Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark was the night, cold was the ground,” destined to wander the Milky Way on Voyager 1

The West Wing episode, “The Warfare of Genghis Khan” mentions the gospel music of Blind Willie Johnson, his tragic story and an uplifting eulogy.

Josh: Voyager, in case it’s ever encountered by extra-terrestrials is carrying photos of life on Earth, greetings in 55 languages, and a collection of music from Gregorian chants to Chuck Berry.

Including “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground” by ’20s bluesman Blind Willie Johnson, whose stepmother blinded him when he was seven by throwing lye in his eyes after his father had beat her for being with another man.

He died penniless of pneumonia after sleeping bundled in wet newspapers in the ruins of his house that burned down. But his music just left the solar system.

Donna: Okay, that got me.

“Dark Was the Night” is a “moan.” A moan is simply a style of wordless singing. And since it is a lament without words, we are left to wonder about the singer’s personal story, experiencing only his pain. Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night” moan is both gorgeous and eerie at the same time as the sliding notes on the guitar strings chase and match the singer’s haunting, wordless vocals.

– musician Marc Silber.

Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” ‘has the distinction of being one of 27 samples of music included on the Voyager Golden Record, launched into space in 1977 to represent the diversity of life on Earth. “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” was chosen as the human expression of loneliness.’ See Wikipedia.

The song is available on iTunes and YouTube.