Solomon Northup’s Singing Book

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2017

Published In

African American Review


This essay examines the musical score included at the end of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave (1853), a setting of a song called “Roaring River” that Northup earlier recounted enslaved people singing as they patted juba. I argue that “Roaring River” stages questions that the narrative itself cannot ask about how to represent the experience of slavery once one is outside of it. In particular, it asks how to love what’s made in the shadow of slavery—the intimacies forged, and especially the music borne of them.

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