Heard in 2012 (6): Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole’ (1927)


There is something completely compelling about one man and a steel guitar. Whoever this man is and was, it seems as though he’s singing for his life, that he’s wrestling with things too great to put into words or even into song, but that he’ll die trying. This is singing that strikes me as truly spiritual. It says something true without seeking to explain it; it just is. This is testimony. This is witness.

Blind Willie Johnson is one of the great blues-evangelists of the early twentieth century. Before this year I had only heard his beautiful, gut-wrenching ‘Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground,’ a wordless, moaning meditation on the crucifixion of Christ. Most of Blind Willie’s songs focus on what God has done for him in Christ, and ‘I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole’ focuses on the healing power of Jesus’ death. ‘I was a gambler just like you,’ ‘I was sick and I couldn’t get well,’ but ‘I just touched the hem of his garment,’ and ‘his blood has made me whole.’ It’s simple and profound statement of the grace and kindness of the Lord.


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