Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Swing Low Sweet Chariot" - how did a signature arrangement of the Fisk Jubilee Singers become an English rugby anthem? With notes on James Agee and Bascom Lamar Lunsford in southern Appalachia


[from background on Fisk Jubilee Singers] ... Cut to Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton, Reading, England; a seminary for English boys founded by Cardinal Allen in 1568 in France, relocated to England in 1903. Run by Benedictine Monks, the Abbey has its own school which, in turn, has a rugby team. 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' has long since been the song of the 1st-XV of the Douai rugby team. No one is now sure how this came to be, but it is not difficult to imagine how such a Gospel song, with its spiritual roots and connotations of 'escape and evasion' could prove to be a popular source of inspiration for young sportsmen in a Benedictine environment.

On 18th March 1988 a group of students from the Douai team attended the England V Ireland rugby match at Twickenham. They were bunched in front of the lower east stand. Whenever an England player was in with a chance of scoring the 'merry' band of students would pipe up with 'their' anthem. They delivered this with particular vigour when Nigerian-born wing Chris Oti ran in his first try for England. Inspired by the response and amusement of the spectators immediately around them the students struck up with added gusto as Chris Oti scored a second try. By the time the player, now on a roll, scored his try-hat trick the chorus reached such a crescendo that, seemingly, the whole of the England supporters joined in and an anthem was born.

In 1995 Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the English reggae group China Black collaborated on as the England rugby team anthem for the 1995 world cup in South Africa. ... heard here here in a mashup with play-by-play from a 2003 championship match ...

James Agee ... recollections that found their way into A Death in the Family -- reminiscences of his childhood, ca. the summer of 1915 in Knoxville, Tenn.

JAMES AGEE AND THE WOUNDED BODY by James Andrew Crank (A dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of English), Chapel Hill (2007):

... Comparing his father’s and mother’s styles of singing, Rufus decides that his father is the more creative of the two. When they sing, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” Rufus notes that his father “started four full notes above [his mother] , and slowed up a little, and sort of dreamed his way down among several extra notes she didn’t sing.” His mother, however, “sang the same thing clear and true in a sweet, calm voice, fewer and simpler notes” (91). Even within the different singing styles, Agee emphasizes the creativity and artifice of the masculine and the detachment and directness of the feminine. By making the connection, Agee also implicitly suggests that his father and mother’s singing styles are connected to his own narrative style in the book. Instead of privileging one style over another, Rufus likes it “best of all when they sang together and he was there with them, touching them on both sides….” The interplay of the two distinct styles eventually creates a harmony that comforts Rufus. (126)
Extended lyrical passage in A Death in the Family, [ed. David McDowell]. (New York: Bantam, 1957). 96-98.


"Swing Low" -- according to the thread Lyr Add: 'Chariot' Spirituals on Mudcat Café, the 1937 collection Religious Folk-Songs Of The Negro: As Sung At Hampton Institute by R. Nathaniel Dett (Editor) has a spiritual with quite similar words to Lunsford's.

Bascom Lamar Lunsford, liner notes to Bascom Lamar Lunsford: Ballads, Banjo Tunes, and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina. Smithsonian/Folkways SF CD 40082. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1996.

6. Swing Low

"The title of this old spiritual is 'Swing Low.' I think it possibly is the foundation of the beautiful spiritual, 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.' I learned this from a student of mine way back in years gone by. Then I took Dr. R.W. Gordon to his home in 1925 at York, South Carolina, and Dr. Gordon recorded it on a cylinder record. A beautiful song sung by Willard Randall, then a man of the family, about middle age, at York, South Carolina." (14 -- lyrics on 15)

Friday, June 28, 2013

"Steal Away" -- from the Fisk Jubilee Singers to a very nice funk/jazz/gospel solo at Napoleon's chateau in northern France


Everybody and his brother has covered this song, which was the Fisk Jubilee Singers' signature piece ... especially Pearly Brown, a blind street singer in Georgia, but also Sam Cooke, Red Foley and too many others to mention worldwide... I'm just going to link a few of the more interesting vocal interpretations, i.e. the ones I think (hope?) I can learn from.

xxx A 30-second clip beginning at 13:24 of today's Fisk Jubilee Singers in an annual remembrance shows some of that old choral technique. The rest of the video, by Nashville's TRC Media, is a good capsule history of the singers over time, with expensive quotes from director Paul Kwami.

Rev. Pearly Brown, a blind street singer of Macon, Ga., backing himself on guitar. Worth a listen! His technique is amazing. Rev. Brown, who died in _____, was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2010. "He was one of the country’s last great street singers," said Oby Brown of the Macon Telegraph.

Nice solo arrangement by the Ol' Moses Gospel Choir in Palais Impérial de Compiegne in France --

Classical arrangement in the style of an art song (by Harry Burliegh?) Baritone Franklin Willis

Sam Cooke covered it in 1957, just before he crossed over into R&B.

There are many other covers, including Red Foley and a duet by Mahalia Jackson and Nate King Cole. YouTube user Raymond Crooke, who backs himself with guitar at, gives this background:

This gospel song was first heard sung by a black slave by the name of Wallace Willis. His owner, Mr. Britt Willis, was a prominent citizen of the Choctaw Nation and well-to-do slaveholder living near Doaksville.

It is not clear whether Wallace Willis actually composed the song but it was not known until Alexander Reid, a minister at a Choctaw boarding school, heard him singing this and other songs and transcribed the words and melodies. He sent the music to the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, who then popularized the songs during a tour of the United States and Europe. Other songs collected and possibly composed by Willis are "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "I'm a-Rolling" and "The Angels Are Coming".

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Roll, Jordan Roll" -


MIDI file at

The "Slave Songs" variant of "Roll Jordan" performed by a Howard University choir in "History Detective" segment on PBS at 4:25 ff., mostly in the background but again for several seconds from 5:20 to 6:12 ...

Cf. Sacred Harp 274b

Monday, June 24, 2013

"There Are Angels Hovering Round" -- folk hymn sung by Fisk Jubilee Singers at a Moody & Sankey revival in England, 187__? ** UPDATED 3x ** Tune also in Sacred Harp + cite to scholarly article on Moody revivals, Fisk singers in England

A mid- to late-19th-century camp meeting, revival and Sunday School gospel hymn that brings together the big themes I want to develop in my upcoming Illinois Humanities Council talks on "Transcending Boundaries: Appalachian Folk Hymns, African American Spirituals and Dwight Moody."

Widely published in the mid-19th century, arranged by one of Dwight Moody's songwriters and sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers at Newcastle-on-Tyne in one of the first, maybe the first joint appearances at a Moody-and-Sankey revival ... it's a common camp meeting song from before the Civil War (details below), arranged in 1874 by Philip Bliss, a songwriter for Cady & Root who joined Moody in 1869 and also wrote "Hold the Fort" before his untimely death in December 1876. Not part of the spirituals repertory, but obviously an excellent choice of music for the occasion on the Jubilee Singers' part! But a favorite in any event. The website lists 152 instances at, mostly from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Bliss' arrangement, in four-part-harmony, is in Gospel Songs: A Choice Collection of Hymns and Tunes, New and Old ... available on Google Books No. 176.

PDF file on line at ... lyrics and link to PDF at ...

Hear it on YouTube ...

A lovely spiritual art song arrangement by soprano Karen Parks of ____, but with a bridge and additional lyrics that don't appear in the old revival hymnals.

More in the original spirit, perhaps (although a little slower on the tempo than I'd like) is this four-part harmony arrangement in a Christmas Concert at Fourth Presbyterian Church in South Boston, Mass.

The story of how the kids from Fisk sang it at Moody's revivals in the UK is told in The story of the Jubilee Singers, including their songs (1903) by Marsh, J. B. T; Loudin, F. J. (Frederick J.)

The labors of the Singers in connection with the meetings of Messrs. Moody and Sankey were one oi the most memorable features of this visit to the North. They first met the evangelists at Newcastle on-Tyne, and for some days lent daily assistance ii the great work. Their songs were found to be es- pecially adapted to promote the revival. One inci- dent in connection with one of the noonday prayer- meetings, of which Mr. Moody often spoke after- wards, cannot be better told than in the words of Rev. Mr. Robjohns : '' The Jubilee Singers had been specially prayed for. A moment's pause, and there went up in sweet, low notes a chorus as of angels. None could tell where the Singers were, — on the floor, in the gallery, or in the air. The crowd was close, and the Singers — wherever they were — were sitting. Every one was thrilled, for this was the song they sang:
There are angels hovering round
To carry the tidings home.'
The notes are before us as we write, simple enough, — the words, too ; but one should hear the Jubilees sing them. It was like a snatch of angelic song heard from the upper air as a band of celestials [68 THE JUBILEE SINGERS.] passed swiftly on an errand of mercy." And he adds: *'Nor are these all our obligations to our beloved friends. They have gone in and out the churches, Sunday-schools, and mission-rooms, sing- ing for Jesus. Such services to souls and Christ have opened wide the people's hearts, and the Jubilees have just v^alked straight in, to be there enshrined for evermore."

In the great work at Edinburgh, also, the Singers rendered special assistance, sometimes taking part in as many as six meetings a day, — prayer-meetings, inquiry-meetings, Bible readings, preaching services, etc. On one Sunday evening Mr. Moody preached, and they sang, to an audience of between six and seven thousand working-people, gathered by special cards of invitation in the Corn Exchange, w^hich was followed by an inquiry meeting, at which some seven hundred asked for prayer.

Available on line at

The Rev. Henry Thomas Robjohns was a Congregationalist minister in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in Northumberland from 1861 to 1874, a prolific author who later moved to Australia and served as director of the Sydney Bible Society. Died there in 1906.

Mudcat Café thread at Bluegrass Messengers' website has authoritative information. (Very good website -- careful about sources, origins, etc. -- worth checking out.):

Angels Hovering Round/There Are Angels Hovering Round
Public Domain/Traditional Old-Time, Bluegrass Gospel Arranged by Philip Bliss 1874;
ARTIST: Arranged by Philip Bliss- 1874
CATEGORY: Traditional Bluegrass Gospel;
DATE: 1800s; 1857 Harmoniad and Sacred Melodist. First Recorded
RECORDING INFO: Angels Hovering Round - Bliss, P. P. (Phillip)

NOTES: "Angels Hovering Round" was arranged by Philip Bliss in 1874. It was included in Jackson's Spiritual Folk Songs of Early America and clearly is a traditional folk hymn. The 1857 Harmoniad and Sacred Melodist: Comprising a fine collection of popular Hymns By Asa Fitz lists Husband as the author. Bliss can be listed as an arranger only.

Sheet music:

George Pullen Jackson, Spiritual Folk-Songs of Early America No. 211 (p. 213) has it from (REV 74?). "Pentatonic, cannot be classified (I II III - V- VII)" [paren. in Jackson]. Same tune with minor variations in 1859 ed. Sacred Harp, p. 425.

[Tangent: Follows Happy Sailor (No. 210) in Jackson.]

Sacred Harp calls it GOLDEN STREETS (425b) and attributes the tune to J.L. Pickard, a planter of Talbot County, Georgia, who died of measles during the Civil War. Lyrics: "I am on my journey home ... / To the New Jerusalem ..." The words are a floating lyric that also appears in JEFFERSON and elsewhere.

Sacred Harp Singing Union Maine 2011. Uploaded by YouTube user jsalzer262

** 2nd UPDATE ** -- According to Andrew Ward, Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), the performance in Newcastle was Nov. 12, 1873. Ella Shepherd recalled:

During a pause following an earnest appeal to sinners we softly sang, "There are angels hovering round / to carry the tidings home." The effect was wonderful. ... Some people said they really thought for a moment that the music came from an angelic band. Mr. Moody looked as tough he would not have been more surprised had his Lord appeared. (243)
3rd UPDATE: The connection between Moody and the Jubilee Singers is the subject of a recent scholarly article: "An inestimable blessing": the American gospel invasion of 1873.(Jubilee Singers and Dwight Moody-Ira Sankey in Great Britain) ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly), Sept. 1, 2002. By Stowe, David W.

Friday, June 21, 2013

"Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel" and "Jehovah Hallelujah" -- 2 spirituals from Slave Songs of the United States -- ** UPDATED 1x ** w/ new links and notes on a modal quagmire


It was going to be so easy: I was going to post YouTube versions of a couple of songs I want to learn and take it from there ... the first was "Blow Your Trumpet, Gabriel." Turned out, however, I certainly won't be able to play it as written on a mountain dulcimer. I haven't totally given up, though: See italicized notes below.

Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel

No. 4 on page 3 in Slave Songs with added lyrics in Thomas Wentworth Higginson's article on spirituals he heard while commanding the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry (U.S.), "Negro Spirituals" in the June 1867 issue of the Atlantic Monthly:

The next was one of those which I had heard in boyish days, brought North from Charleston. But the chorus alone was identical ; the words were mainly different, and those here given are quaint enough.


"O, blow your trumpet, Gabriel,
Blow your trumpet louder ;
And I want dat trumpet to blow me home
To my new Jerusalem.

"De prettiest ting dat ever I done
Was to serve de Lord when I was young.
So blow your trumpet, Gabriel, &c.

"O, Satan is a liar, and he conjure too,
And if you don't mind, he 'll conjure you.
So blow your trumpet, Gabriel, &c.

"O, I was lost in de wilderness,
King Jesus hand me de candle down.
So blow your trumpet, Gabriel," &c.

Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel. Performed by Andrew Calhoun and ___. His lyrics here, with this note: "Spritual collected in Charleston, SC in 1845, with additional verses from “The Vinter” in Slave Songs of the United States, and the last, floating verse." Also on Calhoun's CD Bound to Go.

On his website Calhoun, a singer-songwriter from the Chicago suburbs, says:

There's a great source book called Slave Songs of the United States, published in 1867, full of obscure gems - I've only ever heard three of the 130 songs performed - and it includes the original, more lyrically vivid "Michael Row the Boat Ashore", a Sea Islands rowing song addressed to the archangel Michael, a prayer for safe passage. This book is a pure source of the real thing. The spirituals were popularized in classical choral arrangements, but to me the original, wild way of using songs in participatory ritual to bind and lift an oppressed community is much more interesting. You can hear it on Alan Lomax's field recordings (Rounder's Southern Journey Series) of Bessie Jones, John Davis and the other Georgia Sea Island singers, recorded around 1960 and still performing in the old call and response/ring shout style. My mother was Jewish, a former union steward who shouted "Jim Crow Must Go!" on sound trucks in the early Civil Rights movement, and drove into the Beethoven School in Chicago to tutor poor kids until she was too sick to drive. I'm fascinated by the connection between the Biblical story of Exodus, and what the African Americans did with it, finding the living heart of a religion twisted beyond recognition by centuries of institutionalized idolatry and sham. I expect to record some of this music after a few more months of research. Because, you know, it's public domain, as, in the new Jerusalem, everything will be. I try not to take these songs for granted anymore.
The English folk group Steeleye Span recorded it on a Christmas album, and the song is listed by the _____ Ralph Vaughan Williams, cited to Slave Songs of the United States. Also to Folk Song in South Carolina No. 9 by Charles W. Joyner (1971).

Lyrics, from Slave Songs and Higginson's Atlantic Monthly article, on Mudcat Café -- lyrics at

Modal meanderings. So, when I go to trying to play the tune, all kinds of problems crop up. It's written in G, but there's an F natural in the fourth measure of the B part that falls between the frets. I'm able to play those intervals by moving down the fretboard, which I think gives me a flatted seventh at the sixth fret ... but it was too much to work out all at once for now, so I made some notes on my photocopy and plan to come back to it. (There's also a variant in the book that appears to be written in G minor [F mixolydian?], so that may be worth trying, too.

And there's something I stumbled across in a Nov. 11, 2010 post "A Mixolydian Hymn: In Christ There Is No East Or West" on the Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer website, by Flint Hill. Along with some very good background on Harry Burleigh's hymn, he has this to say in response to other comments on a very enlightening thread:

John, thanks for mentioning the difference between Mixolydian mode and Mixolydian tuning as it applies to songs played on gapped scales. Bertrand Bronson, who studied ballads statistically, found that 2/3 of Appalachian ballads are played on gapped scales, so it's an important point.

The most common scales in order of prevalence are: Ly/Io/Myx pentatonic (π1, lacking the 4th and 7th), Io/Myx hexatonic (lacking the 7th), pure Ionian, pure Mixolydian, Io/Myx/Dor pentatonic (π2, lacking the 3rd and the 7th), Ly/Io hexatonic (lacking the 4th), and Myx/Dor hexatonic (lacking the 3rd).

All except pure Mix and Myx/Dor hexatonic tunes can be played in DAA/CGG tunings on a purely diatonic instrument (i.e. no need for a 6.5 fret). All can be played diatonically on a Galax- or bagpipe-tuned instrument.

But I ramble!

To which I say: Ramble on.

I've never been able to make heads or tails out of Bronson, but this I can use!

Another ramble: Flint Hill says he plays "In Christ there is no east or west ..." noter-drone style on a Ben Seymour Galax tuned dddd (D4 D4 D4 D4). The outermost drone is reverse-capoed on the fourth fret yielding a final tuning of addd which start a D Mixolydian scale on the open melody string." Not what I've learned, but it sounds interesting.

Jehovah Halelujah

Instrumental YouTube clip: "Tim Twiss playing Fretless Minstrel Banjo and other creative projects emerging once in a while. This site represents the single largest collection of Early Banjo music. Playlists are designed to include the music from the "Tutors", meaning the original written record of banjo music beginning mid 19th Century. Also included are playlists designed to put related material into cohesive groups."

Harry Belafonte covered it, adding a lovely set of Christmas lyrics, on a Christmas album in 1958. Available on YouTube at His lyrics widely available on line. As always with Belafonte, the most informative, with complete publication information and a sound file in addition to the lyrics, is on Swedish fan Åke Holm's website. Homepage at and "Jehovah Hallelujah" at

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Press release for Sunday's talk at Rock Springs Nature Center on “Early Music of Central Illinois”

My working title, reflected in a couple of posts to this blog, has been "Roads, Rivers and Creole Girls." For several reasons, I've focused it back on "roads and rivers" ... partly so I can bring out more clearly my belief that Virginia and the Great Wagon Road were kind of a cultural hearth for music in an already thoroughly creolized Anglo-American oral tradition, including the ballads and fiddle tunes brought by early settlers to central and southern Illinois. The news release for Sunday's talk, sent out by the Macon County Conservation District, is copied and pasted below.

Early Music of Central Illinois presented June 16

Anyone interested in the early music and history of our state is invited to attend a free musical performance and history program on Sunday, June 16 at 2:00 p.m. The program titled “The Early Music of Central Illinois” will examine the founding of the region’s musical heritage in the 1800s. It will be held inside the Rock Springs Nature Center which is located on the grounds of the Rock Springs Conservation Area in Decatur. Admission is free.

Before the Civil War the music of Central Illinois was influenced by various people and cultures which filtered in along the region’s roads and rivers. The musical performance and history program by Peter Ellertson of Springfield, Illinois, will explore these early musicians and songs which gave birth to an era of Central Illinois music that featured minstrel show songs, ditties from other countries and popular show tunes of the 1800s. Ellertson is a musician, freelance writer, former journalist and is a retired instructor at Benedictine University. He has studied music history and performed at various workshops, classes and folk festivals in Illinois and other states including the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina and Western Carolina University.

Rock Springs Conservation Area is located on the southwestern edge of Decatur. To get to Rock Springs from Decatur, go south on Route 48 and turn west onto Rock Springs Road or go south on Wyckles Road and turn east onto Rock Springs Road. Watch for signs. Plenty of parking is available.


10 second PSA ----- The Macon County Conservation District presents “The Early Music of Central Illinois” on Sunday, June 16th at 2:00 p.m. This free musical performance and history program about the founding of the region’s musical heritage in the 1800s will be held at Rock Springs Nature Center in Decatur. Admission is free. Call 423-7708 or go to for more information.

Monday, June 10, 2013

"El-a-noy" -- from the Shawnee ferry to Carl Sandburg to (I'm not making this up) Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins


More notes for my presentation "Roads, and Rivers and Creole Girls: Early Music of Illinois" Sunday afternoon at Rock Springs Conservation Center ...

"El-A-Noy" from the Old Town School Songbook, Vol 4. From the school's website: "Old Town School Co-Founder Win Stracke leads off the Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook, Volume Four with his rendition of "El-A-Noy", backed by current Old Town School instructor Mark Dvorak on guitar and vocals. Win's vocal & original backing track date from 1968 (Win passed away in 1991), and Mark's contributions were added in August 2007. We don't quite span the entire 50-year history of the school with this one track, but we came real close."

... Corgan gave the following account, quoted on the Smashing Pumpkins Fan Collaborative's website at

"actually, it began one innocent evening in 2000 while I was waiting for my girlfriend to get ready to go out to dinner.... i had 15 minutes to kill, and I had this book of old folk songs laying around.... i flipped it open, and because I can't read music, I started making up my own version of a song from the 1800's.... this lead me to eventually create 28 of these types of "imagined" songs over a period of months, and I had a lot of fun writing them... songs about Jesse James and hearses rolling by with broken hearted lovers and the like....

out of these 28 there was one song that struck a deep nerve with me personally called "el-a-noy," a folk song from the 1860's about settlers coming into Chicago.... because of the personal nature of the lyrics and the lonesome and hopeful quality of this city, it seemed to resonate more deeply within me.... somewhere along the way, because of that one connection, I hatched the idea to assemble a whole group of songs that would be linked by the spirit of Chicago, because I think that this town is truly indescribable.... it is an odd mix of violence, pioneer recklessness, unbridled capitalism, undying hope, and if you have ever been here during the winter, death and endless rebirth.... at the bottom of all of it though, is that I really love this place!!"

Here, from a fan's YouTube channel, is Corgan singing his piece and backing it with acoustic guitar:

classical ...

The Norman Luboff Choir has a full-bore choral treatment on an old Columbia LP posted by YouTube user UnclaimedFr8 at UnclaimedFr8, who has one of the more imaginative screen names I've seen in a long time, adds, "This pioneer song of the United States is of the period of the movement westward. The somber melody is probably Irish in origin, and balanced by lyrics of optimism and hope."

Hibernia, Vol. IV

Hibernia, Vol. IV
TROY630 - $16.99

This is the third release on Albany Records of the music of Edward Collins. (Irish Rhapsody) from 1929, is the fullest realization of Collins's thoughts on the Irish folksong "O! The Taters they are small over here!" a tune he used in several compositions between 1927 and 1932. In Hibernia, the composer's imagination, his gift for orchestral tone painting and his ability to establish a reflective mood are lovingly in evidence. No doubt Collins's Irish heritage manifested itself, permeating the nineteen-minute work with an atmospheric mixture of gaiety and wistful melancholy. ... Submitted by Collins in response to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra commission on the occasion of its Golden Jubilee, Lament and Jig was the sixth of a set of twelve variations written by a dozen different composers under the collective title, Variations on an American Folk-Song. Other composers included Leo Sowerby, John Alden Carpenter and Rudolf Ganz. The theme was "El-A-Noy, an Illinois pioneer recruitment song, perhaps selected by Frederick Stock who conducted the premiere on April 17, 1941.
(my emphasis)