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The Core Curriculum

"Ain't Gonna Study War No More" sung by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, first published in Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag, 1927.

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Sister Rosetta Tharpe is a joyous way to interact with this classic line from Isaiah. Before Ray Charles, she was one of the first musicians in the 1930s and 40s to bridge the gap between the worlds of religious and popular music. As in this video, she leads a chorus of singers with an electric guitar. The spirit of God is there for sure, but the spirit is also with the people, particularly in her ripping solo. The tune is joyful but, like so many musical renditions of Bible  verses, the message is somber: Isaiah is a radical political polemicist damning his time for misrecognizing the Lord and allowing corruption of the mind and the state. The hopeful line “study war no more” is the consequent reformation of the tribes of Israel after they’ve realized the extent of their own psychological and political corruption. Does the idea here get lost in the rhythm and blues? Does it even matter?