embody the rhythmic sways and suaves of black hope and grit. Grounded in real history, the spirituals and the blues expose, reject, and recapitulate supremacists' definition of black nothingness/nobodiness into black somebodiness. For blacks, music is their authoritative medium fo ...more
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was definitely my favorite Cone book for two reasons.

First, I think he elaborates more on what eschatological hope means in his theology. It's a topic that comes up frequently in his writing and it was good to hear some elaboration.

Second, Cone virtually articulates certain aspects of Christus Victor atonement theory VERY clearly. For this reason, I find his theology a bit more tenable because it can be connected to Orthodox Christianity (Christus Victor being the main atonement theory unti
Apr 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Extremely eye-opening concerning the history and theology behind the music of black slaves and blacks living through segregation and beyond. I will experience this music with new open eyes and heart. Realized I've sung many a slave spiritual as a white child and adult in my church experience and the meaning for me has been much different than the intended purpose of those who originally created and sang them. ...more
Jun 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
While I am not in agreement with liberation theology as a systematic theology, Cone offers some excellent, important, and truthful observations about the theolgy preached through the spirituals. Additionally, Cone makes some important obsetrvatins about the blues and the blues musician/singer being a prophetic voice of the community in the truth telling senseof the word.
Sandy H
Aug 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Read for a class. I really liked the theory and enjoyed reading it for awhile, but eventually it began to feel as if the book would have made a better article. By halfway through, I felt like I'd gotten the majority of the argument and much felt redundant after that. Still, important work and very interesting. ...more
Oct 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
A nice discourse on the roots of the spirituals and the blues. More of a theological discourse. Art as an expression of suffering... yet also a healing within that suffering. Paradoxical... Cone does a nice job of explaining it.
Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music, musc-013
"The power of song in the struggle for black survival--that is what the spirituals and blues are about."

One of the best books on the subject of the spirituals and the blues and their relation to the soul. Highly recommended.
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
Thought-provoking, but this examination is little more than the tip of an iceburg.
May 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Less exciting than Cone's other pieces. Maybe I need to be better versed in Christian musical traditions. The blues also felt like a disjointed addition at the end. ...more
1972 interpretation of black/slave theology and the blues as expressions of total [slave] black experience. Slightly inconsistent, in my opinion, but thoughtful.
Charles Williams
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great book on how the old Negro Spirituals messages was analogous to major themes in the Blues.
Michael R.
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Sep 02, 2013
Katlin Dickinson-Laurence
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Sep 30, 2016
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Jan 18, 2021
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Nov 01, 2014
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James Hal Cone was an advocate of Black liberation theology, a theology grounded in the experience of African Americans, and related to other Christian liberation theologies. In 1969, his book Black Theology and Black Power provided a new way to articulate the distinctiveness of theology in the black Church. James Cone’s work was influential and political from the time of his first publication, an ...more

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