Kennedy's Blues

Kennedy's Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on JFK

GUIDO VAN RIJN
FOREWORD BY BRIAN WARD
Copyright Date: 2007
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvkfz
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    Kennedy's Blues
    Book Description:

    Kennedy's Blues: African American Blues and Gospel Songs on JFKcollects in a single volume the blues and gospel songs written by African Americans about the presidency of John F. Kennedy and offers a close analysis of Kennedy's hold upon the African American imagination. These blues and gospel songs have never been transcribed and analyzed in a systematic way, so this volume provides a hitherto untapped source on the perception of one of the most intriguing American presidents.

    After eight years of Republican rule the young Democratic president received a warm welcome from African Americans. However, with the Cold War military draft and the slow pace of civil rights measures, inspiration temporarily gave way to impatience.

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, the March on Washington, the groundbreaking civil rights bill--all found their way into blues and gospel songs. The many blues numbers devoted to the assassination and the president's legacy are evidence of JFK's near-canonization by African Americans. Blues historian Guido van Rijn shows that John F. Kennedy became a mythical hero to blues songwriters despite what was left unaccomplished.

    Guido van Rijn is teacher of English at Kennemer Lyceum in Overveen, the Netherlands. His previous books includeThe Truman and Eisenhower Blues: African American Blues and Gospel Songs, 1945-1960.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-159-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    BRIAN WARD

    When Guido van Rijn published his award-winning bookRoosevelt’s Bluesin 1997, American historians, blues and gospel scholars, and fans of the music immediately hailed it as a major achievement. As Paul Oliver wrote in his appreciative foreword, the strength of van Rijn’s book lay not only in the fact that he had unearthed a previously unimagined variety of blues and gospel recordings relating to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Great Depression, and World War II, but that he had “undertaken so rigorously and sympathetically the formidable task of transcribing and analyzing the content of large numbers of those records and...

  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xxi-2)

    Despite the growing literature on the black experience during the twentieth century, there are still many important and underappreciated elements of African-American history and culture that can be usefully illuminated by close analysis of black musical forms. This is no simple task, however; only by dogged perseverance and openness to the diverse signals and shades of meaning embedded in black music can a more comprehensive view of the black experience in the United States be formed. Yet the call of this music demands a sensitive response; historians of blues and gospel must learn how “to signify,” to borrow the expression...

  6. 1 JOHN F. KENNEDY, THE MAN AND THE MYTH
    (pp. 3-18)

    When a reporter for theMichigan Chronicleasked Aretha Franklin’s father, the Rev. C. L. Franklin (1915–1984), for his reaction to the president’s assassination, he replied that it was “a tragic blow,” as tragic as the one that “felled President Abraham Lincoln a century before.” He insisted that the “sniper did not pull his trigger alone”; George Wallace, Ross Barnett “and all the forces of hate and evil” were “as surely in Dallas with the sniper as they were in Jackson when Medgar Evers was felled.”¹

    Rev. Franklin preached his sermon “Why Have the Mighty Fallen (Tribute to the...

  7. 2 JFK SAYS I’VE GOT TO GO
    (pp. 19-46)

    As the 1960 Democratic convention approached, Kennedy’s campaign for the nomination had failed to gather much support among African Americans. A poll of some two hundred prominent Democrat supporters selected byJetmagazine showed that he was running a poor third to his main rivals, Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey. It was felt that Kennedy’s poor voting record on civil rights issues¹ and his apparent reluctance to make overtures to prominent activists, even the distinguished African-American labor leader A. Philip Randolph, were weakening his candidacy. In the end Kennedy’s youth and war record impressed delegates, and his popularity and campaign...

  8. 3 TWISTIN’ OUT IN SPACE
    (pp. 47-58)

    In his campaign speeches John F. Kennedy criticized Eisenhower’s leadership as ineffective and emphasized the need for change. Commentators noted, however, that the Democratic candidate was no radical and that many of his ideas were interchangeable with those of his rival, Richard Nixon. What set Kennedy apart from other politicians was his unaffected charm, his ability to project a favorable image in person and through the media. It helped, of course, that he was much younger than most heads of government and that he had a style- and fashion-conscious wife and a young family.

    As the new president and his...

  9. 4 THE WELFARE TURNS ITS BACK ON YOU
    (pp. 59-68)

    In 1959 French record collector and journalist Jacques Demêtre (pseudonym of Dimitri Vicheney) paid a visit to the United States during which he made the acquaintance of many contemporary blues artists, including “St. Louis” Jimmy Oden (1903–1977). Oden, who had enjoyed a lengthy recording career, was known to European enthusiasts as the singer and composer of thoughtful lyrics like those of his most famous recording, “Going Down Slow,” from 1941. At the time he was living in virtual retirement, his career having been interrupted by a serious road accident, and he was flattered by the attentions of his overseas...

  10. 5 MARCH ON, DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING
    (pp. 69-108)

    The vast majority of performers whose lyrics are discussed in this book hailed from “down south,” the states below the Mason-Dixon Line where segregation and disenfranchisement were still vivid reality in the early 1960s. Although many chose to leave, few traveled as far as the pianist Memphis Slim (Peter Chatman), who finally settled in Paris, France, during 1962. For those who were prepared to listen, he could draw upon a great fund of anecdotes to illustrate what it was like to live in the southern states. The codes of behavior that governed everyday life were a constant source of humiliation...

  11. 6 THE DAY THE WORLD STOOD STILL
    (pp. 109-166)

    As the Great Emancipator who actively supported the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery, Abraham Lincoln has always been held in high esteem by African Americans, and yet recorded blues contain few references to him.¹ One notable exception is the extended tribute “Ballad to Abraham Lincoln” recorded by John Lee Hooker on 9 March 1961. As in other recordings from this period in which Hooker commemorates historical events, such as the flood that devastated Tupelo² or the dancehall fire in Natchez, Mississippi, that claimed the lives of bandleader Walter Barnes and many of those present,³ the narrative is...

  12. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 167-174)

    In undertaking this study my primary objective has been to shed new light on the question of how the presidency of John F. Kennedy was perceived and experienced by African Americans. With this aim in mind, I have carried out a thorough analysis of the African-American blues and gospel lyrics and comedy sketches recorded during and about his presidency that contain explicit social and political comment. I believe that these lyrics, which no one has previously attempted to collate and transcribe in a systematic way, represent an important and hitherto untapped source of African-American opinion.

    In contrast to the Roosevelt...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 175-192)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 193-200)
  15. SONG INDEX
    (pp. 201-204)
  16. ARTIST INDEX
    (pp. 205-208)
  17. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 209-220)