Red, White and a Taste of the Blues


Red, White and a Taste of the Blues: Poetry in Celebration of Summer and So Much More is a collection of original poetry and commentary combined visuals and music offered as a blog.

The opening photo displays the artistry of Jim Darnall in a vibrant display entitled “Red White and Blue,” three favorite colors of the summer season.

The opening selection, “I Sing in My Garden,” brings to mind the joys of gardening when I was in graduate school and planted a vegetable garden in the vacant lot next to our home in Bloomington, Indiana in the early 1980s. Metaphorically speaking, I still sing in my garden.

I Sing in My Garden

Oh, sing unto the LORD a new song!

Sing to the LORD, all the earth.

Sing to the LORD, bless his name;

Proclaim the good news from day to day.

Psalm 96:1-2



I sing in my garden and reap the good,

The bounty of living sixty-nine years.

Each note seems to evoke a stream of tears

That fall, not because of some somber mood

But flow from a heart filled with gratitude.

The folksong of the farmer thrills my ears

Each time plowing, planting or harvest nears.

I compose my song, having understood

Lyrics I did not know when I was young,

When life was uncertain, my song unsure.

Now from my green garden I garner truth.

 A song of conviction flows from my tongue.

 I am seasoned and strengthened to endure,

 Knowing the best lines are yet to be sung.

From Stone upon Stone: Psalms of Remembrance

An instrumental version of “Summertime” accompanies the poem:


From 1985-94 I taught at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, where I continued to hone my skills as a poet.  In 1994 I completed the manuscript Sacred Jazz: Music, Mood and Mind, containing “Red” and “All Blues”, two poems inspired by paintings on the FSU Campus.  Celebrated artist and Professor of Art, Terrance Corbett in a series of murals entitled “Roccoco Bugaloo Beat” produced a collection of visual art inspired by African American music–jazz, the blues, and rhythm and blues.  One of the paintings in brilliant shades of red seemed to leap off the canvas and swirl around in my mind as I “saw red” and wrote a poetic description of what I saw and heard. The accompanying photo is taken of one of the late Professor Corbett’s paintings which is similar to the one that inspired “Red”



blood red


I said

blood red


red dress red

                                    See de gal wid de red dress on,

                                    she can do de birdland all night long

what you say

Brother Ray

what you say



blood red


I said

blood red


redhead red

fiery top

of one hot mama

wig wearin sister

lips cherry red and

auburn dyed head



red-hot red

hot stuff

show nuff

Tampa Red

crooning his red-hot blues


cryin from cayenne,

chilli pepper red

bring a tear to your eye

cajun creole gumbo

red snapper red

Laissez les bonnes temps roulez

 from Baton Rouge



stop sign red

hot tamale

got to be

more careful red

candy-apple red

ragtop red

fire engine red

watch out red

dangerous red


sunshine red

watermelon red

good time red

blushing zebra red

black and white

and red all over


lollipop red

hip hoppin

finger poppin

thigh slappin

fun-time red



red clay red

Adamic dust red

red man



to return to Eden



blood red


yes, Lord, red

Lamb’s blood


precious blood


blood-stained banner


like the crimson flow

that cleanses scarlet sins

and washes white as snow


Amen red


blood red

        blood red

               blood red  

                        blood red

                                 blood red

                                          blood red

                                                     blood red

red   red    red   red     red    red    red  


blood red

I said


From Sacred Jazz: Music, Mood and Mind

 This lively musical treat with Dave Koz  entitled “Together Again” goes together well with “red.”


A number of my poems are brushed with white and depict scenes from winter, such as “Frosted Wood Scene”

 Frosted Wood Scene

“Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD,

though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Isaiah 1:18


The stark nakedness

of the dark bark

blooms with crystal leaves.

Where death once reigned,

blossoms now flourish,

even as grace

did much more abound

and flower as

graceful almond trees.


I stand enraptured,

surrounded by

the fragile beauty

of the landscape

etched in a fuller

white than any

angel’s bright raiment.


The frosted wood scene

shows God’s design

to cleanse and make whole

the soul of man

that he might surely

know the pure love

that cleanses, covers

whiter than snow,

Lord, whiter than snow.

 From Stone upon Stone: Psalms of Remembrance


Accompanying the poems etched in white are photos of falling snow—a collage winter scenes with music:

Another depiction of snow and ice against the backdrop of a photo by Curtis Blake highlights this amazing reminder from Luke 1:17 that “With God nothing will be impossible.”

Even in Winter

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,

That brings forth its fruit in its season,

Whose leaf also shall not wither;

And whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalm 1:3


Mournful dark notes of the wind’s contralto solo

Pierce the heart and chill the soul with its somber tones.

Shrouded in widow’s weeds all of creation groans,

Bemoans winter’s wilderness, lifeless and hollow.

Tall stark naked trees where nothing appears to grow 

Bend in the wind, vacant lodges closed for the season.

To find life in this dead time seems beyond reason,

Yet tender buds sleep in blankets of ice and snow.

Though leaves once green have faded, fallen to frostbite,

Leaf buds cluster in secret places to keep warm;

Buds wrapped in snow are stronger than before the storm.

Soon the voice of the bridegroom will ring in the night.

The time nears when the turtledove returns to sing,  

When ice-covered buds will blossom: firstfruits of spring.

More music and visuals of winter scenes:

A year or so ago during a poetry reading in celebration of Black History Month, I read several original works along with poetry by other African American poets who had influenced my writing. I had a similar kind of revelation regarding Winter and Spring, after reciting “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes, resulting in this poem:

 Winter is a dream deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

              Langston Hughes


Covered in ice,

winter is a dream deferred.

Like frozen vistas

unfolding before us

in the pre-dawn morning chill,

we look up

with our faces toward the rising sun.

Suspended in freeze frame,

 dormant hope waits,

as a cold-blooded vertebrate

 withdraws to hibernate.

Here death confronts us

and smacks our faces.

Though we reel and feel the sting,

we know that someday

ice-covered buds shall blossom

and explode into Spring.

The poetry in winter white brings to mind a familiar piece of classical music: the 1st movement of Winter from Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons.


The colors red, white and blue come to mind on the Fourth of July when I recall an experience during the time that I lived in Washington, DC, and my parents came to visit me from Gary, Indiana. On that particular weekend I discovered that I my father really enjoyed blues music. That experience inspired  

Quiet as it’s kept, Daddy loved the blues.

I remember the time back in the day when Dad could still drive,

and drive he did most of the way, not the whole way, but divided in half,

stopping to spend the night in a motel in Pennsylvania

somewhere about halfway between Gary, Indiana and DC

“Madear and Daddy” drove down to visit me one weekend over the 4th

and we went down to festivities off Constitution Avenue

in that “grassy as if it wanted wear” area near the Smithsonian.

Strolling like nomads in and out of blue and white striped tents,

seeking relief from the relentless blazing summer sun,

we sampled the chicken and rib tips and fresh squeezed lemonade

and finished off the feasting with a taste of the blues:

a folk festival of sorts, featuring local blues singers

and a quartet from Dad’s home state of Arkansas.

We followed the crowd into this one wide tan canvas expanse,

flaps raised and rolled up, wrapped all around the sides,

like a revival tent without the sawdust.

On the plywood stage covered with carpet remnants

in a rickety wooden folding chair sat old Flora.

She wasn’t blind but thick wire-rimmed glasses

magnified her dark orbs that closed like doll’s eyes

when she reared back her head and hollered.

Flora was good, but she wasn’t quite like Robert,

old Blind Robert that sang down in front of the Riggs Bank.

He was blind for sure(think he was born that way),

strumming and humming, and sliding that metal bar up and down the guitar strings

to lure folk into the tent to taste that thick authentic down home sound.

Blind Robert show could sing. . . .


Wonder why so many good blues singers be blind?

Brother Ray and Stevie. . . Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell,

Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Blake n’nem;

All the Blind Boys, from Mississippi and Alabama,

All yall, I know yall see what it takes to show nuff sing the blues.

Of course, my Daddy got the same name as a famous blues singer,

Lonnie Johnson. I wonder what all that means, if anything.

While the brothers from Arkansas was playing and singing,

I’d glance over and catch Daddy nodding his head in agreement

or see him smiling or simply breathing a sigh,

like a tacit Amen or inner response that seemed to say,

“You got that right.”

We stood and watched and listened a good while

before we left and continued to stroll from tent to tent.

After a while, Daddy wanted to go back just one more time.

My Daddy show did love him some blues that time in DC.


Some say the blues is an acquired taste that you appreciate as you age.

As I have mellowed in the autumn of the years, I have come to enjoy the blues too.

I just wish I could have shared this newfound fondness for blueness

with my father back in the day, in my younger boppin doowop days,

but I just couldn’t get into them down in the alley sad songs back then.

I just didn’t know why the blues always be so sad.

What did I know? What did I know?


Now I know it takes a whole lot of living and

a lot more loving and losing to appreciate the blues.

Like the Lady say,

        You don’t know what love is
        Until you’ve learned the meaning of the blues
        Until you’ve loved a love you’ve had to lose
        You don’t know what love is

Now I know just what Daddy meant when he nodded his head

and sighed and wanted to go back just one more time.

Quiet as it’s kept, my Daddy loved him some blues.


With regard to The Blues as Music, we find a whole range of emotions expressed in musically. Just as the color blue has wide variety of shades, so does the blues in terms of their intensity.  Kandinsky, the noted philosopher and artist, comments about the color blue and its various shades.  ”Blue is the typical heavenly color: deep, inner, supernatural, peaceful.  The ultimate feeling it creates is rest.  The more intense it is, the more it calls us to the open sky, and demands purity and transcendence.  Light blue is like a flute, a darker blue a cello, a still a darker the double bass, and the darkest an organ.  When it darkens to black, it evokes a profound grief.  Sinking toward black, it has the overtone of a mourning that is not human.”

“All Blues” is a poetic expression of my impressions of the blues as inspired by one of the paintings of Terrance Corbett, a massive mural in shades of blue inspired by the music of the blues.

All Blues

pitch-black blue

bluer than

the toothless gums

of a black

blues singer


moanin bout

how his baby

done left him


  Mm mmm soon one mornin

  blues come fallin down

  Mm mmm soon one mornin

  blues come fallin down

  Said they fell so heavy

  Till it caused my heart to moan                       


can no anodyne soothe

this state of mind

can no elixir elevate

this mood indigo


midnight blue

this thick

blue funk rises


swirls, eddies

makes folk giddy

done stunk up

they minds

with stinkin thinkin

suffocatin in self-pity

dazed, crazy  from

this haze of blue funk


I got these blues  

Reason I’m not satisfied                                                    

 I got these blues

Reason I’m not satisfied                                                    

That’s the reason why                                                       

I stole away and cried  


freight-train blue

trailin down the track

lonesome echoes blowin

from a steel blue

dark harmonica

navy blue notes

wailin for Miles

from that long gone train 


Took my baby

to meet the mornin train

Took my baby

to meet the mornin train

And the blues come down

Baby like showers of rain 


pastel blue

lighter, brighter

subtle twinge

of powder blue

like Betty Lou


up to sky blue

and back


peacock blue

glimmers, shimmering

like the lining

of Queen Esther’s

royal blue robe,

penetrates this thick

blue upon blueness

in a lighter vein

bright sea-blue

swirling like burgundy blue

new wine

springing from an

inner fountain blue

from the soul of a man

who swapped his low-down blues

for pure turquoise joys


Trouble in mind I’m blue

but I won’t be blue always

Trouble in mind I’m blue

but I won’t be blue always

cause the sun’s gonna shine

in my front door someday


just what is the blues? 

is it somethin you get

a show nuff dis ease

like de rheumatiz

or de rockin pneumonia

and de boogie-woogie flu

or is it like Lightnin said

somethin you just borned with

whatsonever it is

somethin gets a holt of you

dis mornin    dis evenin    soooo blue 

just what is the blues?

maybe Lady Day summed it up

when she said,

“The blues is everything.”

The sea, the sky,

the blues and I

know all colors;

sea and sky,

the blues and I

know all colors:

all shades

all hues

all blues


“All Blues” is published in Sacred Jazz: Music, Mood and Mind. 

Accompanying the poem is the music of the unmistakable Miles Davis. performing “All Blues” from the album “Kind of Blue” recorded in 1959.

Once I reached my forties and beyond, I seemed to appreciate the blues as a musical and poetic form. The noted poet Robert Bly remarked, “It is easier to go through suffering if you have a name for it.”  I learned the reality that suffering is a part of life; indeed, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.”  As the old folks used to say, “Ain’t no harm to moan. . . sometime.”  

Ralph Ellison offers this penetrating definition of this evocative musical form:

The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger the jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by consolations of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.  As a form, the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically.

In 2003 while on sabbatical from Otterbein College, I made my first trip to West Africa, where I visited historic Goree, Island, one of the centers of the transatlantic slave trade.  The trip by ferry to Goree Island proved to be one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life thus far. The impact of that particular part began with a lecture at the Goree Institute on the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Senegal by Dr. Ibrahima Seck.  Because of his interest in Africa American music, Dr. Seck discussed and illustrated specific connections between the Blues and African music.  As a poet who infuses the blues into my poetry, I was especially fascinated by his discussion and sampling of video clips of African musicians and singers.  As a result of Dr. Seck’s lecture as well as the total experience on Goree, I now “understand” and appreciate my poetry to a much greater degree, especially those works that include blues lyrics.  “Down Home Blues” was written after reflecting upon Dr. Seck’s lecture at the Goree Institute. 

Down Home Blues

A Transatlantic Connection


sitting in my rocking chair

on the front porch

of my shot-gun house

with my face to the rising sun

strumming my moolo,

strumming my xalan                                               

strumming my “good-tar”

 (with a soul all its own)                                                                                                                                  

“strumming on the old banjo”                                                                                            

strumming my kora 

strumming my ko ko ko ko kora           

Corrina, Corrina,

Crrina, Corrina,

Corrina, Corrina,

Where you been so long?

strumming my ko ko ko ko kora


KoKo ’nem, this where yall come from 

Ma and Bessie and Mamie and Alberta and Victoria

and all them ladies leading up to Lady Day;

Dinah and Esther and Etta and Nina,

all them blues singers, sisters of note,

all the way beyond Ms Sippie and way Down South,

all the way Up North, way Down East and way Out West

all the way up to right now


All the   men folk too,

this where yall come from                                                          

Leadbelly and Robert Johnson

and Lonnie Johnson, man with my Daddy’s name,

Blind Lemon and Lightnin and other brothers,

Mr. B. and B.B. King, Joe Williams

and Big Jimmy Rushing through Muddy Waters, 

all the way to Brother Ray and Stevie,

all the Blind Boys, from Mississippi and Alabama,

I know yall see


All yall, this where yall come from


. . . from huts of Mali through Senegambia,


all the way West and back 

and forth to Taj Mahal


Mother Africa first felt the birth pangs

and screamed, Walaay!

“Lord, have mercy. . .”

“ Hmph! Hmph! Hmph! I tell you the truth.”

long before the Southland gave birth to the blues


Ali Farka Toure, the late guitar-playing farmer

from Bamako, Mali, on the River Niger 

(up and got hooked on John Lee Hooker

and ain’t never been the same since)

. . . anyway, he say

”The blues has no African name. . .

The word for the blues does not exist.

I say

the blues

by any other name/ or no name at all/

the blues


yet and still is

. . . show is. . .

 when they gets a holt of you… you know it. . . don’t matter where you from

 I woke up one morning and wondered,

 ‘Where these blues come from?’

 I woke up one morning and wondered,

 ‘Where these blues come from?’

 I scratched my head and kept staring

 . . . staring at the rising sun.

 . . . staring at the rising sun.

A blues piece with lyrics by Lonnell Johnson, composed and performed by Dan Haas

The blues comes in all shades, as intimated in “All Blues,” and here is “.  .  . a lighter, brighter, subtle twinge of powder blue”, a pastel, bright and bubbly blues piece called “No Mo Blues.” I wrote the lyrics and my longtime friend, Dan Haas, put the words to music and offers his rendition of the song. 

No Mo Blues

You have turned for me my mourning

into dancing; You hast put off my sackcloth,

 and clothed me with gladness;

 Psalm 30:11

I use to be a big-time blues singer

 In the union for singers of the blues.

 I use to be a big-time blues singer

 In the union for singers of the blues,

  But I turnt in my union card,

  Ain’t gonna pay no mo union dues.

 When I was a full-time blues singer,

Doin whatsonever I choose–

 When I was a full-time blues singer,

 Doin whatsonever I choose–

 Drinkin and smokin and screwin round

 I was payin my blues singer’s dues.

 When I use to sing the low-down blues,

 I could show-nuff cry and croon.          

 When I use to sing the low-down blues,

 I could show-nuff cry and croon.          

 Then I met my pretty baby,

  Now I’m hummin a brand new tune.

  I gotta go find my agent

  And tell him, “Say, Man, you been fired!”

  I gotta go find my agent

  And tell him, “Say, Man, you been fired!”

  Since I met my pretty baby,

  This old blues singer’s done retired.

  I’m gonna tell everybody,

  I want the whole world to see.

  I’m gonna tell everybody,

  I want the whole world to see.

  I just gotta testify

   What my pretty baby done for me.

  The day she stepped into my heart,

  The sun shined in my front door.

  The day He stepped into my heart,

  The sun shined in my front door.

  And since I met my pretty baby,

 I ain’t gonna sing the blues no mo.


no mo bluesRecording of Dan Haas singing the lyrics:

“Final Victory”, an original blues poem, speaks of “Old Man Crab”, referring to cancer, the dreaded disease that takes its name from the constellation Cancer, the celestial arrangement that appears at the beginning of summer  from JUNE 22 – JULY 23. I was first inspired to compose the poem after the death of my father, Lonnie Johnson, who died of complications from cancer in 1996. My mother, Jessie Marie Johnson, survived two bouts with “Old Man Crab” and after another valiant fight, died of cancer in 2002. I make reference to her first two triumphant battles against cancer in the third stanza. I revised the poem in 2001 after my brother-in-law, Elliott Thompson, passed away from liver cancer. The next year, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the entire poem took on even greater significance, especially this stanza from which the title of my book Watch, Fight and Pray: My Personal Three-fold Strategy to Combat Prostate Cancer was taken:

Final Victory

I Corinthians 15:53-57

Romans 8:37-39


Old man crab is mighty sneaky,

            always creepin and up to no good,

Old man crab, is mighty sneaky,

            always creepin and up to no good,

That low-down dirty rascal,

            Messin with folk all round the neighborhood.

One dark day old man crab came callin,

            Crawlin in like some uninvited mouse,

One dark day old man crab came callin,

            Crawlin in like some uninvited mouse,

That nasty dirty devil,

            Sneakin in the back door of my sister’s house.

First you first attacked my mama, old man crab,

            You tried to pinch her with your greatest fears,

First you first attacked my mama, old man crab,

            You tried to pinch her with your greatest fears,

But she didn’t want no she-crab soup,

            You tried to served with pain and bitter tears.

You may have come to our house, old man crab,

            But I’m sorry, you can’t stay.

You may have come to our house, old man crab,

            But I’m sorry, you can’t stay.

Whatsonever in the world you may do,

            Everyday we still gonna watch, fight, and pray.

Nothin’ low down on earth, old man crab,

            Or nothin high up in heaven above,

Nothin’ low down on earth, old man crab,

            Or nothin high up in heaven above,

Not even death, your creepin pardner,

            Can ever separate us from God’s love.

So git out my face, old man crab,

            I got your number, don’t you see.

So git out my face, old man crab,

            I got your number, don’t you see.

You may win this li’l biddy battle,

            But we show-nuff got the final victory.

Some say our Savior’s comin in the mornin;

            Some say in the midnight hour or high noon

Some say our Savior’s comin in the mornin;

            Some say in the midnight hour or high noon


I got a feelin He’s comin back

            To gather us together soon . . . and very soon.

From Stone upon Stone: Psalms of Remembrance

The last line of the closing stanza brings to mind the gospel song “Soon and Very Soon” performed by Andre Crouch:

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9 Responses to “Red, White and a Taste of the Blues”

  1. free ipad 2 Says:

    Great review! You actually overviewed some nice things in this post. I came across it by using Bing and I’ve got to admit that I already subscribed to the RSS feed, will be following you on my iphone 🙂

    • Dr. J Says:

      Thanks for kind words. I’m glad that you found my blog of interest. Thanks for the subscription.

      Best regards,

      Dr. J (aka Lonnell Johnson)

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  4. Mary Sayler Says:

    Love the combination of artfully done visuals and poems with such musicality.

  5. Sal Addicks Says:

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  6. Marion Altvater Says:

    Thank you Lonnell for such a beautiful group of treats from your wonderful self.

    Much Love to you and Brenda,


    • Dr. J Says:

      Thanks, Marion,

      I appreciate the kind words. It is always a joy to hear from you. Keep stopping by the “Shoppe” for more goodies.

      Be blessed,

      Dr. J (aka Lonnell)

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