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  • Writer's pictureTerry Pace

Soul of a Man

Updated: May 14, 2020

The song Soul of a Man was recorded in 1930 by the gospel blues musician Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945). The album where this song appears today is Dark was the Night released in (1998) from Johnson's early recordings (and other collections of his music). Willie B. Harris sings the female harmony on this song. Born in a small town near Waco Texas, Johnson learned to play the guitar as a child and became an ordained Baptist minister as an adult and used his music and singing as a part of his evangelical ministry. But do not be mistaken, his music is square in the blues tradition also. His music has a mournful, searching quality to it that draws the seeking, lonely or open-minded listener in. His Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground song was one of 27 songs selected to fly into outer space on the Voyager spacecraft in hopes of being a representation of humanity in case any intelligent civilization elsewhere might ever find it. Indeed, Johnson's music is nothing if not fully human, with his deep rough passionate voice, lively slide guitar and lyrics that express the deepest hopes and fears of the human race. Soul of a Man has been recorded by many other musicians, but none come close to the urgency and authenticity of Blind Willie Johnson. The song is basically a question: What is the Soul of a Man (or woman or human being)? Johnson suggests places he has searched for the answer to this question, but offers no final answers and leaves us rightly, honestly where he found us, with a mystery that we each answer the best we can within the experience of our own awareness of faith, love, nature, science and art.

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