Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson's Journey to the Stars
Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson's Journey to the Stars

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Annotation: The poignant story of Blind Willie Johnson--the legendary Texas musician whose song "Dark Was the Night" was included on... more
Catalog Number: #240682
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Special Formats: Hot Title Hot Title
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 2020
Edition Date: 2020
Pages: 32
Availability: Available
New Title: Yes
ISBN: Publisher: 1-524-73888-3 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-8700-1
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-1-524-73888-4 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-8700-0
Dewey: 921
Language: English
Reviews:
ALA Booklist
The subject of this beautiful biography is blues musician Blind Willie Johnson, whose soulful singing and slide guitar playing so moved people that his song "Dark Was the Night" was included on the Golden Record that NASA sent into space in 1977. There is little known about Johnson's life, a fact acknowledged by Golio in an afterword, but the author has turned the details uncovered by scholarship into a simple, inspiring story of one man's commitment to lifting up himself and those around him with his music. As Golio puts it, "It was the sound of one human being reaching out to all the others, telling them not to be afraid of the dark." Imagery of light and darkness runs throughout the text, both spiritually and literally in Johnson's blindness, and it is also skillfully evoked in Lewis' illustrations, which set stars sparkling in the deep blue of outer space and sends gold radiating from Johnson's guitar as he plays, smiling all the time. An American treasure who shouldn't go unsung.
Kirkus Reviews
When NASA scientists compiled a recording of sounds to send into space representing Earth and humanity, those sounds included thunder, crickets, classical pieces, and a short wordless song by musician “Blind Willie” Johnson.Willie Johnson’s mother died while he was still a boy, and shortly thereafter he lost his sight. Now young Johnson’s light came from singing in the church choir and playing the guitar. He traveled to cities throughout Texas, where he sang and played for money. One day, an adult Johnson was given the opportunity to record an album of his songs. One of the songs was “Dark Was the Night,” a haunting yet hopeful tune marked only by Johnson’s humming and characteristic slide-guitar playing. The second-person narrative is brief but evocative. In the backmatter, Golio shares with readers that this song was chosen for the Golden Record placed on Voyager 1 in 1977 because “Johnson powerfully conveyed the sense of loneliness that all people feel—something very important to know about human beings and life on planet Earth.” Lewis’ illustrations have a soft, blurred effect to them, conveying both the bygone time and Johnson’s vision loss. They are washes of mostly blue and violet, with punches of bright yellow and gold. The author’s note also discusses the challenges of researching Johnson and provides a bit more information on Voyager 1. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-17-inch double-page spreads viewed at 65% of actual size.)An ode to a too-little-discussed musician and an excellent introduction to his amazing musical talent. (Picture book/biography. 5-8)
School Library Journal Starred Review
Gr 25 In 1977, Voyager 1 launched into space bearing a Golden Record of images, sounds, and musica message from Earth to the unknown. One of the chosen songs shares the title of this picture book biography of singer Willie Johnson. Johnson, a blind Black man, was born in Texas in 1897 and loved to sing and play the cigar-box guitar his father had made for him. By the age of eight, he had lost both his mother and his eyesight. As a young man, Johnson took his guitar on the road, traveling from town to town by train, busking to make a living. He often sang the blues, using his pocket knife on steel guitar strings to play "slide." A music executive heard Johnson sing and decided to sign him. Johnson's first record sold thousands. He died in 1945, but his music lived on, now immortalized somewhere in the universe, though easily accessible through YouTube. Lewis's expressive watercolors depict the subject's humble country beginnings as well as the joy he felt when he sang and played. The book's recurrent theme of light is captured in the bright yellow wash throughout. The story of Johnson's life is framed with vivid spreads of a night sky illuminated by stars, referencing both the Voyager 's mission and the song title. VERDICT A beautiful, timely tribute to a little-known musician and space venture. Barbara Auerbach, Cairo P.L., NY
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
When NASA scientists compiled a recording of sounds to send into space representing Earth and humanity, those sounds included thunder, crickets, classical pieces, and a short wordless song by musician “Blind Willie” Johnson.Willie Johnson’s mother died while he was still a boy, and shortly thereafter he lost his sight. Now young Johnson’s light came from singing in the church choir and playing the guitar. He traveled to cities throughout Texas, where he sang and played for money. One day, an adult Johnson was given the opportunity to record an album of his songs. One of the songs was “Dark Was the Night,” a haunting yet hopeful tune marked only by Johnson’s humming and characteristic slide-guitar playing. The second-person narrative is brief but evocative. In the backmatter, Golio shares with readers that this song was chosen for the Golden Record placed on Voyager 1 in 1977 because “Johnson powerfully conveyed the sense of loneliness that all people feel—something very important to know about human beings and life on planet Earth.” Lewis’ illustrations have a soft, blurred effect to them, conveying both the bygone time and Johnson’s vision loss. They are washes of mostly blue and violet, with punches of bright yellow and gold. The author’s note also discusses the challenges of researching Johnson and provides a bit more information on Voyager 1. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-17-inch double-page spreads viewed at 65% of actual size.)An ode to a too-little-discussed musician and an excellent introduction to his amazing musical talent. (Picture book/biography. 5-8)
Reviewing Agencies: - Find Other Reviewed Titles
Starred Review for Horn Book
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
Reading Level: 3.0
Interest Level: K-3

The poignant story of Blind Willie Johnson--the legendary Texas musician whose song "Dark Was the Night" was included on the Voyager I space probe's Golden Record

Willie Johnson was born in 1897, and from the beginning he loved to sing--and play his cigar box guitar. But his childhood was interrupted when he lost his mother and his sight. How does a blind boy make his way in the world? Fortunately for Willie, the music saved him and brought him back into the light. His powerful voice, combined with the wailing of his slide guitar, moved people. Willie made a name for himself performing on street corners all over Texas. And one day he hit it big when he got a record deal and his songs were played on the radio. Then in 1977, his song--"Dark Was the Night"--was chosen to light up the darkness when it was launched into space on the Voyager I space probe's famous Golden Record. His immortal song was selected for the way it expresses the loneliness humans all feel, while reminding us we're not alone.


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