Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Judgment" - Rev. Sister Mary Nelson


Set Two: Social Music; Disc Two; Track Six: "Judgment" performed by Rev. Sister Mary Nelson. "Vocal trio unaccompanied." Recorded in Chicago on April 21, 1927. Original issue Vocalion B1109 (86).

Rev. Sister Mary Nelson was likely a store-front preacher from Memphis, Tennessee. According Jeff Place's notes to the 1997 reissue of the Anthology, Nelson was a member of the Pentecostal church. She recorded four sides for Vocalion during the late '20s. No birth or death dates are known.

"Judgment" is performed by Nelson with John Davis and Clarence Nelson (possibly her son or grandson) joining in on the choruses. Nelson's voice is big and rough, with the "holy roar" typical of Memphis religious singers of this period. The inclusion of children in chorus is typical of the many family based groups, both religious and secular, that performed throughout the South in the '20s and '30s.

Better get ready for judgment!
You better get ready for judgment morning!
You better get ready for judgment!
My God is coming down.

Better get ready for judgment,
For God is coming down.
The cloud will bear His horses,
Where men begin to frown.

Better get ready for judgment!
You better get ready for judgment morning!
You better get ready for judgment!
My God is coming down.

Better put on your morning garment,
And get your staff in your hand.
For Jesus coming that morning.
He's coming unaware to man.

Better get ready for judgment!
You better get ready for judgment morning!
You better get ready for judgment!
My God is coming down.

Well, all you hypocrite members,
You wasting your time away.
My God's calling for workmens
And you had better obey.

Better get ready for judgment!
You better get ready for judgment morning!
You better get ready for judgment!
My God is coming down.

The gamblers, the drunkards, the liars
And the adulterers, too.
Well, all these false pretenders.
And all them hypocrites, too.

Better get ready for judgment!
You better get ready for judgment morning!
You better get ready for judgment!
My God is coming down.

When Jesus get tired pleading
And He won't plead no more.
He'll call the world together.
He'll call the young and old.

Better get ready for judgment!
You better get ready for judgment morning!
You better get ready for judgment!
My God is coming down.

Better get ready for judgment!
You better get ready for judgment morning!
You better get ready for judgment!
My God is coming down.

Amen!


The song is a warning to all sinners to prepare for the Day of Judgment, which is to come after the resurrection of the dead and the Second Coming of Christ. Much of the traditional imagery associated with the Last Judgment comes from the Book of Matthew:

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at His right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." ... "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

Then He will say to those at His left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me." ... "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:31-36, 40-43, 45-46 NRSV)


In addition, the Book of Revelation states:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Rev 20:11-12)


Of course, as there are many denominations of Christianity, there are several different interpretations of these passages and differing opinions of how the Last Judgment will play out. However, all denominations agree that the Second Coming of Christ will signal the end of this world and the beginning of a new era, as described in the last two chapters of Revelation. They also agree that since no man knows when the Second Coming will be, it is best to be prepared at all times. Nelson's song is a reminder to "the gamblers, the drunkards, the liars," as well as "hypocrites" and "false pretenders" to get right with the Lord as He is "coming down" any minute now.

As has been mentioned, Rev. Sister Mary Nelson is believed to have been a part of a Pentecostal church. The earliest Pentecostal revival is generally believed to have started in Pomerania (a region in both Germany and Poland on the Baltic Sea) during the 19th century. The movement spread throughout Germany and came to the United States during the great German migrations of the period.

Pentecostals believe in teaching the "full" or "foursquare Gospel," which refers to their four fundamental beliefs: Jesus saves according to John 3:16, baptizes with the Holy Spirit according to Acts 2:4, heals bodily according to James 5:15, and is coming again to receive those who are saved according to Thessalonians 4:16-17. Pentecostals also believe in the practice of "speaking in tongues," a spiritual experience in which the believer speaks in an unknown, holy language. The act of speaking in tongues is believed to be a sign of spirit baptism.

In my early listening to the Anthology, "Judgment" immediately stood out as one of the most striking performances. Nelson's holy fire is impressive even to those (such as myself) who do not share her beliefs.

The Shameless Plug Department: The fourth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is still the most recent. Now that I am finished with "Mockingbird," I am currently in the process of putting together a new episode made up of jazz recordings from the 78 era which should be up within the week. In the meantime, you can listen to this all-blues episode where you'll hear New Year's greetings from Lightin' Hopkins and Mary Harris, as well as Delta Blues by Son House, Willie Brown and Charlie Patton. You'll also hear recordings by more obscure figures like Geeshie Wiley, Blind Joe Reynolds, William Harris, and more. Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?

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Here are some remarkable child singers performing a gospel tune. Other kids who grew up singing in church include Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, and Aretha Franklin.



Download and listen to Rev. Sister Mary Nelson - "Judgment"

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