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.


The Shameless Plug Department: The fifth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all jazz episode featuring early jazz recordings by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and a whole lot 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

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




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

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Little Moses" - The Carter Family


Set Two: Social Music; Disc Two; Track Twelve: "Little Moses" performed by The Carter Family. "Vocal trio with autoharp, guitar." Recorded in Camden, New Jersey on February 14, 1929. Original issue Victor 23641B.

"Little Moses" is the third recording by the Carter Family to appear on the Anthology. For more information on the Carter Family, see the entries for "John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man" and "Engine One-Forty-Three."

With this appearance on the "Social Music" volume, the Carter Family becomes the only artists to appear on all four volumes of the Anthology.

"Little Moses" is a simple narrative song (a "religious ballad," in the words of Alan Lomax) that retells several events in the life of Moses, arguably the most important prophet in the Old Testament.

Away by the river so clear,
The ladies were winding their way,
And Pharaoh's little daughter stepped down in the water
To bathe in the cool of the day.

Before it was dark she opened the ark
And found the sweet infant was there.
Before it was dark she opened the ark
And found the sweet infant was there.

And away by the waters so blue,
The infant was lonely and sad.
She took him in pity and thought him so pretty
And it made little Moses so glad.

She called him her own, her beautiful son,
And sent for a nurse that was near.
She called him her own, her beautiful son,
And sent for a nurse that was near.

And away by the river so clear,
They carried the beautiful child,
To his own tender mother, his sister and brother,
Little Moses looked happy and smiled.

His mother so good done all that she could
To rear him and teach him with care.
His mother so good done all that she could
To rear him and teach him with care.

And away by the sea that was red.
Little Moses the servant of God.
While in Him confided, the sea was divided,
As upward he lifted his rod.

The Jews safely crossed while Pharaoh's host
Was drownded in the waters and lost.
The Jews safely crossed while Pharaoh's host
Was drownded in the waters and lost.

And away on the mountain so high,
The last one that ever might see,
While in his victorious, his hope was most glorious
He'd soon o'er the Jordan be free.

When his labor did cease, he departed in peace
And rested in the Heavens above.
When his labor did cease, he departed in peace
And rested in the Heavens above.


The story of Moses is related in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and has also been retold numerous times in popular culture (perhaps most famously in Cecil B. DeMille's film The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston). Moses has been depicted by artists throughout history, including Michelangelo, William Turner, Giotto di Bondone, Gustave Doré, and countless others. His likeness has appeared in paint, marble, stained glass, wood, and bronze, among many other mediums. Images of Moses appear in the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the U.S. House of Representatives. Arguably the most important prophet in Judaism, Moses is also venerated by Christians - who hold him as the embodiment of God's law - and by Muslims. Moses is mentioned 502 times in the Koran, more than Noah, Jesus and Abraham, and is often described in ways that parallel the prophet Mohammad. The story of Moses was also central to African American slaves. The song "Go Down Moses" was one of the most popular Negro spirituals. Moses was famously invoked by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he declared that he had "been to the mountaintop."

The song "Little Moses" focuses primarily on the early life of Moses, particularly the story of his being set adrift in the Nile and found among the reeds and rushes by Pharaoh's daughter, Thermuthis, although the song then skips a good deal and goes straight to the crossing of the Red Sea (an event central to the Jewish festival of Passover) and Moses's ascension of Mt. Sinai.

Unlike most of the the other songs on the religious section of "Social Music," "Little Moses" makes no promises. It is a simple Sunday school lesson.

"Little Moses" is the third song in a row to mention Moses.

In his notes, Smith talks exclusively about the Carter Family and their history and makes no mention of the song whatsoever. This is unusual to say the least. Smith usually focused on the songs in his notes and rarely mentioned that artists. That he chose to devote a passage to them indicates the high esteem in which he held the Carter Family.

Between the Carter's last appearance on the "Ballads" volume (where Sara Carter was the only women to sing lead vocals) and "Little Moses," there have been three other songs prominently featuring female voices ("Judgement," "He Got Better Things For You," and "Since I Laid My Burden Down"). The religious disc features more female vocalists than any other part of the Anthology, which raises the question of why this should be. It certainly might be that more men were professional musicians during this period, or that women were more active in religious singing than in secular singing. This might also simply reflect a bias on the part of the record companies of the period, or even on the part of Smith himself. We know that there were women recording during the '20s and '30s (Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, just to name a few). Why did Smith choose not to include their music?

"Little Moses" is the last of four "song-sermons" in a row.

The Shameless Plug Department: The fifth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all jazz episode featuring early jazz recordings by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and a whole lot 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

The Shameless Plug for Someone Else Department: If you look at the list of blogs over on the right side of the screen, you'll see one called Excavated Shellac. It's a favorite of mine and well worth checking out. Jonathan Ward, the author of Excavated Shellac, has recently put together an amazing collection released on Dust-to-Digital's vinyl-only imprint Parlortone titled Excavated Shellac: Strings. It is a collection of fourteen recordings, all originally released on 78, from all around the world. There are tracks from Armenia, India, Bolivia, Congo, Vietnam, Georgia, and Iran, and that's just side one! Each cut features a different string instrument such as the guitar, the oud, the tar, the Paraguyan harp, the hardanger, and others. This is the best album I've heard yet in 2010 and is sure to be included in my top ten for the year. If you own a turntable, order yours today. You won't be sorry.

Here is Italian guitarist and singer Giuseppe Gazerro performing a live version of "Little Moses."



Here's Bob Dylan performing "Little Moses" in 1992 in Binghamton, New York. The camera is shaky, but the sound is excellent.



Here's Raymond Crooke performing a gentle version of "Little Moses."



Download and listen to The Carter Family - "Little Moses"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"John The Revelator" - Blind Willie Johnson


Set Two: Social Music; Disc Two; Track Eleven: "John The Revelator" performed by Blind Willie Johnson. "Vocal duet with two guitars." Recorded in Atlanta on April 20, 1930. Original issue Columbia 14530D (W150316).

Blind Willie Johnson was born on January 27, 1897 near Brenham, Texas. At an early age, he expressed a desire to be a preacher and built himself a guitar out of a cigar box. Born sighted, Johnson was blinded at some point before the age of eight. One story, told by Johnson's second wife, was when Johnson was seven, his stepmother threw lye in his face in retaliation for a beating she had suffered at the hands of his father.

Reportedly, Johnson's father would leave him on street corners where he sang for tips. Johnson's powerful voice and skill on the guitar allowed him to sing and preach for most of his adult life. Between 1927 and 1930, Johnson recorded thirty songs for Columbia Records, many of which were performed with his first wife, Willie B. Harris. "John The Revelator" was recorded on April 20, 1930, Johnson's last recording session.

Johnson made little money as a performer, and remained poor until the end of his life. He sang and preached on the streets of Beaumont, Texas. In 1945, his house burned down. Not having anyplace else to live, Johnson slept in the ruins, eventually contracting malaria. He died on September 18, 1945. Reportedly, Johnson's second wife, Angeline, tried to take him to the hospital, but they were turned away. Some accounts of the story have Johnson refused on the grounds of his race, while others claim that his blindness was the reason.

Johnson's music has been incredibly influential. His songs have been recorded by Son House, Reverend Gary Davis, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, the Fairport Convention, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Nick Cave, R.E.M. and the White Stripes. Johnson's 1927 recording "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground" was included on the Voyager "Golden Record", which was sent into space with the Voyager spacecraft in 1977, making Johnson the only artist on the Anthology whose music will likely outlast the existence of the planet. "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground" is also employed as the theme music on the podcast of Where Dead Voices Gather.

"John The Revelator" is a traditional "call and response" Gospel song. On Johnson's recording, Johnson sings the "call" ("Who's that writin'?", and Willie Harris sings the "response" ("John the Revelator").

Well, who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
A book of the seven seals.

Tell me, what's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
What's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
What's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
A book of the seven seals.

Well ooh ooh why me, thousands cried holy,
Bound for some, Son of our God.
Daughter of Zion, Judah the Lion,
He redeem us and bought us with His blood.

Tell me, who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
A book of the seven seals.

Well, what's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
What's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
What's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
A book of the seven seals.

Ah, John the Revelator, great advocator.
Get's 'em on the battle of Zion.
Lord, tellin' the story, risin' in glory,
Cried, "Lord, don't you love me some I?"

Tell me, who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
A book of the seven seals.

Well, what's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
What's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
What's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
A book of the seven seals.

Well, Moses to Moses, watchin' the flock,
Saw the bush, well he had to stop.
God told Moses, "Pull off your shoes.
Out of the flock, well you I choose."

Tell me, who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
A book of the seven seals.

Well, what's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
What's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
What's John writin'? 'Bout the Revelator.
A book of the seven seals.

Well ooh ooh why me, thousands cried holy,
Bound for some, Son of our God.
Daughter of Zion, Judah the Lion,
He redeem us and bought us with His blood.

Tell me, who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator.
A book of the seven seals.


"John The Revelator" refers to John of Patmos, the reputed author of the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. The Book is written to the seven Christian churches of Asia (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea) describing two visions John had experienced that described the coming return of Christ and the Final Judgment of mankind. John of Patmos is also traditionally held to be the Apostle John and the author of the Fourth Gospel, although some biblical scholars now believe these to be separate individuals.

Johnson's recording is easily among the most powerful on this volume of the Anthology, simply because of the sheer force of the performance and the unearthly quality of Johnson's voice. Willie Harris's voice, by contrast, sounds tiny. She is literally overwhelmed by her husband. Although Johnson was a celebrated slide-guitarist, he does not employ the technique on this recording.

Blind Willie Johnson's recording of "John The Revelator" was made on April 20, 1930, exactly 80 years to the day before this post was written.

"John The Revelator" has received numerous covers over the years, among the artists who have recorded versions of "John The Revelator" are The Blues Brothers, The Golden Gate Quartet, Beck, Billy Childish, John Mellencamp, Nick Cave, Gov't Mule, Curtis Stigers, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Trey Anastasio, R.E.M., Lee Roy Parnell, Frank Black, Hugo Race, Ian Siegal, A. A. Bondy, and Phil Keaggy.

One reason that Smith might have chosen to place "John The Revelator" in this particular sequence is twofold: Both "Dry Bones" and "John The Revelator" make mention of the same story about Moses. In "Dry Bones," Moses is warned that he is "treading holy ground," while in "John The Revelator," Moses is told to "take off [his] shoes." It is also significant that the next selection also deals with Moses.

Another reason for this song's placement might be for the contrast between Bascomb Lamar Lunsford's wry performance and Johnson's ferocity.

This is the third of four "song-sermons" in a row.

The Shameless Plug Department: The fifth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all jazz episode featuring early jazz recordings by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and a whole lot 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

The Shameless Plug for Someone Else Department: If you look at the list of blogs over on the right side of the screen, you'll see one called Excavated Shellac. It's a favorite of mine and well worth checking out. Jonathan Ward, the author of Excavated Shellac, has recently put together an amazing collection released on Dust-to-Digital's vinyl-only imprint Parlortone titled Excavated Shellac: Strings. It is a collection of fourteen recordings, all originally released on 78, from all around the world. There are tracks from Armenia, India, Bolivia, Congo, Vietnam, Georgia, and Iran, and that's just side one! Each cut features a different string instrument such as the guitar, the oud, the tar, the Paraguyan harp, the hardanger, and others. This is the best album I've heard yet in 2010 and is sure to be included in my top ten for the year. If you own a turntable, order yours today. You won't be sorry.

This is Nick Cave's performance of "John The Revelator" from The Harry Smith Project.



Here's the great Son House performing an a capella version of "John The Revelator."



Here's the White Strips (one of my favorite bands) performing "Cannon," which incorporates "John The Revelator."



Download and listen to Blind Willie Johnson - "John The Revelator"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Dry Bones" - Bascom Lamar Lunsford, "The Minstrel of the Appalachians"




Set Two: Social Music; Disc Two; Track Ten: "Dry Bones" performed by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, "The Minstrel of the Appalachians". "Vocal solo with 5-string banjo." Recorded in Ashland, Kentucky on February 5, 1928. Original issue Brunswick 314 (140).

Bascom Lamar Lunsford was born in Mars Hill, North Carolina on March 21, 1882. His father, a schoolteacher, gave him a fiddle at an early age. Lunsford's mother sang ballads and religious songs. Later, Lunsford's brother bought a banjo which Lunsford quickly learned and began playing at local square-dances, weddings, and school functions. After enrolling at Rutherford College, Lunsford began teaching in his native Madison County. He later attended Trinity College (later to become Duke University), passed the bar, and began practicing as a solicitor. It was when Lunsford worked as a fruit tree salesman, however, that he began learning songs from the customers he met on isolated farms, reawakening his interest in music, and in the old songs in particular. He began collecting songs and later gave lectures and recitals on folk music. He made his first recordings in 1924 on wax cylinders. It was on February 5, 1928, in Ashland, Kentucky, that Lunsford made some of his best-known recordings at a session for Brunswick Records. One of the sides cut at that session was this performance of "Dry Bones." Also recorded at this session was Lunsford's own composition, "Old Mountain Dew," which later became the jingle for the Mountain Dew soft drink. Lunsford sold the song to the Mountain Dew company for train fare home.

Lunsford helped to establish the Asheville Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, often credited with being the first "folk festival," which began in 1928, the same year Lunsford recorded "Dry Bones." He became active in politics during the Roosevelt era and performed at the White House in 1939 when the King and Queen of England visited. In 1949, Lunsford recorded several songs for the Library of Congress, many of which are available on the CD Ballads, Banjo Tunes and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina from Smithsonian Folkways. He continued to perform in his old age and appeared regularly at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival until his death on September 4, 1973.

Bascom Lamar Lunsford on "Dry Bones":

The title of this spiritual is "Dry Bones." It was known in our section after the visiting of a great Negro preacher who came to that section, was a powerful pulpit orator and a devoted man, and his name was Romney. And he preached a sermon on the "dry bones of the valley." I first heard this sung by Fletcher Rhymer in the community near Alexander in Buncombe County, North Carolina.


"Dry Bones" is a simple song, structurally. Each verse is made up of a single rhyming couplet, followed by the chorus declaring that the speaker "saw the light of heaven shining all around."


Old Enoch he lived to be three-hundred and sixty-five,
When the Lord came and took him back to heaven alive.

I saw, I saw the light from heaven
A-shinin' all around.
I saw the light come shining,
I saw that light come down.

When Paul prayed in prison, them prison walls fell down.
The prison keeper shouted, "Redeeming Love I've found."

I saw, I saw the light from heaven
Shinin' all around.
I saw the light come shining,
I saw the light come down.

When Moses saw that a-burning bush, he walked it 'round and 'round.
And the Lord said to Moses, "You's treadin' holy ground."

I saw, I saw the light from heaven
Shinin' all around.
I saw the light come shining,
I saw the light come down.

Dry bones in that valley got up and took a little walk.
The deaf could hear and the dumb could talk.

I saw, I saw the light from heaven
Shinin' all around.
I saw the light come shining,
I saw the light come down.

Adam and Eve in the garden under that sycamore tree.
Eve said to Adam, "Satan never tempted me."

I saw, I saw the light from heaven
Shinin' all around.
I saw the light come shining,
I saw the light come down.


Most of the stories related in "Dry Bones" are familiar Bible tales, albeit with a somewhat humorous twist to them. Here is the arresting description of the "dry bones in the valley" from Ezekiel 37:

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,
And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry...

...So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.
And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.
Ezekiel 37, 1-8, KJV

Contrast this with the song, which states that the "dry bones in that valley got up and took a little walk."

Perhaps it is simply a peculiarity of Lunsford's singing voice (often cited as a model for Bob Dylan, who certainly borrowed from Lunsford lyrically on at least one occasion (See below for the entry on "I Wish I Was a Mole In The Ground")), but it sounds to me as though Lunsford is trying very hard not to laugh on this recording. Although he states that the song was learned from a preacher, the song seems to have something of a satiric edge to it. Certainly, it is a comic understatement to say that the dry bones in Ezekiel simply "took a little walk." In his notes, Smith points out that the banjo was used in religious music "later than its use in dance music" and that the melody of this particular tune was likely secular in origin. Was "Dry Bones" really a religious song, or was it really a comic song performed on secular stages to poke gentle fun at religion?

"Dry Bones" also appears on the first disc of Dust-to-Digital's amazing and highly recommended Goodbye Babylon set.

When performed during the series of concerts that make up The Harry Smith Project, "Dry Bones" was given a rather unusual reworking by avant-garde jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd and the members of the alternative rock band Sonic Youth.

"Dry Bones" is the second of five "song sermons" in a row. It is the only song on the second disc of the "Social Music" volume to feature the banjo.

The Shameless Plug Department: The fifth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all jazz episode featuring early jazz recordings by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and a whole lot 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

The Shameless Plug for Someone Else Department: If you look at the list of blogs over on the right side of the screen, you'll see one called Excavated Shellac. It's a favorite of mine and well worth checking out. Jonathan Ward, the author of Excavated Shellac, has recently put together an amazing collection released on Dust-to-Digital's vinyl-only imprint Parlortone titled Excavated Shellac: Strings. It is a collection of fourteen recordings, all originally released on 78, from all around the world. There are tracks from Armenia, India, Bolivia, Congo, Vietnam, Georgia, and Iran, and that's just side one! Each cut features a different string instrument such as the guitar, the oud, the tar, the Paraguyan harp, the hardanger, and others. This is the best album I've heard yet in 2010 and is sure to be included in my top ten for the year. If you own a turntable, order yours today. You won't be sorry.

The song recorded by Lunsford is completely unrelated musically to the more familiar song titled "Dry Bones." Here's a excellent performance of the more famous song by the Delta Rhythm Boys.



Here's a spirited version of Lunsford's "Dry Bones" performed by Graham Lindsey.



This is an instrumental version of "Dry Bones" titled "Dry Bones in The Valley," originally recorded in this form by John Fahey (who is credited as the "composer" here, even though this is clearly the same melody as the traditional song performed by Lunsford). Here it is performed on the electric guitar by Jim O' Rourke on September 23, 1995.



Download and listen to Bascom Lamar Lunsford, "The Minstrel of the Appalachians" - "Dry Bones"

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"John The Baptist" - Rev. Moses Mason


Set Two: Social Music; Disc Two; Track Nine: "John the Baptist" performed by Rev. Moses Mason. "(Singing sermon) Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in Chicago in January 1928. Original issue Paramount 12702A (20290-2).

Rev. Moses Mason was reportedly from Lake Providence, Louisiana, although no birth date is available. Whether or not Mason was actually ordained is unknown (however, I kind of doubt it). His life is a complete mystery, other than the fact that he recorded eight songs for Paramount Records in 1928 in a Chicago studio. Whether or not he came to Chicago specifically to record is unknown. Among the songs recorded at this session was this version of "John The Baptist." In addition to the sacred songs released as Rev. Moses Mason, he also released a few secular pieces, "Shrimp Man" and "Molly Man" among them, which were released under the name Red Hot Ole Mose (and can be heard on the excellent American Primitive Vol. 2 on Revenant). Mason appears never to have recorded again. His death date is unknown.

According to Jeff Place's notes to the 1997 reissue of the Anthology, "John The Baptist" "reflect[s] the importance of Reconstruction hymnody in shaping the repertoire of Black American Protestants in the 20th century." However, I have been unable to find any further information along these lines. If anybody knows more about this song and its origins, please contact me at wheredeadvoicesgather1@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

John done saw that number,
Way in the middle of the air.
John done saw that number,
Way in the middle of the air.

Inculcating John The Baptist,
Preaching in the wilderness
All the children came from east
Came from the east,
For the kingdom of heaven
It ain't for this is he
That was spoken of by the prophecy, yeah.
The voice of one
Crying in the wilderness so badly.
Stayed away all day Lord,
It made him sadly stayed insane.
John had a raiment of camel hide
and a leather girdle, not his own.

John done saw that number,
Way in the middle of the air.
John done saw that number,
Way in the middle of the air.
Crying "holy, holy, holy my Lord God, holy!"

Jesus came from Nazarene unto Galilee
To be baptized of John in Jordan.
And John said unto Him, "Come and talk to me,
I need to be baptized of Thee."
And Jesus said unto John, "Suffer it to be so for
Thus it becomes us to fill all righteousness."

John done saw that number,
Way in the middle of the air.
John done saw that number,
Way in the middle of the air.
Crying "How long, how long,
How long my Lord, oh how long."

After Jesus was baptized of John,
Straightaway out of the waters,
Looked and saw heavens open.
And the spirit of God came down and lit a bow on Him.
And Jesus was carried up into the mountain
To be tempted, all-forsaken.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights,
The tempters came unto him and said,
"If Thou be the Son of God, cast thy weight
'Cause he's going to be a burden."

Jesus said unto John
"Get behind me, for it is written
Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God
But him only thou should obey."

John done saw that number,
Way in the middle of the air.
John done saw that number,
Way in the middle of the air.


John the Baptist is an important figure in Christianity. He is regarded as a forerunner of Christ, whose coming John foretold. In some accounts, such as the Gospel of Luke, John is a direct relative of Christ's (his mother being Mary's sister). John is regarded as a prophet in Christianity, Islam, the Bahá'í Faith, and Mandaeism. John baptized Christ (an event recounted in this song), an act linked to the Jewish ritual cleansing or mikveh. John's practice of baptizing his followers in "living" or running water is the source of his title "the Baptist" (helping to distinguish him from several other "Johns" who appear in the New Testament). John was martyred and put to death by Herodias (a story related in the Gospel of Matthew, as well as in Oscar Wilde's play "Salome"). John's head is believed by some to have been kept and worshiped by the Knights Templar and is allegedly on display at the Residenz museum in Munich, Germany. Apart from this song, I can find no instance of John the Baptist seeing a "number way in the middle of the air."

An extremely rough recording, full of spiritual fire, Rev. Moses Mason's recording is technically a "sung sermon." Apart from the chorus, which is sung, most of the non-rhyming verses are chanted. In this song, Mason recounts not only the baptism of Christ, but also Christ's Temptation in the Wilderness. Although John is not present during Christ's temptation, Mason puts the Baptist there and even has Jesus address the words "get behind me" to John rather than Satan. What this indicates, apart from simple confusion on Mason's part, is unclear. In his notes, Smith points out that the non-rhyming verses are common to performances of this song by other artists. Smith also notes that the lyric "way in the middle of the air" also appears in songs about Ezekiel and the Wheel, and may well have been imported from one of those songs into this one. It does draw a parallel, however, between Ezekiel (an Old Testament prophet) and John the Baptist, although John's Old Testament equivalent is really Elijah (whose return is supposed to signal the coming of the Messiah, just as John foretold the coming of Christ).

"John The Baptist" is the first of four "song sermons" in a row.


The Shameless Plug Department: The fifth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is finally up! It's an all jazz episode featuring early jazz recordings by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and a whole lot 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

The Shameless Plug for Someone Else Department: If you look at the list of blogs over on the right side of the screen, you'll see one called Excavated Shellac. It's a favorite of mine and well worth checking out. Jonathan Ward, the author of Excavated Shellac, has recently put together an amazing collection released on Dust-to-Digital's vinyl-only imprint Parlortone titled Excavated Shellac: Strings. It is a collection of fourteen recordings, all originally released on 78, from all around the world. There are tracks from Armenia, India, Bolivia, Congo, Vietnam, Georgia, and Iran, and that's just side one! Each cut features a different string instrument such as the guitar, the oud, the tar, the Paraguyan harp, the hardanger, and others. My copy arrived in yesterday's mail and it is FANTASTIC. This is the best album I've heard yet in 2010 and is sure to be included in my top ten for the year. If you own a turntable, order yours today. You won't be sorry.

Here's a snippet of singer-songwriter Neko Case performing her version of "John The Baptist" in concert. It's short and the quality isn't great, but it's quite well done.



Download and listen to Rev. Moses Mason - "John The Baptist"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Since I Laid My Burden Down" - Elders McIntorsh and Edwards (Assisted by Sisters Johnson and Taylor) Sanctified Singers


Set Two: Social Music; Disc Two; Track Eight: "Since I Laid My Burden Down" performed by The Elders McIntorsh and Edwards (Assisted by Sisters Johnson and Taylor) Sanctified Singers. "Vocal quartet with guitars, tambourine." Recorded in Chicago on December 4, 1928. Original issue Okeh 8698 (W402160).

Elder Lonnie McIntorsh was likely born in Mississippi around 1890 and was last known to be living in the "bootheel" of Missouri in the early '70s, according to Jeff Place's 1997 notes. In addition to the sides cut with the Sanctified Singers, McIntorsh also recorded four sides under his own name, including an account of the 1927 Mississippi Flood (also immortalized by Charlie Patton in his two-part recording "High Water Everywhere"). No biographical information is available on Edwards. If anyone has any information on Elder Edwards, including his first name and birth/death dates, please contact me at wheredeadvoicesgather1@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

For information on Sisters Bessie Johnson and Melinda Taylor, see the previous entry on "He Got Better Things For You."

"Since I Laid My Burden Down" is an extremely popular song, having been covered several times by artists ranging from Mississippi John Hurt and Furry Lewis to Odetta and the Byrds. It has been recorded as folk, country and rock and roll. Its origins are obscure, but it probably originated in the United States during the late 19th century.


Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.
Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.

All my troubles will be over,
When I lay my burden down.
All my troubles will be over,
When I lay my burden down.

Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.
Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.

All my sickness will be over,
When I lay my burden down.
All my sickness will be over,
When I lay my burden down.

Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.
Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.

All my troubles will be over,
When I lay my burden down.
All my troubles will be over,
When I lay my burden down.

Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.
Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.

Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.
Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.

All my sickness will be over,
When I lay my burden down.
All my sickness will be over,
When I lay my burden down.

Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.
Glory glory, hallelujah,
Since I lay my burden down.


The act of laying one's burdens down is commonly referred to in Christianity. In John Bunyan's allegory, A Pilgrim's Progress, the title character carries a "burden" with him, which is suddenly removed from his shoulders upon arrival at "the place of deliverance" (allegorically the cross at Calvary and the open sepulcher of Christ). The "burden" represents those things which are associated with the material world, as well as ones worries, cares, aliments, and (most importantly) ones sins. The image of the "burden" is present in other gospel songs, such as "Take Your Burden To The Lord and Leave It There" by Washington Phillips.

The word "hallelujah" is a Hebrew word meaning "praise Yahweh." It is an expression of thanks or adoration.

The elders McIntorsh and Edwards, as well as Bessie Johnson and Melinda Taylor, were members of the Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal sect formed in 1897 by a group of disfellowshiped Baptists, led by Charles Price Jones and Charles Harrison Mason. The first congregation established by the sect was founded in Jackson, Mississippi. The Church of God in Christ is primarily associated with the American Southeast, although its members did spread to the north during the Great Migration. Today, the church has congregations in sixty countries and a membership of over five million.

"Since I Laid My Burden Down" is an extremely simple song. It has one verse which is repeated throughout the song with a few lyric variations. The recording is powerful, however, partly because of this repetition and partly because of the increasing fervor of the singers. The song begins slowly, with only the guitar and one or two voices. Others quickly join in, however, and the tempo increases. Bessie Johnson's "holy roar" makes itself heard early in the song, and is present throughout. There are ecstatic shouts and screams. One of the male voices (possibly McIntorsh) frequently calls out "glory!" at the top of several lines. The performance is occasionally rough, and there are a few places where one can hear some mistakes (someone will start singing one verse while the rest of the group has started another), but this only adds to the ecstatic atmosphere. Indeed, who can be concerned with where one is in the song when one is transported by holy fervor?

"Since I Laid My Burden Down" is the last of eight selections in a row that feature group singing, both accompanied and unaccompanied.

This recording of "Since I Laid My Burden Down" also appears on the excellent Dust-to-Digital set, Goodbye Babylon. When I checked the booklet to that set in the hope of finding some more information about the song or the artists, I was somewhat disappointed to see that the notes to this selection where copied, almost verbatim, from Jeff Place's notes to the 1997 reissue of the Anthology, with no credit given to Place. I note this without pleasure, as I am a big fan of the Dust-to-Digital record label and expect better from them.

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 any day now. 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Here is none other than Furry Lewis himself performing an exciting version of "Since I Laid My Burden Down" on slide guitar.



Here's a video of the Mass Choir singing an electrifying version of "Since I Laid My Burden Down" in Texas.



Download and listen to Elders McIntorsh and Edwards (Assisted by Sisters Johnson and Taylor) Sanctified Singers - "Since I Laid My Burden Down"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"He Got Better Things For You" - Memphis Sanctified Singers


Set Two: Social Music; Disc Two; Track Seven: "He Got Better Things For You" performed by Memphis Sanctified Singers. "Vocal duet with guitar." Recorded in Memphis on October 1, 1929. Original issue Victor 38559B.

The Memphis Sanctified Singers consisted of Bessie Johnson, Sally Sumier, and Melinda Taylor. They also recorded as Bessie Johnson and Her Sanctified Singers. They were a Pentecostal vocal group. Bessie Johnson was originally from Columbus, Mississippi, although her birth and death dates are not known. My searches have yielded no biographical information on either Sumier or Taylor, although it is likely that the three women were close contemporaries. The Memphis Sanctified Singers recorded six sides under their own name between 1927 and 1929. They also appeared on recordings by Elders McIntorsh and Edwards.

Although the label identifies this recording as a "vocal duet," is clear that there are three voices. Johnson sings the powerful lead, occasionally lapsing into the fiery "holy roar." Sumier and Taylor sing backup, with Taylor supplying the lower vocal parts. The three women are accompanied by guitarist, bandleader, and Victor talent scout Will Shade. Shade was a member of the Memphis Jug Band, who appears on the third volume of this set.

"He Got Better Things For You" is a fairly simple song consisting of three verses and a chorus which is repeated after each verse.

Kind friend I want to tell you
Because I love your soul.
No doubt you been converted
But half ain't never been told.
Some people they'll try to fool you,
Say there's nothing else to do.
But Jesus Christ my savior
He got better things for you.

He got better things for you,
No one on earth can do.
He got the Holy Ghost and the Fire,
Sure can make you true.
He got better things for you,
No one on earth can do.
Oh place my mind on Jesus,
He got better things for you.

Cornelius he was humble,
He prayed to God alway.
But that was not sufficient,
God let him in his grave.
God sent to him an angel,
And he told him what to do.
Today he's waiting in glory,
With better things for you.

He got better things for you,
More than your friends can do.
He got the Holy Ghost and the Fire,
Sure can make you true.
He got better things for you,
No one on earth can do.
Oh place my mind on Jesus,
He got better things for you.

Saint Mary was a virgin.
She birthed the son of God.
But that was not sufficient,
She had to be well shod.
God sent her to Jerusalem,
And there he made her new.
Today she's waiting in glory
With better things for you.

He got better things for you,
More than your friends can do.
He got the Holy Ghost and the Fire,
Sure can make you true.
He got better things for you,
No one on earth can do.
Oh place my mind on Jesus,
He got better things for you.


Unlike "Judgment," which promises holy retribution for those who sin against God, "He Got Better Things For You" takes a softer approach. Here, there is a promise of reward in heaven rather than a threat of punishment in hell. The song begins with the assumption that the listener has been "converted," but warns that this is not "sufficient" and that there are other things that must be done in order to win God's favor. Unfortunately, the song doesn't really specify what must be done. The song does, however, offer two object lessons.

The first refers to the story of Cornelius, whom we are assured was "humble" and prayed to God "alway." The tale of Cornelius is related in the tenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Cornelius was a centurion (and therefore a Roman) who was instructed by an angel to send for Peter and to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, making him the first gentile to join the ranks of the earliest Christians.

The second story refers to the virgin Mary, the earthly mother of Christ. According to the song, having "birthed the son of God" is not "sufficient," however, and God sends Mary to Jerusalem and "made her new." Now, perhaps this just shows my ignorance of scripture, but I can't find anything in the Bible about Mary being
"made new" in Jerusalem (much less about her needing to be "well shod"). I have found an interesting tidbit about an alleged tomb of Mary in Jerusalem (she has two. The other is in Ephesus) which is venerated by members of the Eastern Orthodox Church (which holds that Mary was not assumed bodily into heaven, but that she died a natural death). What any of this has to do with the song is unclear, but it just goes to show that no two denominations agree on anything.

The contrast between the fire and brimstone of "Judgment" and the gentle promises of "He Got Better Things For You" make another of those contrasts that Smith seemed to be so fond of. It almost amounts to a Pentecostal "good cop/bad cop" routine.

Bessie Johnson and Melinda Taylor appear on the very next selection, "Since I Laid My Burden Down."

"He Got Better Things For You" is one of the few songs on the religious disc of the Anthology to get a fairly high profile cover version. Gospel star BeBe Winans recorded a version of the song on his 2002 album Cherch. The song was also performed as a part of The Harry Smith Project, where it was performed by Mary Margaret O'Hara (sister of actress and comedienne Catherine O'Hara).

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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Memphis remains home to some amazing gospel singing. Here's a rather shaky hand-held video of the University of Memphis Gospel Choir singing "Jesus."



Download and listen to Memphis Sanctified Singers - "He Got Better Things For You"

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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

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"