President Johnson’s Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on LBJ, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Vietnam 1963-1968

President Johnson’s Blues illustrates how African Americans experienced the Johnson presidency. This is achieved by an analysis of blues and gospel lyrics of the period containing more or less direct social and political comment. The lyrics of these often very rare records, which have never been systematically transcribed before, are vital and hitherto neglected sources of oral history.
When Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded the assassinated President Kennedy he was hailed enthusiastically by the blues and gospel singers, most of whom had been born in the southern states and saw an ally in the new Texas president. Johnson’s acute political skills ensured that the 1964 Civil Rights Bill was approved by Congress. However, the President was not allowed to reap the benefits of the Act for long. The violent clash in Selma, Alabama, sped up the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Next, the plight of the black ghettoes led to nationwide riots and the president and Rev. King drifted apart. Military build-up in Vietnam rose dramatically in the Johnson era. Proportionally there were not more African Americans in Vietnam, but their death rate was thirty percent higher. Johnson was forced to launch operation “Rolling Thunder” to intensify air attacks, but felt trapped by the consequences of his decisions and became severely depressed. People began burning their draft cards, and criticism of the once popular president became quite outspoken in blues and gospel lyrics. When Martin Luther King lashed out against the war in 1967, the president felt betrayed by his former civil rights ally. After the 1968 Tet offensive, Johnson’s approval rating dropped to 36%. The book also analyzes in depth the profound effect the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had on the African-American community. The resultant awakening of black self consciousness is dealt with in a final chapter.


Format: Paperback, 356 pages, 142 illustrations
Publication date: October 2009
Price: 30 Euros
Publisher: Agram Blues Books
ISBN-13: 978-90-814715-1-0

Forty-five of the songs discussed in the text are available on two different CDs produced by Agram Blues (ABCD 2020 about LBJ and 2021 about MLK) to accompany this book. Digitally remastered and featuring full liner notes by the author, the CDs are unique historical documents of the Johnson presidency.
Price: 15 Euros.


01. The Trumpets of Joy – The News That Shook The Nation
02. The Staple Singers – It’s Been A Change
03. J.B. Lenoir – Shot On Meredith
04. John Lee Hooker – The Motor City Is Burning
05. Jim Bunkley – Segregation Blues
06. King Soloman

[sic] – Please Mr. President
07. Big Amos – Going To Vietnam
08. Martha Reeves – Forget Me Not
09. Junior Wells – Vietnam Blues
10. J.B. Lenoir – Everybody Is Crying About Vietnam
11. Roscoe Robinson – Don’t Forget The Soldiers (Fighting In Viet Nam)
12. Robert Pete Williams – Trouble Way Over In Viet Nam
13. Tiny Watkins – Soldier’s Sad Story
14. Lightnin’ Hopkins – Viet Nam War (Pt, 1 & Pt. 2)
15. Madame Nellie Robinson – Viet Nam
16. Little Milton – We’re Gonna Make It
17. Roosevelt Sykes – Bad News
18. Jimmie (Preacher) Ellis – Don’t Tax Me In
19. Otis Spann – Tribute To Martin Luther King
20. The Southerners – He Taught Non-Violence (A Tribute To Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
21. The Fabulous Soul Revivers – Senator Kennedy Believed In Justice
22. Juke Boy Bonner – Being Black And I’m Proud
23. Ko Ko Taylor – Separate Or Integrate



01. Brother Will Hairston – The Alabama Bus, Parts 1 & 2
02. Bob Starr – The Jail House King
03. Johnie Lewis – I Got To Climb A High Mountain
04. The Hewlett Sisters – What Manner Of Man (Was Dr. Martin Luther King) Parts 1 & 2
05. Otis Spann – Hotel Lorraine
06. Rev. Julius Cheeks & The Four Knights – Where Do I Go From Here
07. “Little” Mack Simmons – A Tribute To Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Stop Looting And Rioting)
08. Big Maybelle – Heaven Will Welcome You Dr. King
09. The Loving Sisters – Tribute To Dr. King
10. Ethel Davenport – Free At Last
11. Big Joe Williams – The Death Of Dr. Martin Luther King
12. Tom Shaw – Martin Luther King
13. Robert Chatman – Ballad Of Martin Luther King, Jr.
14. The Norfleet Bros. – We All Praise Him
15. The Southerners – Tragic Story (A Tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
16. Nina Simone – Why (The King Of Love Is Dead)
17. Earl Gaines – Our Friend Is Gone
18. Shirley Wahls – We’ve Got To Keep On Movin’ On
19. Bill Spivery And The Sons Of Truth – The Non-Violent Man
20. Rev. Charlie Jackson – Something To Think About
21. Thomas Walton & The Blind Disciples – Ode To Martin Luther King
22. Elizabeth D. Williams – Sleep On Doctor King, Sleep On

If you would like to order any of the books (30 Euros each, but 50 euros for Kennedy’s Blues in hardback only) or CDs (15 Euros each), or if you have any comments, please contact Guido van Rijn at the following address for details of postage and payment:

Guido van Rijn
Prins Mauritslaan 95
2051 KC Overveen
The Netherlands

Or consult the Agram website at

About Guido van Rijn

Guido van Rijn teaches English at Kennemer Lyceum in Overveen, The Netherlands.

A freelance writer and blues historian, he has published articles in Block, Blues Unlimited, Blues & Rhythm, Juke Blues and Living Blues

His Ph.D. dissertation from Leiden University was revised as the award-winning “Roosevelt’s Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on FDR” (1997). A sequel entitled “The Truman and Eisenhower Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs, 1945-1960” was published in 2004. “Kennedy’s Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on JFK” was published in August 2007. “President Johnson’s Blues: African American Blues and Gospel Songs on LBJ, Martin Luther King, Robert Kenndy and Vietnam 1963-1968” was published in 2009.

Guido van Rijn has also produced twenty-one LPs and CDs for his own Agram label and, in 1970, co-founded the Netherlands Blues and Boogie Organization which culminated in the annual Utrecht Blues Estafette.

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