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A Reading Playlist for "The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois"

Sara is a hobby reader with a B.S. in English and an accountant's eye for detail. She creates annotating guides and writes on book analysis.

*The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois* by Honoreé Fanonne Jeffers has a large soundtrack with over 30 gospel, R&B, funk, and soul music references.

*The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois* by Honoreé Fanonne Jeffers has a large soundtrack with over 30 gospel, R&B, funk, and soul music references.

Over 30 Songs & Albums in 800 Pages

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoreé Fanonne Jeffers is a sweeping historical fiction novel with a large soundtrack of over 30 popular music references. The music has a window effect. Through songs and albums, readers get direct connections to a character's emotional state or the precise societal and cultural contexts of the moment.

Listed below are 25 of the songs and artists referenced by Jeffers, with the associated chapter, page, and quote from her novel. I've also added a few videos to complement her text. If it inspires you to check out The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, it will have been worth it!

1. Lena Horne, “Stormy Weather"

Chapter: The Definitions of Siddity

Page: 49

Book Quote: On the television screen, Stormy Weather. Lena Horne sang next to a greasy-headed man playing the piano, an outrageous, feathered cap on her head.

2. Donny Hathaway, “This Christmas”

Chapter The Definitions of Siddity

Page: 57

Book Quote:: “On my boom box, she played a mixtape with her favorite holiday song on a loop, 'This Christmas,' by Donny Hathaway."

Chapter: Permission to Be Excused

Page: 110

Book Quote:: "I would roll our eyes at our big sister playing that Donny Hathaway holiday song that she loved so much. It would be all right."

3. "Amazing Grace"

Chapter: Jingle Bells, Dammit

Page: 119

Book Quote: “But Dear Pearl? She did not care one bit! She stopped Mr. J.W. right in the middle of 'Amazing Grace.'"

4. Aretha Franklin, “Let Me In Your Life”

Chapter: Jingle Bells, Dammit

Page: 125

Book Quote:: “It was Aretha, singing to her man. Asking, why wouldn’t he let her love him?"

5. Léo Delibes, “The Flower Duet” from Act 1 of Lakmé

Chapter: Deep Country

Page: 150

Book Quote: “When he turned on the classical station, the radio man solemnly whispered, 'It’s ninety-nine degrees in the Atlanta metropolitan area,' before he introduced 'The Flower Duet' from Lakmé."

6. James Brown & Prince, “Releases before 1989”

Chapter: Creatures in the Garden

Page: 163

Book Quote: “'Can’t we listen to something besides James Brown?' I asked. 'Prince or somebody?'"

8. CeCe Winans, “Addictive Love”

Chapter: We Sing Your Praises High

Page: 217

Book Quote: “On the radio, CeCe Winans hit a celestial note, and my roommate caught the Holy Spirit."

Note: This single was released in 1991, the same year Ailey was a college freshman.

7. Aretha Franklin, “Releases Before 1991”

Chapter: Brother-Man Magic

Page: 211

Book Quote: “She let me listen to National Public Radio instead of her Aretha mixtape, and she didn’t like it when I pulled out a book."

9. Public Enemy, “Who Stole the Soul”

Chapter: Who Stole the Soul

Page: 244

Book Quote: “By 1992, PE had rendered Black male rage, with its attendant body language, fashionable again. […] My mouth trembled as he swooped his arms around, comparing Jacobs’s situation to 'Who Stole the Soul?' from Fear of a Black Planet.

10. Part V's Chapter Titles Are All Song Titles

Song / Chapter TitleArtist

"This Bitter Earth"

Dinah Washington

"You Made Me Love You"

Harry James & Helen Forrest

"Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream"

Aretha Franklin

"A Change is Gonna Come"

Sam Cooke

"Do Right Woman, Do Right Man"

Aretha Franklin

11. Jackie Wilson, “Reet Petite”

Chapter: You Made Me Love You

Page: 274

Book Quote: “'When the disc jokey put on 'Reet Petite,' he stood."

12. Mahalia Jackson, “How I Got Over" and “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned”

Chapter: A Change Is Gonna Come

Page: 303

Book Quote: “[…] in 1963, he attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom […] Uncle Root tried to collect himself as Mahalia Jackson took the podium […] She was resplendent in her grand, church lady hat, the spiritual she sang so familiar.”

13. Luther Vandross, “Promise Me”

Chapter: Founder’s Day

Page: 351

Book Quote: “They began to hum, as Tiffany sang an a cappella cover of “Promise Me” by Luther Vandross, the lyrics altered to allow for lines dedicated to their organization."

14. Isley Brothers, “Releases before 1995”

Chapter: Reunion

Page: 365

Book Quote: “When he started the Eldorado, the strains of the Isley Brothers announced he’d expanded his repertoire."

15. Earth, Wind, & Fire, “Releases before 1995”

Chapter: Reunion

Page: 367

Book Quote: “I slid from the booth. A quarter in the jukebox and an Earth, Wind & Fire slow jam."

16. Carmen Twillie & Lebo M, “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King

Chapter: Nguzo Saba

Pages: 394-395

Book Quote:: “None of the Black classics were out on videotape, so we watched my grandmother’s preferred movie, The Lion King." (page 394)

“Our grandmother swayed to her movie as she sang about the circle of life.” (page 295)

Honoreé Fanonne Jeffers, "The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois," 2021

Honoreé Fanonne Jeffers, "The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois," 2021

17. Part VII's Chapter Titles Are All Song Titles by Luther Vandross

Song/Chapter TitleArtist

"For You to Love"

Luther Vandross

"The Night I Fell In Love"

Luther Vandross

"Till My Baby Comes Home"

Luther Vandross

"My Sensitivity (Gets in the Way)"

Luther Vandross

"A House is Not a Home"

Luther Vandross

"Other Side of the World"

Luther Vandross

18. Morgan Freeman, “Take a Bath in a Casket”

Chapter: For You to Love

Page: 424

Book Quote: “But when The Electric Company came on, she turned appreciative of the brown Dracula."

Note: Morgan Freeman performed this song as part of The Electric Company cast on PBS.

19. LL Cool J, Bigger and Deffer Album

Chapter: The Night I Fell in Love

Page: 433

Book Quote:: “A white Kangol cap like he thought he was LL Cool J.”

Note: This album is not specifically referenced, but is inferred based on advice from Sean Goodman on TikTok. LL Cool J wore a red Kangol bucket on the album art.

20. Luther Vandross, “Superstar”

Chapter: My Sensitivity Gets in the Way

Page: 493

Book Quote: “When the DJ in the basement slowed it down with Luther, playing 'Superstar,' Lydia was afraid she might cry.”

21. Shalamar & Cameo

Chapter: My Sensitivity Gets in the Way

Pages: 479-480

Book Quote:: “'It's some good stuff in here. I got Shalamar—old Shalimar, not new Shalamar—and I got Cameo.' She put the Luther Vandross tapes aside."

Chapter: Till My Baby Comes Home

Page: 495

Book Quote: "It was after one in the morning, but at least the DJ had switched to Cameo."

22. Chaka Khan, Chaka (1978 Album)

Chapter: I Need My Own Car

Page: 540

Book Quote:: “I put in a CD and sang along with Chaka Khan. She assured me that I was a woman. Anything I wanted to do, I could."

Note: The album is not specified in the text. The album in the title is a guess, open to every reader's interpretation and preferences.

23. Sam Cooke, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

Chapter: The Peculiar Institution

Page: 650

Book Quote:: “In the corner of the seminar room, there was a record player with an album fitted on top. He turned on the player, and a soft group of voices began to sing as he talked about Olaudah Aquino [...]

If you get there before I do
Coming for to carry me home
Tell all my people I’m coming too
Coming for to carry me home

[...] 'Um . . . well, I’m not sure, Dr. Whitcomb . . . you know . . . but I’ve read that whenever a slave was planning to run, he or she might sing that song to alert the rest of the quarters that an escape was taking place soon. Those stories might be apocryphal, however.'"

Note: The album was not named, but Sam Cooke's rendition was chosen for the author's personal playlist.

24. Luther Vandross, “Love Won’t Let Me Wait”

Chapter: Who Remembers This?

Page: 739

Book Quote: “He looked out his window as Luther crooned about how he couldn’t wait, now that he was in love."

25. Marion Williams, “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”

Chapter: Every Strength

Page: 784

Book Quote: “She always would say that she stepped forward and began to line out a Spiritual, but through the years, the song would change. Sometimes it was 'I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.' Other times, there were no words to Meema’s tune, just a humming, as the others in the congregation played instruments of foot, hand, and tongue."

© 2022 Sara Everett