The Souls of Black Folk: One Hundred Years Later

By Dolan Hubbard | Go to book overview

The “Musical” Souls of Black Folk
Can a Double Consciousness Be Heard?
Christopher A. Brooks

Our song, our toil, our cheer, andwarning have been given to this nation in blood-brotherhood. Are not these gifts worth the giving? Is not this work andstriving? WouldAmerica have been America without her Negro people?

—W. E. B. Du Bois


I

At the core of The Souls of Black Folk is the issue of Du Bois's use of African American spirituals. Was he attempting to communicate some secret message by using them as a musical epigraph at the beginning of each chapter? Was it a statement of race pride, or was there some other intent? Meanwhile, the most memorable concept of the book is Du Bois's celebrated “double-consciousness” theory, which has generated considerable scholarly interpretation and speculation. If we explore the theory from a musical perspective—along the way considering the impact of the spirituals in their historical context and their influences on Du Bois—a “musical” double consciousness can be discerned.

Much remains unclear regarding the origins of the genre that would come to be called “spirituals.” It attractedconsiderable commentary, interpretation, and debate from many quarters during the latter half of the nineteenth century, andthis attention continuedinto the twentieth century. The growing interest in “folk” genres, where a specific author or composer of a musical work could not be identified, made spirituals ripe for the speculative treatment they received. Although many of these speculations remain unconfirmed, there are certain things we know. The genre was a cultural

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