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Beyond the CrossroadsThe Devil and the Blues Tradition$
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Adam Gussow

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469633664

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469633664.001.0001

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Heaven & Hell Parties

Heaven & Hell Parties

Southern Religion and the Devil’s Music

(p.17) 1 Heaven & Hell Parties
Beyond the Crossroads

Adam Gussow

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter explores the origins and meaning of the phrase "the devil's music," paying particular attention to the way in which black southern blues performers, male and female, contest the term. Africa, through the mechanism of the slave trade and the condemnation of instrumental music by Islamic clerics, offers one possible origin for devil's music concept. The prelude to the demonization of the blues and its representative instrument, the steel-stringed guitar, is the evangelization of the slaves and the demonization of the fiddle during the second Great Revival. As blues emerged in the Mississippi Delta early in the Twentieth Century, blues musicians like John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, and the Mississippi Sheiks, along with an irreverent "young modern" generation of black youth, mocked the hypocrisy of black ministers and spurned the religious certainties of their parents and the church.

Keywords:   devil's music, blues, Africa, fiddle, guitar, Great Revival, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, black ministers, black church

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