Sonny's Blues Questions and Answers
by James Baldwin

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What is the role of music in “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin?

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To the narrator, jazz music is entwined with an image of Sonny that is wrapped up in drugs and making poor decisions. Just after their mother's death, Sonny confides in his brother that he really wants to become a musician. The narrator realizes that in his mind, he puts "jazz musicians in a class with what Daddy called 'good time people.'" He therefore refuses to listen to his brother's wishes, and when Sonny comes to stay with him later in the story, he asks his brother about the tendencies to wrap music and drugs into the same existence. He notes that Sonny's friends "seem to shake themselves to pieces pretty ... fast." Jazz music divides the brothers, as the narrator is unwilling to see the value it has in Sonny's life.

For Sonny, music represents freedom and passion. He is talented, and he actually first wanted to use music to leave Harlem after he foresaw the drug-laden path awaiting him there. Since his brother is unwilling to accept this possibility, Sonny temporarily gives up...

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