Son House, “Death Letter”

[caption id="attachment_199665" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Illustration by Courtney Spencer[/caption] The legendary bluesmen of the Delta are often identified with a signature song, like Robert Johnson and “Cross Road Blues” or Charley Patton and “Pony Blues.” Son House is best known for his song “Death Letter,” which gained him widespread recognition and made him a legend several decades after his formative years in the Delta. “Death Letter,” also known as “Death Letter Blues,” was recorded in 1965 after House was rediscovered in New York, having abandoned the music business decades earlier. The song is often said to be patterned after his 1930 recording “My Black Mama, Part 2,” but the two don’t really have all that much in common besides the fact that they follow standard blues structures. The premise of the 12-bar blues “Death Letter” is that the narrator has received a letter telling him of the death of his lover, and that he needs to get himself to the location of the body before the funeral. When he arrives, he finds the body on a “cooling board,” a board with ice under it on which a corpse was laid during burial preparation, something that became obsolete with the widespread use…

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