This is The Turnaround with Rev. Zach Chandler, where, every week, we’ll be breaking down a different aspect of the blues for a deeper understanding of the music, culture, and people that are the blues.
For the next several weeks, we’ll be examining some of the most influential bluesmen of the last century to try to understand where the blues comes from. As an art form centered around expression, the personalities around it are part of what makes this music so special
Last week, we screened the documentary of the past and present with Willie Dixon.
This week, we’ll take a field trip from Chicago to a little town called Bethlehem to talk about another iconic figure in the blues: Jesus Christ.
Christmas is coming up next week. So, to celebrate we’ll look into the star of the show for most people. Christianity had a huge impact on the origins of the blues and continues to influence artists today. Poor folks in rural Mississippi in the early 20th Century didn’t have much materially, but they stored up their treasures in Heaven. A hope of salvation and eternal bliss after a life of toil and struggle is understandably alluring. In the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, they found that hope.
Here’s what we know: Jesus was born around the year 4 B.C. in Bethlehem, Judea to a carpenter named Joseph and Mary, his betrothed. He grew up in the city of Nazareth in Galilee. He worked as a carpenter, but showed interest in religious studies from a young age, even getting separated from Mary in the Temple of Jerusalem one time at about 12 years old and, when she found him, he was chatting it up with a bunch of scholars three days later.
Around the age of 30, he was baptized by his cousin John, an itinerant preacher, in the Jordan River and began his ministry. His teachings, in summary, discussed his fulfilling the Mosaic law as the Messiah, establishing a new code of conduct based on love, and promising eternal life in Heaven for not only the Jews that followed him, but the Gentiles as well. Because of such claims as being the Son of God, the Messiah, and how he would tear down the Temple, and for calling out Jewish elders for their hypocrisy, he had a lot of haters in high places despite being very popular among the people.
Three years after his ministry began, one of his closest followers, Judas Iscariot, betrayed him to the Pharisees for 30 pieces of silver. He was brutally beaten, mocked with a crown of thorns, and crucified, having sign nailed above his head saying “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. He died on the cross and was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Three days after that, he rose from the dead. He stayed with his disciples for another forty days and then ascended into Heaven.
The historicity of Jesus is debatable. There are certain facts that are established, such as a Jesus who was a carpenter and itinerant preacher wandering around Judea in the early 1st Century. As for his being the Son of God, the Messiah, and rising from the dead, along with some of the miracles attributed to him, that’s where we start losing people. Still, about ⅓ of the world’s population ascribe to Christianity, with other religions such as Islam, Bahá’i, Buddhism, and Hinduism acknowledging many of his teachings at the least.
Jesus is a prevalent figure in blues music. Many blues songs, especially many early Delta blues songs, are indistinguishable from Gospel music. Some men, like Blind Willie Johnson, almost exclusively sang about Jesus and devoted their lives to sharing him with the world. Some men, like Son House, tried, but had a harder time keeping on the straight and narrow.
However you may feel about Jesus, have a merry Christmas and happy holidays. This time of year, most can typically agree on gathering around with family and celebrating charity and generosity. You can make your family gatherings a little more fun too, with Evan Williams Original Southern Eggnog. Drink it chilled with a dash of nutmeg and it’ll warm your bones in this chilly weather.