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  • Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson's Journey to the Stars by Gary Golio
  • Elizabeth Bush

Golio, Gary Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson's Journey to the Stars; illus. by E.B. Lewis. Paulsen/Penguin, 2020 [32p] Trade ed. ISBN 9781524738884 $17.99 E-book ed. ISBN 9781524738891 $10.99 Reviewed from digital galleys Ad 5-9 yrs

For Willie Johnson, an African-American Texas boy who lost his eyesight at age seven, blindness was no obstacle to music-making, and although he started his career as a busker singing on the streets for food and a rented room, his growly but tender voice and accomplished slide guitar blues caught professional attention. He enjoyed a recording career, but he is best known now for the inclusion of his rendition of the hymn "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground" on the famous Golden Record borne by Voyager I into space. Performed without words but heartbreakingly emotive with the hums and moans that accompanied his guitar, it was selected to capture and convey to an extraterrestrial discoverer something of the sense of loneliness with which humans confronted the exploration of space. Golio's picture book text is more tribute than biography, and the tragedies of Johnson's life, which surely influenced his mastery of the blues, are omitted; even the endnotes speak more to the Golden Record and how research into Johnson's life is a work in progress. Lewis' watercolors manage to redress visually something of the struggle and striving missing from the prose account, and listeners with access to Johnson's 1927 recording of "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground" online will begin to connect the inspiring story with a man who knew plenty about darkness. [End Page 474]



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