Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Shine On Me" - Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Singers


Set Two: Social Music; Disc Two; Track Thirteen: "Shine On Me" performed by Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Singers. "Vocal group with violin, piano, mandolin, guitars and clapping." Recorded in Bristol, Tennessee on November 29, 1928. Original issue Bluebird 5540A.

Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Singers were first recorded at the historic Bristol Sessions (where the Carter Family, Jimmie Rogers, Eck Dunford, and the Stoneman Family were also first recorded). No biographical information is available on Phipps nor is anything known about the other singers and musicians who performed on this recording. "Shine On Me" was recorded a little over a year after Phipp's recording debut.

According to Jeff Place's notes to the 1997 reissue of the Anthology, Phipps and his musicians were all members of an "Anglo-American holiness church in Kentucky."

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there's a cross for everyone,
And there's a cross for me.

Whoa, shine on me, Lord,
Shine on me.
Let the light from the lighthouse,
Shine on me.

Whoa, shine on me, Lord,
Shine on me.
Let the light from the lighthouse,
Shine on me.

Sure, I must fight, if I shall reign.
Increase my courage, Lord.
Oh, bear the toil endure the pain
Supported by Thy Word.

Whoa, shine on me, Lord,
Shine on me.
Let the light from the lighthouse,
Shine on me.

Whoa, shine on me, Lord,
Shine on me.
Let the light from the lighthouse,
Shine on me.

Must I be carried to the sky,
On flowery beds of ease?
While others false do win the prize,
And sail through bloody seas.

Whoa, shine on me, Lord,
Shine on me.
Let the light from the lighthouse,
Shine on me.

Whoa, shine on me, Lord,
Shine on me.
Let the light from the lighthouse,
Shine on me.


"Shine On Me," according to Smith's original notes, is a version of a hymn that is usually titled "Maitland. C.M." by George N. Allen. Allen (1812-1877) was the composer of the melody only, which was put to the text "Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone" by Thomas Shepherd (1665-1739). Shepherd's original text reads as follow:

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there's a cross for everyone,
And there's a cross for me.

How happy are the saints above,
Who once went sorrowing here;
But now they taste unmingled love,
And joy without a tear.

The consecrated cross I'll bear
Till death shall set me free;
And then go home my crown to wear,
For there's a crown for me.

Upon the crystal pavement, down
At Jesus' piercèd feet,
Joyful, I'll cast my golden crown,
And His dear Name repeat.

O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
Ye angels, from the stars flash down,
And bear my soul away.


Note that the chorus ("Shine on me, Lord, shine on me") was not a part of Shepherd's original lyrics. The chorus seems to have come from a Negro Spiritual titled "Shine on Me." The lyrics to that song are as follows:

Shine on me. Shine on me.
Let the Light from the lighthouse shine on me.
Shine on me. Shine on me.
Let the Light from the lighthouse shine on me.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto to Me and rest.
Lay down thou weary one lay down
Thy head upon My breast.”

Shine on me. Shine on me.
Let the Light from the lighthouse shine on me.
Shine on me. Shine on me.
Let the Light from the lighthouse shine on me.

With pitying eyes the Prince of Peace
Beheld our helpless grief
He saw, and O amazing love!
He came to our relief.

Shine on me. Shine on me.
Let the Light from the lighthouse shine on me.
Shine on me. Shine on me.
Let the Light from the lighthouse shine on me.


Note the lyric from the hymn "A Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say" in the first verse. A version of this spiritual (with completely different lyrics, except for the chorus) was recorded under the title "Let Your Light Shine On Me" by Blind Willie Johnson. The text of the Johnson song is as follows:

Let it shine on me,
Let it shine on me.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

Let it shine on me,
Let it shine on me.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on.

My lord he's done
Just what he said.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

Heal the sick,
And rise the dead.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

Oh let it shine on,
Oh let it shine on.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

Shine on,
Oh let it shine on.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

I know I've got religion,
And I ain't ashamed.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

Angels in heaven, done wrote my name.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

Oh let it shine on,
Oh let it shine on.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

Shine on,
Oh let it shine on.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

Oh let it shine on,
Oh let it shine on.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

Shine on,
Oh let it shine on.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

Oh let it shine on,
Oh let it shine on.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.

Shine on,
Oh let it shine on.
Let your light from the lighthouse shine on me.


The question is, how did the chorus from "Shine On Me" get added to Allen and Shepherd's song?

"Shine On Me," as recorded by Phipps, consists of three verses with two rounds of the chorus following each verse. The first verse is the same as the first verse of "Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone." The second verse is completely unintelligible to me (thanks to Jake Faulkner for his transcription of that verse), but it does not seem to correspond to any of the verses from Shepherd's text. The third verse does not come from "Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone" at all, but rather from a song called "On The Sea of Galilee," a song the Carter Family recorded on May 9, 1935. I have been unable to find any information on the history of "On The Sea of Galilee," other than the fact that it is credited to A.P. Carter. The fact that one of the verse of that song already existed when Phipps recorded "Shine On Me" in 1928 is a strong indication that Carter got the song from someplace else, but where?

Note: Thanks to readers Peter Golden and Don Wiley for pointing out that the lyric "Must I be carried to the sky..." appears in three Sacred Harp songs: "57 Christian Soldier, 309 Living Lamb, and 513 Joyful use these words."

One final link in the chain is the fact that former blues musician and gospel pioneer Thomas A. Dorsey borrowed the melody from "Shine On Me/Maitland/Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone" for his song "Take My Hand, Precious Lord."

On the surface, "Shine On Me" is a simple song - perhaps one of the simplest on the religious disc of the "Social Music" volume. The song is a simple declaration of faith, a desire to share in the burden of Christ, and a desire to bathe in the glory of God (here compared to the light from a lighthouse). Attempting to tease out the origins of the song proves more complicated, however. "Shine On Me" seems to be built out of at least three songs (not taking into account the mysterious second verse, which might come from still a fourth song). In some ways, this song epitomizes the folk process, in which pieces of songs are assembled into something wholly new and different. All of this calls to mind Claude Lévi-Strauss and his theory of the bricoler or "brick layer." According to Lévi-Strauss, man does not invent things out of whole cloth, but rather assembles pieces of cultural detritus into something new. "Shine On Me" is a bricolage, an assembly of disparate parts of religious songs into one glorious burst of spiritual expression.

I don't know whether Smith was aware that Phipps had made his recording debut at the same session as the Carter Family, but it seems appropriate that Phipps should follow the Carters. Whether this is just chance or whether this is one of those connections of which Smith was so fond will probably never be known.

"Shine On Me" is the first of three songs in a row that feature group vocals and large instrumental aggregations.


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Here's an extraordinary 2005 performance of "Shine On Me."




Download and listen to Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Singers - "Shine On Me"

2 comments:

  1. Copyrighting somebody else's songs was pretty much A.P. Carter's standard procedure. He apparently broke that code at his second recording session, when the band was awarded royalties instead of a cash payment.

    Harry Smith had decoded the catalog numbers of the records, and had copies of the publishers catalogs, so he knew who was present at which recording sessions, so it would be quite reasonable to assume he knew they were there at the same time, and may very well have put them together for that reason.

    Tricky guys, both of them!

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  2. I believe I have deciphered the unintelligible verse from Shine On Me. It is a verse from "Am I A Soldier Of The Cross" by Isaac Watts. The verse is as follows:

    Sure I must fight, if I shall reign
    increase my courage lord
    Oh, bear the toil endure the pain
    supported by Thy Word

    Hope that helps and please keep up the good work.

    Sincerely,
    Jake Faulkner

    ReplyDelete