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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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Sold It to the Devil

Sold It to the Devil

The Great Migration, Lost Generations, and the Perils of the Urban Dance Hall

(p.74) 2 Sold It to the Devil
Beyond the Crossroads

Adam Gussow

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter focuses on the first recorded devil blues song, Clara Smith's "Done Sold My Soul to the Devil" (1924). Public anxiety about the moral hazards experienced by black female migrants to the urban North offers one context for the song, but so does the rejection of Victorian morality by a transracial cohort of Lost Generation youth for whom the devil was an admirable figure rather than fear-inducing phantom: a master of the revels and instigator of "bad behavior" of the sort playfully chastised by Fats Waller in "There's Gonna Be the Devil to Pay." Couples dancing was a key issue: both black and white ministers condemned it, along with the "devil dance dens" in which it supposedly thrived, but blues singers like Gertrude "Ma" Rainey and Sippie Wallace sang songs in which they partied with the devil—joyously in Rainey's case, uneasily in Wallace's.

Keywords:   Clara Smith, blues, devil, Great Migration, urban North, Lost Generation, dance hall, black ministers, Ma Rainey

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