Blow Top Blues: The Fire Next Time

Aunt Jemima’s fixed stare and rigid grin in this work refer to the song “Blow Top Blues” by jazz musician Leonard Feather (1914–1994). Popularized in the 1940s, it tells the story of a woman who is going mad. Saar’s subtitle, The Fire Next Time, is taken from James Baldwin’s 1963 book of that title, which addresses the role of race in American history and the connections between race and religion. Baldwin in turn took his title from the antebellum Negro spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep.”

Betye Saar
Blow Top Blues: The Fire Next Time, 1998
Lithograph and hand-painted collage on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. © Betye Saar.
Photo courtesy Museum De Domijnen, Sittard, Netherlands, by Bert Janssen.