Sweet Little Jesus Boy is a 19th century slave spiritual that because it lacks repetition may have been written by a single now unknown author (unusual for spirituals).  The sheer humility of the song again demonstrates that in America it is exceedingly hard to dismiss the witness of the slaves to the salvation that is only in Jesus.
I'll Fly Away is a public domain standard that simply states the hope of the resurrection in those who believe in Jesus.Traditional camp meeting songs, about our resurrection in the body, written during times of great suffering, often refer to this life as 'prison'. This song and many other American funeral songs is on our CD entitled Gloryland - American Funeral Songs.  Link to the web-page for Gloryland for historical descriptions of the American funeral songs we recorded. 
"It is utterly beautiful to me; and it moves me infinitely more than any other music can. ... in the Jubilees and their songs, American has produced the perfectest flower of the ages."

Selected Historical


Dark Midnight When I Rise
The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Intriduced the World to the Music of Black America, 2000.
by Andrew Ward.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 19 Union Square West, New York 10003

Ozark Folk Songs, Vol IV
Religious Songs and Other Items, 1946, by Vance Randolph.
The Historical Society of Missouri, University of Missouri Press, 1980, Columbia, Missouri 65211

Eli Shepperd's Plantation Songs, 1901, by Martha Young.
Sergeant Kirkland's Museum and Historical Society, Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1997

Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit, 1997, by Gwendolin Sims Warren
Henry Holt and Company, 115 West 18th Street, New York 10011

Baptist Hymnal, 1956
edited by Walter Hines Sims
Convention Press, Nashville, Tennessee

African American Heritage Hymnal, 2001
GIA Publications, 7404 South Mason, Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60638


History and latest recordings in gospel, jazz, blues, soul, zydeco

Negro spirituals

American popular music before 1900

Notes on the music of the First Congregational Church of Berkeley

Lined-out hymnody and pslmody

Documenting the American south.
North American slave narratives; The southern homefront 1861-1865; The church in the southern black community

Frederick Douglass autobiography, "Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, his early Life as a Slave, his Escape from Bondage, and his Complete History to the Present Time", 1881.

Atlantic Monthly article on Negro Spirituals, 1867

*   *   *
America's music was born in Nashville when the Fisk Jubilee Singers brought to worldwide recognition the Christian spirituals of American slavery.  After the Civil War, Northern missionaries, answering the Lord's call to go south and teach the freedmen, found there a long-suffering people with a deep and great faith in the same Lord and Savior, Jesus.  This gospel reunion produced Fisk University and the Jubilee Singers and ultimately America's music. 
"I did not, when a slave, fully understand the deep meaning of those crude and apparently incoherent songs. I was, myself, within the circle, so that I could then neither hear nor see as those without might see and hear.  They breathe the prayer and com- plaint of souls overflowing with bitterest anguish."
Historical Descriptions of Some of
the Songs that We Perform

Atomic Power
, written by brothers Ira and Charlie Louvin during the height of the Cold War, reminds us that with Jesus, in any situation, even nuclear war, there is nothing to fear.  The Louvins worked at a Memphis post office and did a night-time radio show called 'Songs that Tell a Story'.
Balm in Gilead is an African-American slave spiritual that was first popularized by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1871. The slaves who wrote it still witness to God's overcoming power in the midst of nearly unimaginable suffering.  Some think it was a congregational response that Jesus is the answer to the Old Testament lament in Jer 8:22 that there is nothing and no one to comfort and heal the people.
Children Go is our partially re-written version of a 'pile-up' slave spiritual originally called "The Twelve" or "The Twelve Disciples".  Repetitive songs of this sort were useful where people were largely illiterate and learned the Bible through an oral tradition of songs.  Our additional lyrics were taken from New Testament passages about what it means to be a servant of the Lord Jesus.
Christ Was Born in Bethlehem is a 'lined-out" Old Regular Baptist hymn from 1920's Kentucky that has 18th century Scottish origins.  "Lined and led" or "lined-out" hymns involve the congregation singing one line at a time after an elder chants the line.  It traces back to medieval psalms singing.
Christ Child's Lullaby is an English translation of an 1855 Gaelic carol from the Outer Hebrides Islands called 'Taladh Chriasda'.  Father Ranald Rankin wrote a score of verses for his congregation in Maidert to sing in Gaelic at midnight mass on Christmas Eve, as it is to this day in Scotish churches.
Down in the River has repeating lyrics characteristic of early American camp meeting songs.  This made them easy to learn and good for worship out where few had hymnals.  This variation of 'Down in the Valley to Pray' is a call to repent before the Lord Jesus in prayer since going "down in the river" has to do with the baptism for the remission of sins.
Everlasting Arms was written by Rev. Anthony Showalter in 1888 while composing letters to two former singing school pupils who buried their wives on the same day.  Singing schools existed as an arm of evangelism in 19th century rural America to teach believers how to sing gospel songs.
Fountain Filled with Blood pairs an early American camp meeting tune with words written in 1772 by William Cowper, an English colleague of John Newton.  He wrote them eight years after reading the Bible and being converted while in an insane asylum.
Glory Glory Hallelujah is 200+ year-old African-American 'plantation song' that rings with the exhuberant joy of those who believe God's word and know their victory is near.  Slave spirituals usually cannot be traced to a single writer but to community origins, and the same first lines are common to many of the songs.
Heard it from Heaven Today is an early 19th century camp meeting song that probably was a Christmas carol.  It succinctly captures the longing for Jesus that his Word inspires in all who hear it.
I'm on a Battlefield is a 1900's gospel song that became popular in the 1930's after an arrangement by the father of gospel, Thomas Dorsey.  The blues style brought criticism, to which Dorsey remarked, "When I realized how hard some folks were fighting the gospel idea, I was determined to carry the banner."
I Saw the Light was written in the 1940's by Hiriam "Hank" Williams under the pseudonym 'Luke the Drifter', because his record label worried that gospel would hurt sales.
I Wonder as I Wander is an Appalachian carol written by folklorist and world-famous 1920's singer, John Jacob Niles in 1934.  Niles was drawn to mountain folk songs while working as a surveyor in Appalachia.  It is ironic that the best known and finest Appalachian carol was written by a city guy.
Just a Closer Walk  with Thee is 100+ year-old gospel song of unknown origin that resurfaced in 1940 and in a year swept the country.  Our version is from a 1941 swing version by Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Lead Me On and On is based on a public domain song of unknown origin first recorded in 1927 by an a cappella African American group, the Silverleaf Quartet of Norfolk.  We re-wrote the verses to retell of the trust in Jesus shown by both the criminal crucified and Mary at the empty tomb.
Paul and Silas is a bluegrass standard that retells the great story of Paul and Silas in the Phillippi where they sang and prayed the jailer and his family into the Kingdom.  Even in jail. . .
Revive Us Again is a Civil War hymn written as a prayer to the Lord Jesus, at the low point of the War in 1863 by a northerner, William MacKay.
River to You was written by Lori Arthur as a mother's prayer upon the birth of her son, in hopes that Jesus would make her into the kind of mother from whom "out of her heart, shall flow rivers of living water".
That Home Far Away, a 19th century bluegrass standard, like  many gospel songs from hard times, expresses "nothing but patience for this life, nothing but triumph in the next."
Way Down is a prayer written by Lori Arthur that asks the Lord Jesus to enable us to hear and take to heart the instruc-tion, "Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devoir.  Resist him, firm in your faith."
We Shall Walk Through the Valley is an African-American slave spiritual that so simply pulls the Old and New Testa-ments together, with the heartfelt lyricism of the finest poet and the understanding of the most learned theologian.
Wondrous Love, a plaintive song of unknown origin, was first collected in 1811 in a camp meeting song book, 'A General Selection of the Newest and Most Admired Hymns and Spiritual Songs Now in Use'.  Melodies of many early camp meeting songs used "gapped scales" of only five or six notes to produce their easily sung and uniquely lonesome sound.
Why, an early 19th century slave spiritual, resurfaced as a civil rights protest song in the late 1950's.  The unknown song writer gives the same advice as David did ages ago, "Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him, fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices".
"Fervently do we pray that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.  Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's 250  years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'"