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Sorrow Songs: An Early Form of the Blues

“Sorrow songs” is a name given by W. E. B. Du Bois to describe musical compositions that spoke of the suffering of enslaved Africans in the United States. The intent of these songs was to allow the lyric poet to express the feelings of a people who were subjected to unjust treatment. While the melodies, generally performed in a minor key, conveyed an atmosphere of sadness and melancholy, the lyrics of sorrow songs not only gave voice to the immediate personal experiences of the performer but also embodied, implicitly and often with stunning directness, a penetrating critique of condition of enslavement and the broader social context that supported it.

This entry examines the origin and development of the sorrow song and its relatives, the ...

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