The Major Role Of Music In Sonny’s Blues By James Baldwin

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer


As an African American young woman, I have always been taught the sky’s the limit and not allowing the world shape you into anything else differently. I have learned to express myself through my passion as a way of healing through the trauma I encountered. But the pressure to be perfect in school makes it unbearable as a struggle with anxiety. In Sonny’s Blues, the narrator and his brother Sonny are conscious of the struggles that dwell in the streets of Harlem. The setting had occurred in the 1950s. A time when blacks were denied renting, due to racism happening. They grew up in a neighborhood in which they saw the struggles of poverty and crime. Being surrounded by such hardships I have discovered that finding your passion can be an escape from your hardships.

The Major Role Of Music

In sonny Blues, the narrator and his brother had both a hard time connecting with one another. It reminded me of the struggles of which me and my older brother gone through. Similar to Sonny, I grew up in love with music and enjoyed being in a band. I too would feel very connected with all the instruments and strings playing together would feel peaceful inside. I remember being so joyful about just being a member of a band..

I played the flute and I wanted to play drums in the beginning but I didn’t understand at the moment that the flute would become my first love. I can remember coming home telling that I made it into the sixth grade band to my mother. After band practice, I’d come home straight, Working so hard on the flute until I fall asleep.’I mean I have to do a lot of studying and I’ll have to explore it all, but I mean I want to play with jazz musicians, ‘Sonny said. I felt everything Sonny said about just wanting his passion to be understood.

I’ll never forget the year of 8th grade, towards the end of the first semester. My teacher informed me that I will no longer be in the band for the rest of the year, I couldn’t comprehend because he always ensured me of being his best flute player. I looked at him in confusion, and he informed me that my mom instructed him remove me out of the band. Hurt and overwhelmed, I returned home and tried to persuade my mother to let me continue in the band. Her reason for stealing my joy was because I wasn’t doing as well as in other classes. She took away a part of my soul that day.


My heart poured for Sonny’s brother. The narrator. The narrator in the story described the pressures he felt as being the more stable brother. Having to look after Sonny on top of coping with the death of his youngest child Grace was a lot to face. I can relate to Sonny’s brother about the pressure put on from my mother. Having the urge to do good in school. ”You may not be able to stop nothing from happening. But you got to let him know that you’re there” said the brother’s Mother. That text had spoke to me. Growing up raised by a single mother and an older brother.

She felt that I would become another version of her, she would tell me on how I should look, dress and act. It was expected of the narrator to turn out the ”good brother. The mother hoped that the older brother will set an example of an exception African American man living in Harlem during that time span. Sonny’s Blues taught me to live for no one else but myself. I realized that each of our lives was totally distinct from our mom, siblings and so on. With our own minds, we all create our own choices. Life can take us on different paths, but we have to live our lives knowing we can’t please anyone but ourselves alone.


Sonny were battling drug addiction just at a young age. I know that Sonny must have noticed the pressure coming from his brother to become something positive in this world as a young black man. Sonny said in the text ”I hear you but you never hear anything I say” referring to his brother. That text, in particular, triggered me, prior to my memory of being in the band. I remember explaining to my mother, hoping to change her mind and keep me in the band. At the time it was the only thing at the moment that kept me happy at thirteen.

Unfortunately, because of it, I came into a depression and created an eating disorder. Similar to the drug addiction of Sonny, I had an eating disorder that led me to binge eat because of what I had been through in the past.”And other times-well, I needed a fix, I needed to find a place to learn, I needed to clear a space to listen, and I couldn’t find it and I went, I did terrible things to me, I was terrible for me” Sonny quoted. I think Sonny explained the feeling for us that struggle with internal demons that arises from trauma and hurt from the past. We can and try to let others listen to our pain but in awe we realize no one truly understand you for you.


Later in the text, we find that Sonny and his brother had cultivating experience as Sonny were at the club playing the piano. I can almost feel the emotions Baldwin projected in the text. I felt chills, just reading how Sonny’s brother saw how Sonny face connected with as he was telling a story through his music. I can almost feel the emotions Baldwin projected in the text. ”He and his boys were up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen” said the narrator(Sonny’s Blues). I love how Baldwin brought the scene to life with his words and vivid description. While reading the text,I got emotional. I felt Sonny’s brother’s tear as he genuinely saw Sonny for who he is. It felt as if I could finally reach for a breath of fresh air, when the narrator realized how much jazz music meant to Sonny.


In conclusion, Sonny blues taught me to cherish the time I spend with my brother. Regardless of our disagreements and life decisions. I also came to the realization that music was an effective way for me to cope with previous issues. While reading the text Sonny’s Blues, it showed me my objective. I now understand in the future as to how to not let my struggles affect me completely.

This point in time is different because I recognize the unhealthy problems of not fully coming to terms with my mental health. I believe Baldwin wrote this for the readers that have, or had a love for music. Sometimes down the road, life took its toll. When life takes its own toll it can destroy the things we love and it can alter our abilities. Fortunately, we can redeem ourselves by living in our truth. To every day of our lives there is like a melody to a song, including the good and the bad. We are composers in our life. Music is more than just a sound we hear, it is passion and our values which always inspire us to stay true to ourselves.


  • Tracy, S. C. (2015). Sonny in the Dark: Jazzing the Blues Spirit and the Gospel Truth in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”. James Baldwin Review, 1(1), 164-178. doi:10.7227/jbr.1.10
  • Sullivan, P. (2014). Appendix 1: Reading Guide for “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin. A New Writing Classroom: Listening, Motivation, and Habits of Mind, 185-192. doi:10.7330/9780874219449.c011


Read more