Gospel SongsThis is a featured page

A playlist of my gospel songs can be found here.

Wade in the Water and Walk in Jerusalem, two old spirituals I enjoy singing. (See below)

All My Trials

A popular spiritual about freedom, which originated in the Bahamas. I first heard it sung by Joan Baez, whose early recordings were what got me seriously interested in folk music.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

Amazing Grace (John Newton)

This well-known hymn was written in 1772 by John Newton, who began his career as slave-trader, but had a life-changing experience when he survived a violent storm on board a ship, which killed the crewman who took over from him on deck.

The song was first published in 1779 in Olney Hymns, which he compiled with William Cowper.

These days, the song normally consists of the first three verses plus an additional verse possibly written by John P. Rees. However I am singing it here in its original form.

Playing the fiddle while singing is a bit like rubbing your stomach while patting yourself on the head. I probably shouldn't even attempt it, especially as my fiddle-playing is pretty dubious to begin with.

Here is a video of members of the Victorian Folk Club leading the congregation in this song at a Good Friday service at the 2011 National Folk Festival in Canberra.

Here are the lyrics.

Apocalypse Blues (Original)

A song about the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Revelations 6: 1-8) This song was included on my second CD, Laws of Chance, and later on Gospel Ship as well. You can see it performed here. The lyrics are here.

The Ballad of the Carpenter (Ewan MacColl)

Ewan MacColl wrote this song about Jesus as a Socialist hero at a Christmas party in 1954. It has much in common with Woody Gutrhrie's song, Jesus Christ. In the sixties it became a popular song in the folk clubs, and was accepted into the carol repertoire of the villages of Hope and Castleton in Derbyshire, England.

Perhaps the most notable recording of the song is by Phil Ochs, with a few changes in the lyrics.

Here is my cover and here are the lyrics.

Bitter Was the Night (Sydney Carter)

This song expresses the feelings of Peter after he fulfills Christ's prophecy that Peter will deny him before the c0ck crows thrice.

Apart from Carter's own recordings, it has been recorded by Maddy Pryor and Franciscus Henri, both of whom have covered many of his songs.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

Blessed Assurance (Crosby and Knapp)

Blind hymn writer, Fanny J. Crosby, was visiting her friend Phoebe Knapp in when Phoebe played on the piano a melody she had just composed. When she asked Crosby, "What do you think the tune says?", Crosby replied, "Blessed assurance; Jesus is mine." She went on to write the lyrics to the tune.

The hymn appeared in the July 1873 issue of Dr. and Mrs. W. C. Palmer's magazine, "Guide to Holiness and Revival Miscellany." It appeared on the last page with complete text and piano score, and indicated it had been copyrighted by Crosby that year.This may not have been the first printing of the hymn, but it certainly helped to popularize what became one of the most beloved hymns of all time.

Here is my rendition (coming) and here are the lyrics.

The Blind Man Stood On the Road and Cried

This negro spiritual is based on the bible story of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10 (46-52). He is sitting at the side of a road in Jericho as Jesus approaches with his disciples and a large crowd of people, and cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When people, annoyed by his intrusion, ask him to be quiet, Jesus silences them and asks the man to approach him and asks him what he wants, Bartimaeus says he wants to be able to see again. Jesus answers, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”

As with many spirituals, the African slaves identified with the distressed protagonist of the song, but the story provides a message of hope. The gospel shoes were the symbol of faith which would lead them out of the blindness of their captivity.

Here is my video of the song, and here are the lyrics.

Can the Circle Be Unbroken? (Ada Habershon, Charles Gabriel, A.P. Carter)

This well-known country gospel song about the death, funeral, and mourning of the narrator's mother was popularised by the singing of The Carter Family.

The chorus comes from the hymn Will the Circle Be Unbroken? which was written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon, with words by Charles Gabriel. The version recorded by the Carter family in 1935 is generally attributed to A. P. Carter though it is probably based on an earlier recording by Frank Welling & John McGhee (1930).

The Carter Family version has been covered by many artists, including The Staple Singers, John Fahey, Roy Acuff, Joan Baez, The Chieftains, John Lee Hooker, Bill Monroe, Bernice Reagon, Pentangle, Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson, Jeff Buckley, Johnny Cash and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. However, most cover versions of the song revert to the original title on which this song was based - Will the Circle be Unbroken?.

Here is my rendition of the song, and here is a video of me singing it with Lew Dite and Steve Morel in Ontario, Canada. You can also hear it sung live by Sampson Chan at a session of The Hong Kong Folk Society at The Canny Man in Wanchai. And here is a great version from a banjo workshop we attended at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, 2010.

Here are the lyrics.

Chased Old Satan (Through the Door)

An Old Time string band classic from The Woodie Brothers. The original recording was in 1931, with Ephraim Woodie on guitar and Lawton Woodie on harmonica.

Ash cakes were baked by wrapping dough in cloth, placing them in a corner of the fireplace, and covering them with ashes and coals. They were supposed to have a delicious flavor when baked that way, but it was difficult to control the heat, or keep the bread clean.

You can hear the song played here by the Downtrodden String Band.

Here is my rendition and the lyrics are here.

The Cherry Tree Carol (Child 54)

This old Christmas carol has the distinction of being one of the ballads collected by Francis James Child. An early version was sung at the Feast of Corpus Christi in the early 15th century. The version collected by Child is probably a mixture of two or three separate carols that merged together over time.

The story comes from the apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew during the flight into Egypt, and the tree wasprobably a date palm rather than a cherry tree. In the original story Jesus was already born and Joseph'sanger had nothing to do with Mary's pregnancy, but rather with his frustration at not being able to reach the fruits and his worries about the family's lack of water.

I first heard this sung by Joan Baez, and that is basically the version I sing. It has also been recorded by Pentangle, Mary Hopkin, Judy Collins, John Jacob Niles, Peter, Paul and Mary, The King's College Choir, José Feliciano and Dan Samples. And here is an Italian version - Il ciliegio sung by Angelo Branduardi.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

The Converted Thief (Samuel Stennet)

Samuel Stennett was born at Exeter, in 1727. His father was pastor of a Baptist congregation in that city; afterwards of the Baptist Chapel, Little Wild Street, London. In this latter pastorate the son succeeded the father in 1758. He died in 1795. Dr. Stennett was the author of several doctrinal works, and a few hymns.

His song, The Converted Thief, also known as Deep Spring found its way to America, where it became a staple of the evangelical churches, sung in pentatonic mode.

Here is my rendition of the song, and here are the lyrics.

Deep River

This is a typical African American spiritual, in which the slaves sang of the freedom they would find across the Jordan River of death, though with an underlying hope that freedom might some day be achieved in this world.

The song was popularised by black singers such as Marion Anderson and Paul Robeson, who sang it in the 1929 film version of Show Boat. It is often sung these days as a choral piece, as in this video of the Mevagissey Male Choir who we heard when we were in Cornwall in August 2014.

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.

The Devil Wore a Crucifix (Sydney Carter)

A provocative comment on how the devil operates in the world today.

You can watch my video and the lyrics are here.

Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel?

Another spiritual that inspired the African-American slaves in their quest for freedom, this song tells the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, who is protected from harm through divine intervention, thus highlighting the idea of the socially proscribed power hierarchy being upset by God protecting the deserving servant. The symbolism for the slaves is obvious.

It is a very popular piece for choirs, and dozens of choral versions can be found on YouTube. My first encounter with the song was as a member of my school choir many years ago.

One of the first to record the song was Paul Robeson. It was also recorded by the Manic Sreet Preachers and The King's Heralds. Here is a good delta blues version by YouTuber BottleneckJohn.

And here is my rendition of the song. The lyrics are here.

Do Lord, Remember Me

This popular Negro spiritual appears in many variations, and the tune has been used by several string bands in songs such as Lights in the Valley (J E Mainer's Mountaineers) and Deadheads and Suckers (Crockett Ward and his Boys). Another example is Lost all my Money but a Two-dollar Bill, which was recorded by Doc Watson.

The short version here is performed by students from the Sun Kei Secondary School Folk Song Club. Of three spirituals we recorded, this is the only one they agreed to put on public view, mainly because certain students considered their faces were sufficiently well hidden to spare them any embarrassment!

Here are the lyrics.

Down By The Riverside

This African-American spiritual, sometimes called (Ain't Gonna) Study War No More, was first recorded by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1920. It was especially popular during the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s. Variations of the song were reportedly known as early as the Civil War, sung by both whites and blacks.

Here it is sung by the great Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1943).

Here is Mahalia Jackson doing it, and another Mahalia Jackson performance about ten years later. And here is Pete Seeger doing it, with a few comments about gospel music.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Down in the Valley to Pray

Also known as Down to the River to Pray, The Good Old Way and Come, Let us All Go Down, this song goes back to the days of slavery, and was later popularised by The Jubilee Singers.

Other performers who have recorded it include Lead Belly, Sarah Ogan Gunning (1974), Doc Watson and Arlo Guthrie. The song had a big revival when Alison Krauss's recording was used in the soundtrack of the movie, O, Brother Where Art Thou?

Here is my attempt at the song, with my sister Annette, her husband, Richard, and my wife, Yoong.

Down on Me

There are many versions of this African-American spiritual, many of which have verses in common with songs like Mary, Don't You Weep, Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen and Keep Your Hand On the Plow.

It was collected by John and Ruby Lomax on a field trip in 1939, but there are actually earlier recording, such as one in 1930 (with guitar and tambourine accompaniment) by a gospel group, Eddie Head and His Family.

Probably the best known version of the song is Janis Joplin's rendition on the debut album for Big Brother and the Holding Company (1967), but I am more familiar with a recording by Odetta, on her third album, My Eyes Have Seen (1959).

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Drifting Too Far From the Shore (Charles E Moody)

This gospel song was written in 1924 by Charles E. Moody of the popular string band, the Georgia Yellowhammers. It was first recorded by the Carolina Gospel Singers in 1929 and later by the Monroe Brothers in 1936. It has been recorded by several artists, including Lou Harris, Hank Williams, Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Garcia.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Every Star Shall Sing a Carol (Sydney Carter)

Sydney Carter was aware of the human desire for a spiritual dimension to our lives, but also of the difficulty many have accepting orthodox Christian beliefs. In this song, he shows his ability to understand the viewpoint of both believer and sceptic.
It envisages Jesus as a kind of cosmic traveller, moving from planet to planet through the infinite universe. Wherever there is life there will be Christmas, in a kind of merging of theology with Science Fiction.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

Farther Along (W. A. Fletcher)

The story goes that Rev. W. A. Fletcher, an itinerant preacher, wrote these lyrics while travelling on a train to the Indian Territories near the end of 1911, apparently to reflect his depression at knowing he would not be with his wife for the approaching birth of his first child as he felt obliged to carry out his ministry far from home. The theme is that wicked people seem to prosper whereas the righteous Christian often has to suffer, but that the apparent injustice will all be explained when we get to Heaven. He happened to be sitting next to J. R. Baxter, a gospel music promoter who liked the lyrics and paid Fletcher for them. He then had them put to music and it became a popular Southern gospel song.

It has been covered by The Byrds, as the title song of one of their albums (1971), Glen Campbell and Larry Gatlin and Elvis Presley. It was also sung by The Peasall Sisters, who were featured in O Brother Where Art Thou?

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

God Almighty Gonna Cut You Down

I was reminded of this song recently when I heard Johnny Cash's wonderful version on his posthumous recording, American V: A Hundred Highways. My rendition is based more on my recollection of the way Odetta used to do it.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

Go Down Moses

Exodus 8:1: "And the Lord spake unto Moses, go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, thus saith the Lord, Let my people go, that they may serve me."

This gospel song was popular with the African-American slaves, who saw a clear parallel between their own situation and that of the people of Israel held in bondage by Pharaoh.

One of the best renditions of this song was by the great Paul Robeson, who was my mother's favourite singer. Like Burl Ives he was part of my early childhood introduction to folk music.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

God's Choir

This rousing spiritual, written around 1960, was something of an anthem of the Charismatic churches, but has now made its way into the mainstream, as is evident from the fact that it is on the program for the 21st Festival of Male Choirs at London's Albert Hall in October 2008.

The Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir was preparing to sing this as one of our songs at a charity concert in the Phillippines, so I made made this video to help me learn it. I actually sing it higher in the choir (as a first tenor) but for a solo recording I was more comfortable doing it a few tones lower.

Here are the lyrics.

Going Back With Jesus

See She'll be Coming Round the Mountain in American Songs.

Goodnight, Goodnight (Lay Down My Dear Sister)

This little song originated in the Bahamas, where it was recorded by the Spence family on an album called The Real Bahamas (Nonesuch Label). It was used by The Incredible String Band as the conclusion to A Very Cellular Song, a very long song about amoebas! The verses seem to be made up of snippets of gospel songs and biblical stories. It has also been recorded by The Grateful Dead and this cute little girl. Oh, and also this frog.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

Gospel Ship

An old Carter family song that I first heard sung by Joan Baez. For those who miss the Train that's Bound for Glory, there are clearly other means of transportation available.

Here is my performance and here is again as the title track from my third CD, Gospel Ship.

In September 2011 I had the opportunity to record this song with YouTube star Marco Acca.

Here are the lyrics.

Go Tell it On the Mountain

This popular African-American spiritual celebrating the birth of Jesus was known in 1874, but probably dates back several years earlier. The song was printed in 1909 in Religious Folk Songs of the Negro as Sung by the Hampton Students, credited to "Hampton Institute and Fenner," though Fenner had died some time earlier.

It has been recorded many times, especially for Christmas albums. Peter, Paul and Mary adapted it in 1963 to refer to the Civil Rights struggle, releasing it as a single and on their album, In the Wind.

Some of the artists who have sung the song are Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, George Beverly Shea, The New Christy Minstrels, Fred Hammond, James Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin, Dolly Parton, Mike & Peggy Seeger, Simon and Garfunkel, Garth Brooks, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Jim Nabors, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Sheryl Crow.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet

This African-American gospel song may be related to the better known Hand Me Down My Walking Cane. The verses are interchangeable with those of many other spirituals, and I have seen versions with totally different (but also well-known) verses The earliest published version appears to be in the collection Rodeheaver's Negro Spirituals (1923). It has been adapted as a popular choral piece by Joy Webb, and my rendition is based on this arrrangement.

Here are the lyrics.

He Is Wonderful
(Jeffery LaValley)

This song is also known as Revelation 19:1. It was recorded by Minister Stephen Hurd, and several other gospel groups and choirs.

It was the first song sung by Ugandan a capella group Aba Taana as they came onstage at a "Friendship Concert" in Riga, Latvia, that we were very fortunate to attend in July 2014. It was the first of a number of great songs with which they captivated the large audience, many of whom were standing.

Here is the video of the song. Lyrics of the original song by LaValley are here.

Here I Am To Worship (Tim Hughes)

This popular worship ballad was the title song of Tim Hughes' debut album. It is commonly sung at Christian churches, festivals and youth gatherings and has been covered by many Christian performers.

Tim Hughes wrote it in 1999 after reading Philippians 2, which speaks of Christ's humility and his willingness to leave his heavenly throne to come to earth as a man and sacrifice himself on the cross. It took him six months before he was satisfied with the chorus. Hughes commented: "No one has been more surprised than myself at seeing how God has used this worship song." (Information from Wikipedia)

This song was requested by crazymatthew53.

My cover is here and the lyrics are here.

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand

Frank Warner collected this song in 1935 from Sue Thomas in North Carolina, though it was apparently around in 1927. The earliest recording is probably this one by John Jacob Niles and Marion Kirby, but it was Marian Anderson who popularised the song by performing it in her concerts.

Very few gospel songs become top hits, but this one reached number one on the USA charts in a 1958 version by Laurie London. A great version by Mahalia Jackson also did well on the charts. The songs has been recorded by many other artists including Pat Boone, Odetta, Laurie London, The Sandpipers (1970), Tanya Tucker, Perry Como, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers and Nina Simone (1959). Lonnie Donegan recorded it in England as a Skiffle song, and since then it has tended to be sung at a faster tempo.

The lyrics vary a lot depending on who is singing it but here are the lyrics I use, and here is a video of me singing the song.

Hicks' Farewell

This song was written by the Rev. B. Hicks, a Baptist minister of South Carolina. He wrote this in the belief that he was dying, while he was confined in Tennessee by a fever, and sent it to his wife. In fact he lived to preach another day. The lyrics first appeared in William Walker's Southern Harmony (1835).

My source for this version is George P. Jackson's Spiritual Folk-Songs of Early America (1937). Doc Watson recorded the song, using a different tune.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

How Great Thou Art (Carl Gustav Boberg)

This song was written in Sweden in 1885 to a Swedish folk tune and translated into English by Stuart K. Hine.

It has been recorded by many singers, including Mahalia Jackson, George Beverley Shea, Elvis Presley, Alan Jackson and Dolly Parton.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship. Here is the CD version.

I Believe (Ervin Drake)

Ervin Drake wrote this song in collaboration with Al Stillman, Jimmy Shirl, and Irvin Graham in the early fifties. It was written for Jane Froman, who made it a big hit, but it has been covered by many singers since then.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

I Got Shoes

Another popular spiritual from the African-American tradition, sung originally by people for whom the prospect of a decent pair of shoes was about as remote as the heavenly robe and angel's wings that appear in the other verses. Like so many of these songs from the days of slavery, there is a message of hope for the future. This song has been recorded several times, some notable examples being by Louis Armstrong, a superb rendition by Mahalia Jackson, another by Alison Krauss, and The Southern Four recorded in 1921.

Here is my attempt at the song and here are the lyrics.

I'll Fly Away (Albert E. Brumley)

Albert Brumley wrote and sang gospel songs at churches, tent revivals and evangelical radio shows around Tulsa, Oklahoma. He wrote of this composition:

"I was picking cotton on my father's farm and was humming the old ballad that went like this: 'If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly' and suddenly it dawned on me that I could use this plot for a gospel-type song.

"About three years later, I finally developed the plot, titled it I'll Fly Away, and it was published in 1932.

"Those familiar with the song will note that I paraphrased one line of the old ballad to read 'Like a bird from prison bars have flown.' When I wrote it, I had no idea that it would become so universally popular."

(From a letter to Dorothy Horstman, Jan. 10, 1973. The ballad referred to is The Prisoner's Song, by Robert Massey, 1924)

The song has been recorded many times, some notable renditions being by Alan Jackson and by Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch, whose version was used in the movie Brother, Where Art Thou?

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

I'm On My Way

This typical African-American spiritual from the slavery era was originally known as I'm On My Way to Canaan Land. It was recorded by the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, by the Pace Jubilee Singers in 1927 under the title, I'll Journey On, and also by the Carter family in the 1930s.

Gospel singer and writer Dr Bernice Reagon, said that the song developed from a traditional song called If You Go Don't Hinder Me, and also believed that Canaan was used as a reference to Canada, a possible destination for escaped slaves.

The song became one of the anthems of the Civil Rights movement in the sixties, with the words changed to "I'm on my way to Freedom land," as in the version of the song that I do.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

In My Time Of Dying

The first known recording of this negro spiritual was by Blind Willie Johnson, using the title Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed, between 1927 and 1930. Charlie Patton did a version called Jesus is a Dying-Bed-Maker.

It has since been recorded many times. Josh White recorded it in 1933, and it was probably his version Dylan had in mind when he recorded it for his first album in 1962, though the liner notes say: "Dylan had never sung In My Time of Dyin' prior to this recording session. He does not recall where he first heard it." John Sebastian also based his blues-rock version on Josh White's, but used the title, Well, Well, Well, on his album The Four of Us (1971).

One of the best-known recordings of the song is by Led Zeppelin, on their sixth album, Physical Graffiti, the longest track on any Led Zeppelin studio album at over eleven minutes. It seems to be inspired by the original recording by Blind Willie Johnson. There are also several live versions as it was a popular number at many of their concerts.

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.

In the Garden

This gospel song, also known as I Come to the Garden Alone, was written by American songwriter, C. Austin Miles (1868–1946), a former pharmacist who was the editor and manager at Hall-Mack publishers for 37 years. According to his great-granddaughter, he wrote it "in a cold, dreary and leaky basement in New Jersey that didn't even have a window in it let alone a view of a garden."

The song was first published in 1912 and popularized during the Billy Sunday evangelistic campaigns of the early twentieth century. It was recorded by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in 1950. Other notable performances are by Tennessee Ernie Ford (1956), Pat Boone (1957), Jim Reeves (1957), Perry Como (1958), Doris Day (1962), Elvis Presley (1967) Willie Nelson (1976) and Johnny Cash (2003), posthumously.

When we visited Singapore in March, 2015, I sang this song with my brother-in-law, Hing, sister-in-law, Yan, her husband, Sing, and my wife, Yoong. Although Sing is a devout Buddhist he probably knows the song better than any of us, as he learnt it in his schooldays at a Methodist college in Ipoh. Here is our rendition, the first time this group has ever sung together - and possibly the last!

Here are the lyrics.

In the Spirit

This is a medley of African-American spirituals sung by our choir at Golling Fortress in Salzburg on 5th July 2014.

The song Amen is used as a frame and the other songs in the set are Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Michael, Row the Boat Ashore, Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?, Standing In the Need Of Prayer and Lead Me, Oh Lord. You can find lyrics and information about these songs, apart from the last one and "Amen" elsewhere on my website, as I have uploaded solos of all these songs at some time.

You can see the video here.

In the Sweet By and By (S. F. Bennet and J. P. Webster)

Sanford Fillmore Bennett (1836-1898) wrote the lyrics to this hymn and Joseph P. Webster wrote the music. It achieved great popularity in the nineteenth century and has become a Gospel standard, appearing in several hymnals. The tune is played as a dirge in "jazz funerals". The American composer, Charles Ives, used the hymn in some of his works, in particular in the finale of his Orchestral Set No. 2, written between 1915 and 1919.

The song has been recorded by many artists, most notably by Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.

There have been a number of parodies of the song over the years, the most famous being Joe Hill's "The Preacher and the Slave" (1911) in which the Christian reward of Heaven is described as "pie in the sky". You can see my rendition of that song here.

Here is my rendition of the original "Sweet By and By" (coming) and here are the lyrics.

I Saw the Light (Hank Williams)

This gospel song was written and first performed by Hank Williams in 1948. He wrote about the religious convictions he held in spite of his alcoholism. Though it was not a commercial success when first released, it eventually became one of Hank's most popular songs, and it has been covered by several artists, including Roy Acuff (1948), Bill Monroe (1958), Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Bare (1966), Merle Haggard (1971), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1971), Earl Scruggs (1972) and Johnny Cash.

My cover is here and here are the lyrics.

I've Got a Home in That Rock

This traditional negro spiritual is typical in its theme that the injustices of the world will be overcome. The best-known version simply compares the rich man Dives, destined for Hell, with the poor man Lazarus, who, of course, will end up in Heaven. Some versions of the song share verse from various other spirituals, especially in the version known as God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign, which was recorded by The Carter Family in 1927.

Various versions of the song have been recorded by The Weavers, The Dixieaires, and Josh White (1935). Here is a good version by The Boghoppers, on lewdite's YouTube channel.

And here is my rendition of the song. The lyrics are here.

Jeanette, Isabella

This carol, known in English as Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella originated in the Provence region of France in the 16th century as dance music for the French nobility rather than a Christmas song. It was first published in 1553, and was eventually translated into English in the 18th century.

The song tells the story of two milkmaids, Jeanette and Isabella, who go to milk their cows in a manger in Bethlehem, only to find baby Jesus sleeping in the hay. They run to town to tell the people of the village, who bring their own torches to see for themselves, keeping their voices down so as not to wake baby Jesus. Children in Provence still dress up as shepherds and milkmaids, carrying torches and candles to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve as they sing this carol.

I sing it here in French, followed by the English translation. Here are the lyrics.

Jesus Christ (Woody Guthrie)

Woody's song about Jesus as a working class hero, to the tune of Jesse James.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship. Here is the CD track.

Jesus Died (Original)

This is the most overtly Christian song I wrote, during my time as a member of the Baptist Youth Fellowship. I was not happy with the song at the time and stopped singing it until recently, when I revived it for my Gospel Ship CD. I realised the original tune was too jaunty, and made a few changes to make it more appropriate to the words. I also updated some of the lyrics. I think it is now quite a nice song.

My performance can be seen here and a movie made using the audio track from the CD can be seen above.

The lyrics are here.

Jesus Met the Woman At the Well (James "Woody" Alexander)

James W. Alexander was born in 1925 and sang in church from early childhood. Before settling on a career in music he played semi-pro baseball in the Negro League. In 1945, he joined the Pilgrim Travelers gospel group, which comprised founders Joe Johnson and Willie Davis, with Kylo Turner, Keith Barber and Raphael Taylor. Alexander took over as manager, the group, already popular in Los Angeles, became enormously successful. From 1947-56, they made records, mainly for Specialty Records, and influenced artists such as Ray Charles, Lou Rawls and Sam Cooke.

Jesus Met the Woman At the Well
was a big hit for the Pilgrim Travelers and was covered by many gospel singers and folk groups, including Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Peter, Paul and Mary, Ian and Sylvia, Dave van Ronk, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Rev. Gary Davis, accompanied by Sonny Terry. YouTube singer, SirCoughsalot, does a pretty good job of it too.

The song is based on an episode in the Bible and is sometimes thought to be related to The Maid and the Palmer (Child 21).

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho

This song refers to the Bible story of Joshua and his men who, bearing the ark of God, successfully brought down the walls of the city of Jericho simply by the loud playing of trumpets and other instruments. The message for the black slaves who sang this song was that if Joshua could defeat evil by blowing trumpets, then they too could eventually defeat the evil of slavery through the singing of such songs!

The song was often performed by Paul Robeson in his concerts. Here it is sung by the great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson.

Here is my rendition of the song and here are the lyrics.

Judas and Mary (Sydney Carter)

In this song Sydney Carter explores the idea that Christ expresses in Matthew 25:40: "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Here is my performance, and the lyrics are here.

Just a Closer Walk With Thee

This hymn became popular in the 1930s, when it was featured in big musical conventions were held at African-American churches. In the 1940s, it was sung by southern gospel quartets at all-night rallies.

The earliest recording is probably by the Selah Jubilee Singers (1941). Rosetta Tharpe also recorded it the same year. Red Foley had a big hit with it in 1950. Tennessee Ernie Ford also made the charts with it in the late 1950s, as did Elvis Presley in 1956.

Among the hundreds who have recorded the song are Pat Boone (1952), Louis Armstrong (1959), Patsy Cline (1960), Jimmie Rodgers (1960), Roy Acuff (1962), Mahalia Jackson, Little Richard (1964), The Seekers (1965), Ella Fitzgerald (1967), Patti Page (1967), Gladys Knight & the Pips (1968), Joan Baez (1969), Tammy Wynette (1969), Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash (1969), Merle Haggard (1971), Loretta Lynn (1972), Van Morrison (1991), Crystal Gayle (1996) and Willie Nelson (1996)

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship. You can hear the CD track here.

Just Over in the Glory Land (Acuff and Dean)

Published in 1906, with lyrics by James W. Acuff and music by Emmett S. Dean, this song has been sung by just about every bluegrass band you could think of.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Keep Your Hand On the Plow

This old negro spiritual is also known as Hold On or Gospel Plow. It was collected by Cecil Sharp in 1917 and various other versions were found in the 1920s, but it would have gone back to a much earlier time.

Gwendolyn Sims Warren, in her book, Ev'ry time I Feel the Spirit, had the following to say about it:

Struggling with the tribulations and hardships of slave existence, believers needed the encouragement of others not to give up but to hold on. As a later gospel song says, "Hold to God's unchanging hand" - trust in His deliverance, keep pressing on. This exhortation is based on Luke 9:62, which says, "anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God." Another scripture, 1 Corinthians 9:10, says that those who plow should do so in hope.

"Hold On" imaginatively uses its imagery to hearten, exhort, and teach the message of the scriptures...The song's chorus talks to the whole slave community, from brothers and mothers to deacons and preachers. All must watch their step and hold on to the great gospel plow. The plow and track are interesting images because they related not only to the scriptural passages at the heart of "Hold On," but also to ordinary, everyday activities.

It has been recorded by various artists, including the Clara Ward Singers, Pete Seeger, Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, Big Bill Broonzy, the Golden Gate Quartet, Mahalia Jackson and the Nashville Bluegrass Band. I think I first heard it sung by Odetta. Certainly it's her version I had in mind when I recorded this video. The lyrics are here.

The song was rewritten in 1963 by Alice Wine as a civil rights song called Keep Your Eyes On the Prize. You can hear it sung here by Lew Dite.


This popular spiritual was first sung in the 1920s on the islands of South Carolina between Charleston and Beaufort, by descendants of African slaves. It was sung in the Gullah creole which was the dialect used in the stories of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris. "Kumbaya" means "Come by here" in Gullah. It is likely that the song was taken to Angola by American missionaries after it was published in the 1930s, where it was rediscovered in the late 1950s and returned to North America.

The song was recorded in 1957 by the Folksmiths including Joe Hickerson, who taught folk songs at summer camps, which is presumably why it became popular as a campfire song. Pete Seeger recorded it in 1958, and it was included on Traveling On With the Weavers (1959).

Joan Baez sang the song on her 1962 album, In Concert, Volume 1, and The Seekers recorded it for their first album, Introducing the Seekers (1963). Tommy Leonetti had a hit with it in 1969 and Peter, Paul & Mary recorded it on their 1998 Around the Campfire album

I sang Kumbaya with my sister, Annette, on one of the rare occasions that we managed to get together.

Here is our rendition and here are the lyrics.

Let Me Ride

I don't sing this, but it's a great example of real gospel music, by Memphis Minnie, recorded Tuesday, 15 January 1935.

Let the Lower Lights Be Burning (P. P. Bliss)

D. L. Moody, at one of his meetings, told the story of a shipwreck on a dark and stormy night. A ship was approaching the harbor of Cleveland, when the captain, noticing only one light from the lighthouse as they drew near, asked the pilot if he was quite sure that it was Cleveland harbor, as other lights should have been burning at the harbor mouth. The pilot said he was quite sure, and the captain asked:
“Where are the lower lights?”
“Gone out, sir,” replied the pilot.
“Can you make the harbor, then?” asked the captain.
The pilot replied, “We must, sir, or perish.”
The captain steered the vessel toward the harbor, but missed the channel and struck the rocks, resulting in the loss of many lives.
Moody gave his listeners the following message: “Brothers, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse! Let us keep the lower lights burning!”

In the audience that evening was Mr. Philip P. Bliss, the well-known hymn writer, and Moody's story inspired him to write one of his most popular hymns.

My wife and I heard this sung by the Mevagissey Male Choir when we were visiting Cornwall in August 2014. I think the seagulls add a lot to the atmosphere.

Here is the video of their rendition and here are the lyrics.

Little Moses

Also known as Pharoah's Daughter and Moses in the Bullrushes, this song was recorded by the Carter Family in 1929. Apparently Sara Carter had learned it from an older relative, Myrtle Bayes. It is known to go back to at least 1890 in America. There is another, probably not related, ballad called Finding of Moses, which was sung by the blind ballad singer Michael Moran, who sang in Dublin under the name of Zozimus in the late 1790s and early 1800s.

I first heard this song sung by Joan Baez, from her wonderful first album, simply called Joan Baez (1960).

Here is my rendition of the song, and here are the lyrics.

Llef (Deus Salutis) (Lyrics - D. Charles, Melody - G. H. Jones)

This popular Welsh hymn was written by David Charles (1803-1880), son of David Charles (1762–1834). The tune was composed in 1890 by Griffith Hugh Jones (Gutyn Arfon) (1849–1919) in memory of his brother Dewi.

The hymn was included in the soundtrack for the 1941 John Ford film, How Green Was My Valley.

It is often sung by Welsh Male Voice Choirs, including the two that I belong to. It was one of the songs we sang on our tour of Austria in July 2014, but we sang it in English rather than Welsh, as we are preparing for a mass choir concert and several of the choirs involved do not sing in Welsh.

Here is our performance of the song at Melk Abbey, where we are invisible! Here are the lyrics in Welsh and English.

Lonesome Valley

A popular spiritual from the African-American traditional. The original title was Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley.

Johnny Cash and June Carter sang it and here is Mississippi John Hurt. Here it is sung by Pete Seeger, and again with Joan Baez.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

Lord of the Dance (Sydney Carter)

This song, which uses the tune of the Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts, is Sydney Carter's most popular song. It is one of those songs that is so well-known it has become a bit of a cliche. There is nothing like singing a song over and over at school assemblies to turn you off it for the rest of your life!

Sydney Carter wrote the following words about it: "I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus."

Here is my performance of the song, and here are the lyrics.

Here is a parody written by The Kipper Family, called Bored of the Dance. The lyrics are here.

Make Me a Channel of Your Peace

This song originated as the Prayer of Saint Francis, also known as Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace. Wrongly attributed to the thirteenth-century saint, Francis of Assisi, it cannot be found any earlier than 1912, when it was printed in Paris in French in a small spiritual magazine called La Clochette, published by La Ligue de la Sainte-Messe (The Holy Mass League). It may have been written by league's founder, Fr. Esther Bouquerel.

Its first known translation in English appeared in January, 1927, in the Quaker magazine, Friends' Intelligencer (Philadelphia), where it was attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Cardinal Francis Spellman and Senator Albert W. Hawkes distributed millions of copies of the prayer during and just after the first World War.

There have been many attempts to set the prayer to music, the most successful being the popular hymn version by Sebastian Temple, under the title, "Make Me A Channel of Your Peace. It became an anthem of the Royal British Legion and is usually sung every year at the Service of Remembrance in November at the Royal Albert hall, London. It has been recorded by several singers, including Sinead O'Connor, Susan Boyle, Aled Jones and Daniel O'Donnell.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Many Thousand Gone.

See No More Auction Block

Mary and Martha

I heard this song on an album by Terrea Lea many years ago, and have never heard it since.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship. You can hear that version here.

Mary, Don't You Weep

See Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep.

Michael, Row the Boat Ashore

This song predates the Civil War. Although the origins of the Negro spirituals are generally obscure, quite a lot is known about the history of Michael. Historians of spirituals classify it as both a spiritual and a work song, and some argue that it is actually a sea shanty.

It was first mentioned in 1863 as a song sung by black slaves in the Georgia Sea Islands. Pete Seeger, in The Incompleat Folksinger, mentions that slaves brought from Africa spent their lives on these small islands, out of touch with mainland life. "The only transportation was small boats and strong arms to row them," he writes. The boat crews from different plantations would have their own exclusive rowing song.

There are two main theories on who Michael is. One is that Michael was the name of the oarsman from a particular plantation. More likely is that it refers to the archangel Michael, who is called on to help when the rowing is tough.

The song became very popular in the late 50s and early 60s, partly because it was sung by Harry Belafonte, and partly because it is an easy song to sing in large groups.

I recorded this song with my wife, sister and brother-in-law while staying with them in New Norfolk near Hobart in Tasmania. Here is our rendition and here is a video showing us trying to get it right.

Here are the lyrics.

Morning Has Broken (Eleanor Farjeon)

This hymn of thanksgiving was written by English poet and children's author, Eleanor Farjeon to the celtic tune, Bunessan, and first published in Songs of Praise in 1931. It was originally called A Morning Song (For the First Day of Spring).

It became a big hit when performed by Cat Stevens on his album, Teaser and the Firecat (1971). Stevens, of course, is now Yusuf Islam, but the song fits just as neatly into Islamic beliefs as Christian. In fact it was the only "Christian" song I was able to leave in my school songbook when I taught in a Muslim school.

Others who have performed the song include Judy Collins, Neil Diamond, Art Garfunkel, Nana Mouskouri, Kenny Rogers an Roger Whittaker.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Morte Christe (Isaac Watts, Emrys Jones)

The English hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, represents quite a breakthrough in hymn-writing. Before it was written church songs tended to be merely metered renditions of the Psalms intoned by a cantor and then repeated by the congregation. Isaac Watts (1674-1748) wrote these lyrics as a young man and went on to write some 750 hymns, many of which are still used in church services today. He is justly known as "the father of English hymnody." It was first published in Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1707.

There are several tunes associated with this hymn, but the one used by the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir is Morte Christe, the Welsh setting by Emrys Jones. Although we have the Welsh translation of this song, we only sing the English lyrics, at least for the relatively short time I have been a member of the choir.

Here is a snippet of the song as sung by the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir.

My solo rendition is based on the first tenor part I sing in the choir, but in a more comfortable key. Here are the words.

We sang this hymn on our tour of Vienna and Salzburg in July 2014, as seen in this video, filmed at Peterskirche in Vienna.

Motherless Child

See Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.

My Way's Cloudy

One of the classics of black American gospel music. This song was popularised by The Fisk Jubilee Singers, a group of African American singers set up in 1871. Their early repertoire centered on spirituals, but also included some Stephen Foster songs. Before the formation of this group, most black music was being performed by white musicians and it took a while for audiences to accept that black performers were actually better at performing their own music. Near the end of 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant invited them to perform at The White House.

Here is my rendition of the song. And here are the lyrics.

Nearer My God to Thee (Sarah Flower Adams)

This well-known hymn, written by Sarah Flower Adams in 1841, is based loosely on the story of Jacob's dream. Genesis 28:11–12: "So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it..."

The hymn has been set to several melodies, the three most popular being Horbury by John Bacchus Dykes (1861), Bethany by Lowell Mason (1856) and Propior Deo (Nearer to God) by Arthur Sullivan (1872).

The hymn is well known as the last song the band on the Titanic is supposed to have played before the ship sank.

Here is my rendition to the "Bethany" tune, and here are the lyrics.

Never Look Out of Your Window (Original)

Another of the Christian songs I wrote during my adolescent years, while under the influence of the Baptist Youth Fellowship, and, in particular, the songs of Sydney Carter. Typically, it is full of heavy irony. It is inspired by Revelations 3:20: Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

I included this on my Gospel Ship CD.

You can hear it on here and the lyrics may be seen here.

Noah Found Grace in the Eyes of the Lord (Robert Schmertz)

This must be one of the first songs I ever heard. My parents had a collection of 78 records, including several by Burl Ives, who was quite popular at the time. My brothers and sisters and I, as very young children, would listen to this over and over again and have fun acting out the story. It was also recorded by The Statler Brothers.

Here is my performance, and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

This well-known African-American gospel song has been recorded by many artists, including Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, Albert Ayler, Lena Horne (1946), Sam Cook, Mahalia Jackson, Bessie Griffin, The Seekers and Richie Havens.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

No Hiding Place

This gospel song is based on Revelation 6:15-1: And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders,the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains,and said to the mountains and rocks, fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?

I'm not sure of its origins but it was popularised by The Carter Family. A version of it was featured on an episode of Babylon 5 - "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place."

Here is a good choral rendition of the song. There is a longer version of the song here and yet another version by YouTube singer toolerj1.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

No More Auction Block

According to Alan Lomax's The Folk Songs of North America, this song, also known as Many Thousand Gone, originated in Canada and was sung by former slaves who fled there after slavery was abolished in 1833. Dylan adapted the tune for his great song, Blowing in the Wind.

Here is Paul Robeson singing the song.

I sing it here as part of a trio of songs, the others being Oh Freedom and Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.

The lyrics are here.

Ode To Joy (Beethoven)

Here are the lyrics.

Oh Freedom

An anthem of the anti-slavery movement and of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. To quote from Rosa Parkes, the black woman who refused to move to the back of the bus: My belief in Freedom goes way back to the days when my mother used to sing “Oh Freedom Over Me”. I will never forget those words ... These words formed my feelings about being free. They gave me strength when things seemed bad, and they guided my thoughts about what I was willing to do to be free. So when I declined to give up my seat, it was not that day or that bus in particular. I just wanted to be free like everybody else. I did not want to be continually humiliated over something I had no control over: the color of my skin.

I sing this here as part of a trio of songs, the other two being Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child and No More Auction Block.

Here is a video of Joan Baez singing the song.

You can see my video at the top of the page. The lyrics are here.

Oh Happy Day (Edmond Hawkins)

This song began as an 18th century hymn (O happy day, that fixed my choice) written by English clergyman Philip Doddridge. Based on Acts 8:35 it was set to an earlier melody written in 1704 by J. A. Freylinghausen. By the mid-19th century it had been given a new melody by Edward F. Rimbauld, who added a chorus. It was often used for baptism and confirmation ceremonies in the UK and USA. The modern arrangement, by Edmond Hawkins (1967) omitted all the original verses and used only Rimbault's chorus.

The song has been recorded by hundreds of artists, including Jack Jones (1969), Glen Campbell (1970), Joan Baez (1971), Aretha Franklin (1987), Elvis Presley and Ryan Toby in the movie "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit", 1993).

It is performed here by Ugandan a capella group Aba Taana, who we saw at a choral festival in Riga, Latvia in July 2014.

Lyrics are here.

Oh, Mary, Don’t You Weep

This Negro spiritual from before the American Civil War refers to various Biblical stories. The Mary of the title is Mary of Bethany, who pleaded with Jesus to raise her brother Lazarus from the dead. There are references to the Exodus and crossing of the Red Sea and to the story of Noah's ark. The song was revived during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

The song was first recorded by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1915. Later recordings include The Caravans (1958), The Swan Silvertones (1962), Burl Ives, Pete Seeger (at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival), Take 6 (1988) and Bruce Springsteen (2006).

Here is a field recording of Georgia field hands singing it in 1926, and here is Pete Seeger singing it with Bernice Reagan and Jean Ritchie.

The Civil Rights song, If You Miss Me From the Back of the Bus was written by Charles Neblett of the Freedom SIngers, using this tune.

Here is my rendition of the song and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

O Holy Night

This well-known Christmas carol was composed by Adolphe Charles Adam in 1847 to the French poem "Minuit, chrétiens" by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877). It was translated into English by Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight in 1855, who included an abolitionist message.

This song is believed to be the first piece of music ever to be broadcast on radio, played on the violin by Canadian composer, Reginald Fessenden on 24 December 1906.

It has been recorded by just about everybody you can think of, so I won't bother listing hundreds of performers here, but you might like to listen to Mariah Carey, Perry Como, Celine Dion, Celtic Woman, Charlotte Church or Eric Cartman doing it.

I used to sing this with the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir. Here is a video of the song in a recent performance, featuring Neil Drave (the Newport Nightingale) as soloist.

Here is Tuire Karaharju-Huisman singing the Swedish version, O Helga Natt at a Scandinavian Christmas Concert at The Swedish Church in Melbourne.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

Here is my video of it, and here are the lyrics.

The Old Rugged Cross (George Bennar)

This popular hymn was written in 1912 by evangelist George Bennard (1873-1958). After his conversion in a Salvation Army meeting, he and his wife became brigade leaders before leaving the organization for the Methodist Church. As a Methodist evangelist, Bennard wrote the first verse of The Old Rugged Cross in Albion, Michigan as a response to ridicule which he received at a revival meeting.Bennard traveled with Ed E. Mieras from Chicago to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, where they held evangelistic meetings at the Friends Church from December 1912 to January 1913. During the meetings he finished the song and on the last night of the meeting before a full house, he and Ed Mieras sang it as a duet. Charles H. Gabriel, a well-known gospel-song composer helped Bennard with the harmonies.The completed version was then performed on June 7th, 1913, by a choir of five at the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Pokagon.

The song has been a favorite of country gospel ever since it became the title song of Ernest Tubb's 1952 gospel album; it has been performed by several artists, including Andy Griffith, Chet Atkins, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash and June Carter, Mahalia Jackson, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Ray Price, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, The Statler Brothers, Willie Nelson and George Beverly Shea. It was also one of a number of Christian hymns co-opted by the Ku Klux Klan and sung at cross burnings.

It is sung here by my YouTube friend, Peter Adamson.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics. I have dedicated this song to the memory of Jack Adams, a YouTube friend who has recently passed away. (January 2015)

Old Time Religion

This is a spiritual of African-American origin. It was written down by Charles D. Tillman, who first heard it at an 1889 camp meeting in Lexington, South Carolina. These days it seems to be considered a bit politically incorrect. It is easy to point out all the harms caused by religion throughout history - the Crusades, the Inquisition, the battles between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland - and that's before even looking at other religions. Some Evangelical Christians attack the song because it has no mention of Jesus Christ and implies that there are other ways to salvation than being born again. Probably best not to take it too seriously.

Here is an interesting version by Chris James, playing slide guitar. And a more conventional church version sung by Tanya Goodman Sykes. And, of course, the great Mahalia Jackson.

Here is me singing the song and here are the lyrics.

Here is an enhanced version of this video by Peter Adamson.

One Day at a Time (Marijohn Wilkin and Kris Kristofferson)

This popular gospel song was first recorded by Marilyn Sellars in 1974 and won the 1975 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards for best song.

It has since been recorded by over 200 artists, including Cristy Lane (1980), Lena Martell (1979) for the UK market, The Alexander Brothers, Judy Collins, Phil Coulter, Floyd Cramer, Roger Whittaker, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Don Gibson, George Hamilton IV and Brotherhood of Man.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Palms of Victory

Also known as Deliverance Will Come, and The Way-worn Traveler, this song has been attributed to the Rev. John B. Matthias, a Methodist Episcopal minister in New York state. Although he was not known as a song-writer, there are no other known candidates for its authorship, though some songbooks attribute it to Rev. William McDonald, who published it in Songs of Joy and Gladness (1886). It is thought to have been written in 1836. There is also a version called The Bloodwashed Pilgrim, using the same tune, but with quite different words.

The song is clearly based on the story of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim's Progress, which was widely read in the 19th Century by people of all denominations.

In the early 1920s, the song was recorded by the Carter Family and by Uncle Dave Mason.In 1963, Bob Dylan rewrote the song as Paths of Victory and recorded it for his second album The Times They Are a-Changin', but it was not released until The Bootleg Series (1-3) in 1991.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Poor Little Jesus

I heard this African-American spiritual sung by Odetta. It has also been recorded by Jessye Norman and Mattie Harper.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.

Put Your Hand in the Hand (Gene MacLellan)

This gospel pop song was released as a single from the album Put Your Hand in the Hand by the band Ocean in 1971 and reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 chart.

It was covered in the 1970s by several performers, including Crystal Gayle, Anne Murray, Loretta Lynn, Elvis Presley, Frankie Lane, Donny Hathaway and Joan Baez.

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.

Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram

A Hindu devotional song (Bhajan), very popular in India, especially as it was Mahatma Gandhi's favorite hymn.

It is believed to be based on a mantra by the 17th century Marathi holy poet Ramdas.

I first heard this song sung by The Weavers, but learnt this version from a Gujarati family. I have had the pleasure of singing this with a number of Indian friends. I don't think you would find an Indian anywhere who does not know this song.

There are many videos of the song available on YouTube. Here is a good version by Ananda Shankar, one from a movie, Gandhi, My Father, and another which claims to be the original version.

Here is my rendition of the song and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

Ride the Chariot

This is one of many negro spirituals in which our souls are depicted as travelling to Heaven in a chariot, the best known being Swing Low Sweet Chariot. This is one of the songs the Melbourne Welsh Male Choir sang on our tour to Salzburg and Vienna. In this video, we were joined by some ladies from an American choir at the closing ceremony of the Cantus Salisburgensis at Salzburg Fortress. We also sang the song at a concert in the grounds of the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna and at Golling Fortress.

In Cornwall, we were fortunate to hear the Megavissey Male Choir sing this song at an open air concert on the quay.

Lyrics (of the first tenor part) are here.

Rock My Soul

This song probably began as a negro spiritual, and the earliest published version was printed in Slave Songs of the United States in 1863. Some versions include verses telling the story of Dives and Lazarus. Closely related songs include So High and You Must Come In at the Door, which do not have the Rock My Soul lines.

It has been recorded many times, the best known being the concert version by Peter, Paul and Mary which involved a lot of audience participation. Other artists who recorded it include The Golden Gate Quartet, Lonnie Donegan, Doc Watson, The Kingston Trio, Nana Mouskouri and Elvis Presley.

It is very rarely that I get a chance to sing with both my sons. I had the opportunity when my youngest son flew in for our Chinese New Year family reunion in February, 2010. We only had time to sing one song, so this video is very important to me.

Here is our performance and here are the lyrics.

And now, four and a half years later, I sang it with my six-year-old grandson, Axel.

Rocky Road

An old negro spiritual which sees life as a pilgrimage toward Heaven along a difficult road. The shape-note version was arranged in 1935 by J.C. Brown and Payne Denton.

This is one of the songs from the wonderful Anthology of American Folk Music, a six-album compilation released in 1952 by Folkways Records, comprising eighty-four American folk, blues and country music recordings that were originally issued from 1927 to 1932. This song was recorded in 1928 by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers.

You can also hear an audio file of Emma Keeton and Belton Beasley Memorial singing the song at Old Concord Primitive Baptist Church, Winfield, Alabama in 1977.

I sing this song with guitar accompaniment, though it is normally sung a cappella. The lyrics are here.

Romish Lady

This old Anti-Catholic song, which is said to have been a childhood favourite of Abraham Lincoln, probably originated at the time of the Inquisition. It is mentioned in Beaumont and Fletcher's Knight of the Burning Pestle (1613). Versions have been collected in Virginia and the Ozarks.

Here is my rendition of the song. The lyrics are here.

Scarlet Ribbons (Jack Segal & Evelyn Danzig)

This rather sentimental song about an unlikely small miracle was written in 1949 and has been recorded by many singers, including Juanita Hall, Harry Belafonte, Perry Como, Val Doonican, Jim Reeves, Bobbie Bare, Cliff Richard, Roy Orbison, Gracie Fields, Doris Day, Vera Lynn, Dinah Shore, Renée Geyer, The Kingston Trio, Willie Nelson and Sinéad O'Connor.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

The Seven Joys of Mary

This carol goes back to the fourteenth century, under the title, Joyis Fyve, and recounts seven things about Jesus that made his mother happy. The version I sing is an American version, sung by Burl Ives, which I learnt as a child from his 1952 album, Christmas Day in the Morning. The British version is slightly different as it includes breastfeeding as one of the joys, probably a bit much for an American audience, and also one about writing with a golden pen. The American version has him reading the Bible - presumably not The New Testament!

The song was also recorded by John Jacob Niles and, more recently, by Maddy Prior and June Tabor. Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

gdgest has added this video to his website - Songs of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Shalom Chaverim

Here are the lyrics.

Shine on Me

This spiritual probably began as a hymn sung a white churches but became a popular gospel song among the African American population. One of the most popular versions was by Blind Willie Johnson, though it has also been recorded by Lead Belly, Lonnie Donegan (1958), Jean Redpath and several gospel groups, one of the earliest being Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Singers (1928).

Verses from Amazing Grace are sometimes added to the lyrics, as are floating verses from songs like Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep.

Here are the lyrics.

Simple Gifts (Elder Joseph Brackett)

An old Shaker song which was used as a dance tune. Appropriately, Sydney Carter adopted the tune for his song, Lord of the Dance (see above).

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship. You can hear the track here.


Sometimes written as Sinner Man, this traditional gospel song has been recorded many times. It probably originated around the beginning of the 20th century but most modern recordings are based on the 1959 recording by The Weavers. It is also one of the best known songs sung by Nina Simone. She recorded it on her album, Pastel Blues(1965) in a track that runs for over ten minutes. She said she learned the song as a child from her mother, a Methodist minister who used it at revival meetings. It has also been recorded by Trini Lopez and by The Seekers.

There is an interesting reggae version called Downpressor Man by Peter Tosh, a play on the word "oppressor", which sounds like UPpresser in Jamaican English.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Somebody Got Lost in a Storm

This spiritual from the African-American tradition was often sung by Joan Baez in her early concerts.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Someplace Green (Rod McKuen)

Rod McKuen wrote this song in 1963.
Other songs he wrote include Blessings In Shades of Green, Petula in Green Waters, Pastures Green and The Green Hills of England so it's pretty obvious what his favourite colour was.

Someplace Green
was recorded by Jimmie Rodgers not long after it was written, and McKuen has said that this is his favourite recording of the song.
Others who have recorded it include The Oak Ridge Boys and Kamahl.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

The song goes back to the slavery days in the US when children of slaves were often sold away from their parents. It was performed in the 1870s by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. It has been widely recorded in many different versions.

Though the song can be taken literally, the “motherless child” may also refer to the slave's yearning for his motherland in Africa, though the home in “a long ways from home” could also refer to Heaven.

Among the many who have performed the song are Paul Robeson (1930s), Bobby Breen, in the movie Way Down South (1939), Louis Armstrong (1958), Lou Rawls (1962), Odetta (1960), Ike and Tina Turner (1969), Boney M. (1977), Van Morrison (1987), Hootie and the Blowfish (1994), Tom Jones (1999), Wishbone Ash (2006), Eric Burden, in the movie The Blue Hour (2007) and Sweet Honey in the Rock (1998). Mahalia Jackson sings it as part of her performance of Summertime.

I sing it here as part of a trio of songs, the others being Oh Freedom and No More Auction Block.

The lyrics are here.

Sowing in the Mountain, Reaping In the Valley

This popular gospel song shares verses with a number of other songs. It has been recorded by The Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston and Ramblin' Jack Elliott among others.

I sing it here with my six-year-old grandson, Axel. Here are the lyrics we sing.

Stand By Me (Charles Tindley)

Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley (1851 - 1933) was an American Methodist minister and gospel music composer. He founded one of the largest Methodist congregations serving the African-American community on the East Coast of the United States. The son of a slave father and free mother, Tindley grew up among slaves. After the Civil War, he moved to Philadelphia, where he worked as a hod carrier. He later became the sexton of Bainbridge St. Methodist Episcopal Church. Self-educated, he qualified for ordination in the Methodist Episcopal Church by examination, with high ranking scores, and served as pastor at several districts throughout Delaware and Maryland.

Tindley is recognized as one of the founding fathers of American gospel music. Five of his hymns appear in the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal, and his composition I'll Overcome Someday is believed to be the basis for the Civil Rights anthem, We Shall Overcome. He wrote over 45 hymns, often to accompany his sermons.

Stand By Me has become a standard of the gospel repertoire, and has been recorded by several singers, including Elvis Presley.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Standing In the Need of Prayer

This gospel song is an African American spiritual of unknown origin which became well known after the publication of The Book of American Negro Spirituals (1925), compiled by James and Rosamund Johnson. It was a call and response song which would originally have been sung unaccompanied.

I sing it here with Matthew Vaughan who I met up with in Bangkok in March 2011. Unfortunately I had almost lost my voice after singing with the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir, so this is one of only two songs we attempted. I tried to get Matthew to do most of the work!

The lyrics are here.

Steal Away (Wallace Willis)

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 this 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.

The song has been recorded by a lot of performers. Two excellent renditions on YouTube are by Bernice Reagon, and Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Storm Clouds Gathering (Virginia McJunkin)

Virginia McJunkin is one of YouTube's finest exponents of old time mountain music. Her specialty is gospel songs, and she is a prolific writer in this genre. Her channel, 1952banjo, is highly recommended.

Though I enjoy a lot of her songs, this one especially appealed to me in its dramatic use of imagery. Here is her rendition and a cover by Jack G Adams, who sings a lot of her songs.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.

Sufi Dancing

Sufi is a kind of worship through dance which originated in the 12th century. Sufi fraternities were first organized with a master (sheikh) and disciples (dervishes, from Persian "darwish") as a way of following Islamic beliefs. Sufism is attributed to a series of revered saints, beginning with the prophet Muhammad himself. The dance consists of whirling around, with the left foot as the axis while the right foot makes a 360 degree rotation. The dancer becomes entranced through the repetitious movement. The beautiful accompanying music begins with a hymn honouring the Prophet and ending with passionate songs of praise and a final amen, which the audience joins in with.

On our first night in Bursa we were invited into a local musical gathering, where we met Ahmed, a retired school principal who likes to meet foreign tourists and show them around. He suggested we accompany him and some tourists he had met to a dance school where a different group of students performed a sufi dance every evening. We enjoyed it so much that we found our way there again the next night to see it again.

This video, taken by my wife, shows about five minutes out of around twenty minutes of dance, so it is a bit disjointed. Hopefully it will give some impression of the beauty of this highly spiritual form of dance and the accompanying deeply religious music.

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (Wallis Willis)

This gospel song was first heard sung by a black slave by the name of Wallace Willis, sometime before 1862. He was inspired by the Red River which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the Prophet Elijah being taken to heaven by a chariot. Some have claimed that both this song and another of Willis's songs Steal Away had hidden messages referring to the Underground Railroad.

Alexander Reid, a minister at a Choctaw boarding school, heard Willis singing these two songs and transcribed the words and melodies. He sent the music to the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee who popularized the songs during a tour of the United States and Europe.

This song was revived during the 1960s folk revival and Civil Rights struggle; it was performed by several artists, including Joan Baez at the 1969 Woodstock festival.

The song was adopted by England rugby union fans during the last match of the 1988 season.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

We also heard this song in Leipzig in June 2014, sung by an a capella group called Amarcord. Here is the video.

This Little Light of Mine

Originally an African American spiritual, with a theme of the need for unity, this song was widely performed by gospel groups in the 1930s, and there are various versions, both Christian and secular. Alan Lomax collected this example in 1939.

The song became a Civil Rights anthem in the 1950s and 1960s. It is also popular as a children's song.

The song has been recorded by many singers, including King Louis Narcisse, Guy Carawan, Paul Robeson, Casey Anderson, Barbara Dane, Bob Gibson, The New Seekers and Bruce Springsteen but my favourite version is probably Odetta's.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

This Train is Bound For Glory

This well-known gospel song is often wrongly attributed to Woody Guthrie, perhaps because he used it for the title of his novel, Bound For Glory.

Here is a great performance by Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Here is my own performance and here are the lyrics.

This song is the third track on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

This World is Not My Home (Albert E. Brumley)

This popular hymn was written by Albert Edward Brumley (1905-1977), who wrote over 800 gospel songs, including I'll Fly Away, Turn Your Radio On, I'll Meet You In The Morning and He Set Me Free.

This song was popularised by The Carter Family and was the inspiration for Woody Guthrie's I Ain't Got No Home. He felt that songs like this encouraged the poor migrant workers to accept their fate and not take action (such as striking) to improve their lot in this world, as they would find their reward in Heaven. His song reversed the message he saw in this one and encouraged workers to aim for a better world in this lifetime.

Here it is sung by Jim Reeves. And here it is sung by The King's Heralds and here sung in the Navajo language.

And here is my rendition.

Three Motets - St. Thomas Boys Choir at Thomaskirchhof, Leipzig

On 24th June 2014 we went to the square outside St. Thomas Church in Leipzig to hear this famous choir.

The St. Thomas Boys Choir dates back 800 years. Thanks to the influence of the many St. Thomas Cantors, the most famous being Johann Sebastian Bach, who was Cantor from 1723 to 1750, Leipzig and the St. Thomas Church in particular became the centre of Protestant church music in Europe. The St. Thomas Boys Choir is committed to continuing the great tradition of Bach's musical legacy.

Here is the video of the songs we heard.

Tramp on the Street (Addison Crabtre and Grady Cole)

The first version of this song, Only a Tramp, was written by Dr. Addison D. Crabtre and published in 1877. It tells of a night watchman finding a dead tramp who has died of starvation. The second verse goes on to ask,

If Jesus was here and asked at your door
A place to rest in, and food from your store
As once he thus wander'd with poverty's stamp
Would you turn Him away as only a tramp?"

The chorus is almost the same as in the modern version:

He's somebody's darling, somebody's son,
For once he was fair, once he was young,
Yes, someone has rocked him a baby to sleep,

Now only a tramp found dead in the street.

Grady Cole, a gospel singer and songwriter adapted Crabtre's song, renaming it The Tramp On The Street. Though there was little change to the chorus, Cole changed the anonymous tramp to Lazarus who, we are told in the Bible, was left to "die like a tramp on the street." He then went on to recall the death of Jesus on the cross, saying he was also left to "die like a tramp on the street." His third verse goes back to Crabtre's idea, asking how we would respond if Jesus should "come and knock on your door and ask you to give the crumbs from your floor." Cole's version ends with a second chorus referring to Jesus as "King of the Jews" and names Mary as the mother who "rocked her darling to sleep."

The Tramp On the Street was first recorded by Grady Cole and his wife Hazel in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1939. It has since been recorded by several artists, including Hank Williams, Molly O'Day, Joan Baez, The Lewis Family, Rose Maddox, Patsy Montana, Peter, Paul and Mary and the Staple Singers. Molly O'Day's version, sung to a different tune from the Coles recording, has been the most influential as most recordings since then have been basically covers of her rendition.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Troubled in my Mind

Here are the lyrics.

Twelve Gates to the City

I first heard this gospel song performed by The Weavers, the great folk group formed in 1947 by Pete Seeger, Lee Hayes, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

Vanity of Vanities (Original)

This song was inspired by Pete Seeger's Turn Turn Turn. It is based closely on verses from Ecclesiastes (1:1-15).

This song was included on my second CD, Laws of Chance, and later on Gospel Ship as well.

You can watch it performed here.
The lyrics are here.

Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy

I first heard this gospel song from the West Indies sung by The Weavers. It has also been recorded by Harry Belafonte and Kiri Te Kanawa among others.

Here is my rendition of the song and here are the lyrics.

Wade in the Water

This classic gospel song was apparently sung to provide advice to escaping slaves - if they travel along the water's edge or across a body of water, this will throw the dogs off their scent.

Here it is performed by Judy Henske and here by Bob Dylan.

Here are the lyrics. See the top of the page for my performance.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship, and here is a video which presents this track from the CD.

Walk in Jerusalem Just Like John

Also known as I Wanna Be Ready, this song refers symbolically to the Book of Revelation, which was supposedly written by the disciple John. It is one of those great spirituals sung by the African slaves in which formerly downtrodden but righteous people finally achieve victory over their oppressors. The lyrics and upbeat melody emphasize the positives, the hopefulness of finding a place in the world where the have-nots are finally recognized as worthy of honor. The negatives - the lifelong, traumatic experience of slavery are not stated but subtly underpin the song.

Here are the lyrics. See the top of the page for my performance.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship, and here is a video which presents this track from the CD.

Wayfaring Stranger

The origins of this traditional folk song are largely unknown. Some believe it came from Ireland, others from the Catskills or the Appalachians, and some believe it comes from the African-American tradition.

Among the many artists who have recorded this song are Trace Adkins, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Eva Cassidy, Burl Ives, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Patty Griffin, Emmy Lou Harris (Heartaches and Highway), Allison Krauss, Roger McGuinn, Natalie Merchant (House Carpenter's Daughter), Bill Monroe, Dolly Parton, Jerry Reid, Tony Rice (Cold on the Shoulder), Almeda Riddle (1959), Dusty Springfield, Jo Stafford, Doc Watson and Jack White (Cold Mountain Soundtrack).

You can see my performance and read the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

We Are Crossing Jordan River

This is one of the two songs that Joan Baez sang with Bob Gibson at her debut performance at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

This song is on my third CD, Gospel Ship.

Were You There? (Sydney Carter)

Another song by controversial Christian song-writer, Sydney Carter (1915-2004).

Like Judas and Mary, it is based on the idea expressed in Matthew 25:40 - "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Here is my performance and the lyrics are here.

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?

This African-American spiritual dates back to some time before 1865. It is one of many spirituals drawing a parallel between the suffering of Jesus, as described in the four Gospels of the New Testament, and that of the African slaves yearning for freedom and release. Other similar songs include They Led My Lord Away, and He Never Said a Mumblin' Word.

The song would originally have been sung in "lining out" style, where the preacher or leader sings the first line, which is then repeated by the congregation responds.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

We Shall Not Be Moved

The origins of this song are uncertain. It seems to have begun with the title I Shall Not be Moved, and it has been found in hymn books attributed to V. O. Fossett, who supposedly wrote it in 1944. However it goes back much earlier and may have its roots in African American music. The biblical reference to the tree comes from the first Psalm (Verses 2-3): But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither, And in whatever he does, he prospers.

It was adapted by activists in the 1930s, with the "I" changed to "We" and became a popular anthem of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, especially for sit-ins where participants refused to be moved on by the police.

There are many versions of the song, as the lyrics can obviously be changed to fit a variety of situations, from Union strikes to football games. There is also a Spanish version, No Nos Moveron, which was banned by Franco and made a huge impression when sung by Joan Baez on her first tour of Spain. Some people have suggested that the Spanish song came first, but there does not appear to be any clear evidence of this.

One of the earliest recordings is by Charley Patton in 1929. An even earlier one is by John Jacob Niles and Marion Kirby, with the title Just Like a Tree, recorded in 1926. Among the many artists who have recorded it since then are Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

We Shall Overcome

Here are the lyrics.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus (Scriven and Converse)

Joseph M. Scriven originally wrote this in 1855 as a poem to comfort his mother, who was living in Ireland while he was in Canada. As he originally published the poem anonymously, he only received full credit for it in the 1880s. The tune was composed by Charles Crozat Converse in 1868. The hymn has many versions with different lyrics in several languages. There is a Japanese version, Itsukushimi Fukaki (いつくしみ深き), which means "Deep Affection"). During World War 1, soldiers sang a song to this tune called When This Bloody War is Over. Alan Price used the tune for his song Changes in the 1973 film O Lucky Man!, a song which was later used in a Volkswagen commercial in the 1980s.

The song has been recorded by many artists including Aretha Franklin (1972), Ike and Tina Turner (1974), Dolly Parton and the one and only Mahalia Jackson.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

What You Gonna Do? (Original)

Another of my early songs - about the day of judgment! I guess it was inspired by songs such as Sinner Man.

This song is on my CD, Gospel Ship.

You can see my video of the song and the lyrics are here.

When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder (J M Black)

James Milton Black was a Methodist Sunday-school teacher in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He told the story that in 1893 he met a poorly-clothed fourteen-year-old girl whose father was a drunkard. She accepted his invitation to attend the Sunday-school, and joined the young people’s society of which he was president. One evening at a consecration-meeting, when members answered the roll-call by repeating Scripture texts, she failed to respond. This inspired him to speak of what a sad thing it would be to be absent when one's own name is called in the Book of Life. He wanted to find something appropriate to sing, but could find nothing in the books. On his way home, after visiting the child's home and calling a doctor to attend her for pneumonia, the thought came to him that he should make such a hymn, but he dismissed the idea until he reached home. Then the words of the first stanza came to him in full. In fifteen minutes more he had composed the other two verses. Going to the piano, he played the music just as it is found to-day in the hymn-books, note for note, and never dared to change a single word or a note of the piece since.

In 1945, British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill created a stir in the British press when he quoted the hymn in response to a question about when the Big Three. He replied that he did not know, adding irreverently, "When the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there." The British press expressed surprise that Churchill, an Anglican, was familiar with a Methodist hymn popular at revival meetings. The Free Press speculated that he might well have heard the "catchy" tune sung in the street by the Salvation Army.

This song was sung in the Academy Award winning movie, Sergeant York. It has been covered by many performers, including Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and the Statler Brothers.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

And here is a very special collaboration with Peter Adamson, with appearances by some of our favourite YouTube stars.

When the Saints Go Marching In

This song began as a gospel hymn called When the Saints are Marching In, written by Katherine Purvis in 1896, with music by James Milton Black. It was changed to its present form in 1927, and soon became a jazz staple. It was traditionally used as a funeral march in New Orleans, where it would be played as a slow dirge as the coffin was carried to the cemetery, and then as an upbeat Dixieland-style tune on the way back. The New Orleans football team named themselves the Saints, after the song.

Early versions of the song are apocalyptic, using imagery from Revelations, though it is often watered down in modern versions. For example, in the version I sing, "when the sun refuse to shine" is sung as "when the sun begins to shine" which tends to render the apocalyptic message meaningless.

Louis Armstrong was the first to popularise the song nationally in the 1930s, to the dismay of his sister who thought it was blasphemous to treat a church hymn as a jazz band tune. It was also brought into the rock and roll repertoire by Fats Domino and also by Bill Haley and His Comets. Others who have recorded it include The Weavers, Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, B.B. King, Dolly Parton and Bruce Springsteen.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

Here is Axel singing it with me and here is a version I performed with Lew Dite.

When the Stars Begin to Fall

There are many different versions of this African-American spiritual, also known as My Lord, What a Morning (sometimes spelt "Mourning"). The earliest version I know of was published in Slave Songs of the United States by Allen, Ware and Garrison in 1867, though only the chorus is the same as the version I sing here.

The version I sing is the one recorded by the Australian folk group, The Seekers, in 1966, featuring the beautiful voice of Judith Durham, though I first heard it sung by The Weavers.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Our choir sang this song on our tour of Austria in July 2014. In this video we were meeting for a rehearsal of Mozart's Missa Solemnis at the Salzburg Cathedral (5th July) and, while waiting to move to the rehearsal room, we tested the acoustics of the cathedral with this song. The choir also sang this song at an a capella concert at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.

We also heard it sung by the Mevagissey Male Choir when we were touring Cornwall a little later that same year.

Where Shall I Be?

There are many versions of this song from the African-American tradition. One of the best known is the Carter Family lyrics, which are the ones on which my rendition is based, though the introductory chorus is based on the choral version I sing with the Welsh choir.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Where We'll Never Grow Old (James C. Moore)

James C. Moore wrote this Southern gospel song in 1914. It has been covered by many singers, including Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, Patty Griffin, Aretha Franklin and Eddie Arnold.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics. This is another video which has been enhanced by Peter Adamson. I was honoured to have this song chosen as the first production from his new studio. The result is here.

Who Will Ride the Chariot?

See She'll be Coming Round the Mountain in American Songs.

Will the Circle be Unbroken? (Ada R. Habershon and Charles Gabriel)

See Can the Circle be Unbroken?

The Word of God (Catherine Faber)

Dr. Catherine Faber is a prolific songwriter, who specialises in songs based on science fiction and fantasy subjects, often known as "filk."

This song, written in 1994, and also known as God Wrote the Rocks, is probably one of the best answers I have heard to the proponents of the pseudo-science of Creationism.

Here is my cover of the song, requested by YouTube friend, Jennifer Burdoo. And here are the lyrics.

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