Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Carson from Columbus, OH. Carson Wonders, “What is a riff in music?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Carson!
We bet you know the stories of Johnny Appleseed and Pocahontas. How about Mulan or John Henry? If you recognize any of these names, you probably know they were all real people. We've been talking about these figures for so long that they are now legends!
A legend is a story that starts out as true but then takes on mythical traits. Legends are created when people retell stories and add details to them that aren't true. Often, these details come from the storytellers' spiritual or religious beliefs.
We know many legends about real people! Have you ever heard the legend of Robert Johnson?
Like most legends, the story of Robert Johnson began with a real person. Johnson lived in the Mississippi Delta in the early 1900s. He started playing music when he was young, but his early music impressed no one. Son House, a talented Blues musician, once told Johnson, "Put that guitar down [...] you drivin' people nuts!"
However, Robert Johnson did not put the guitar down. He kept practicing, but no matter how hard he tried, he didn't seem to improve. Then one day, Johnson disappeared. No one was sure where he was. For about six months, the Mississippi Delta was free from the racket of Robert Johnson's music.
That's where the legend of Robert Johnson and the crossroads begins.
People say Robert Johnson went out one night to the crossroads of two highways in the Mississippi Delta. The legend says he stood at the crossroads for a long time. At exactly midnight, a large man dressed in black appeared. Those who believe the legend say the man in black was the Devil.
Robert Johnson begged the Devil to make him a talented musician. The Devil agreed, on one condition. The Devil promised to make Robert Johnson the greatest Blues musician in the world in return for Johnson's soul. With little thought, Robert Johnson agreed.
When Robert Johnson reappeared in the Mississippi Delta music scene, he was a talented Blues musician. He could sing, write music, and even play the guitar! In fact, when Johnson played, people swore they heard TWO guitars. Audiences would look around, searching for the second guitarist. Who was playing with him? No one ever saw the second guitarist, leading many to believe the Devil himself was playing alongside Johnson. Others believed Johnson was somehow able to make his one guitar sound like two.
How much of the legend of Robert Johnson is true? The archetype of desperate people making deals with the Devil is common in legends. Most people assume that this part of the story is fabricated.
However, Johnson did become a great Blues singer. He spent the rest of his life playing music. In 1938, a music scout in New York listened to Robert Johnson's music and invited him to play a big concert in Carnegie Hall. Unfortunately, by the time the invitation reached Mississippi, Robert Johnson had passed away. He was only 27.
What really happened to Robert Johnson at the crossroads? There are people in Mississippi who would tell you he traded his soul to become a great Blues singer. Others would say Robert Johnson never went to the crossroads at all. As for Johnson himself, he sang that he "went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees," possibly lending some truth to the legend.
Perhaps we will never know for sure! However, we do know that Robert Johnson never gave up on his music, even when no one believed in him. Today, we know him as one of the greatest Blues musicians of all time.
Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.9, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1