Soul Music

W.E.B. Du Bois & his Musical Quotes

It is remarkable how Du Bois used musical quotes to build up his writings, especially his most famous work The Souls of Black Folk (1903). He was known to be a fairly good singer, though he used to self judge and in fact considering he knew “little of music”.

Du Bois himself claimed that music was way more evocative than words in the construction of black people’s identity and whole story, in the sense that it travels through the entire oral tradition (even though this accurate expression is never used in his own writings). He considered he inheritated his own history through his grandparents’ songs.

Every chapter opens with a musical quote, illustrated with the very first bars of the score. These quotes took their origin in the black people’s sorrow songs’ tradition. The aim was to highlight, we guess, the popular culture that underlies the process leading to freedom.

In the video selection hereafter, one will enjoy not only the various of the song quoted by Du Bois, but also the writer’s thought process itself.

As a conclusion, we take good note that Pr. Alexander Weheliye (Rutgers University) published an exciting essay in 2005, Phonographies (Duke University Press), in which he analyses the reuse of musical fragments in a whole personal work.

Cite this blog post
Jeremy Jeanguenin (2020, October 17). W.E.B. Du Bois & his Musical Quotes. Black Troubadours. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from

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