Go in the Wilderness: Black Spirituals and the Natural Environment


Jake Blount

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This talk examined the complex role of nature in Black spirituals. While the spirituals often despair of finding joy in the world we occupy, vivid natural imagery plays a key role in their depictions of worldly events – and even the afterlife. Its role, however, is often unclear: rivers are the boundaries between worlds; waters heal, and devour; the faithful seek salvation in the wilderness, and never return. The faithful pray for God to extinguish the sun, and weep as the stars begin to fall. This presentation began to untangle these contradictory portrayals, clarifying the relationship between Black spirituals and the environments they developed within.

A specialist in the early folk music of Black Americans, Blount is a skilled performer of spirituals, blues, and string band repertoire. Blount has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Newport Folk Festival, and numerous other venues across and beyond the United States. Blount’s latest record, The New Faith, was released in September 2022 as part of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings’ African American Legacy Series, in collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. An Afrofuturist concept album, The New Faith explores traditional Black religious music as it might exist post-climate crisis. In this solo concert at URI, Blount performed material from this critically acclaimed album and beyond.

Check out Blount’s January 6th, 2023 “Tiny Desk Concert” from NPR Music.