Dark was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson's Journey to the Stars
By Gary Golio
Illustrations by E.B. Lewis
Nancy Paulsen, 2020
Little is known about musician, Blind Willie Johnson, but his unique style of blues and slide guitar made him a popular musician—at first in church, and then on street corners throughout Texas, and finally, with the advent of the phonograph, on records. His song, "Dark was the Night," was selected for inclusion on The Golden Record, sent into space on September 5, 1977.*
He was not born blind in 1897, but lost his sight and his mother as a young boy.
Gary Golio answers the questions he poses in the book,
So how does a blind boy get along?
How does he make his way in the world?
Willie Johnson's is a story of perseverance and the blues, and it offers a tiny glimpse of the African American experience at the turn of the turn of the 20th century. The inclusion of his music on The Golden Record is a metaphor for our humble beginnings, how far we've come, and how far we've yet to go.
Fitting with the vague details of Willie Johnson's life, E.B. Lewis' watercolor art is indistinct, allowing the reader to gather the feel and mood of the era, the place, the people, and the music—rather than a concrete rendering. The palette is dark, but sun and starlight signify the light of music that reaches all of humanity, even the blind.
Dark was the Night is an ode with a musicality to it that evokes a bluesy mood. I defy any reader to read this book without seeking out Willie Johnson's music. It will call to you and you won't be able to resist.
* You can track the current location of The Golden Record's copy of "Dark was the Night" on the Voyager spacecraft's website. [https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status/]
My copy of Dark was the Night was a digital copy provided by the author.