A Poor Wayfaring Stranger

After writing the post about being a stranger or sojourner on earth, this folk song came to mind. Not a surprise, since it’s based on the same passage in Psalm 119.

“I am a sojourner on the earth …” Psalm 119:19a

The origins of the song are a little murky. During and for several years after the Civil War, it was called the Libby Prison Hymn, because the words had been inscribed by a dying Union soldier incarcerated in Libby Prison, a notorious Confederate prison in Richmond, Virginia. It was said that the soldier composed the song, but this was not true — it had been published several years before the war began. There are many variations of this song, and it has been performed by many artists over the years, a testament to the universal appeal. At times we all feel a longing for our real, heavenly home.

For more gospel music see these posts:

On the Wings of a Dove

Oh Happy Day

Precious Lord Take My Hand

Deeply Rooted

While driving to church last week, my husband and I were listening to a CD that included the song “I Shall Not Be Moved.” It’s an American folk song, probably dating back to the slave era. Nobody knows who wrote it, but over the years it’s been used by the labor and cilvil rights movements. In the 1930’s it was adapted by activists who changed the lyrics to “We Shall Not Be Moved, to reflect a collective voice of protest.

It is based on these verses from Jeremiah 17:7-8:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

When we our faith is deeply rooted like this, we can relax and enjoy the good gifts of God. Listen and enjoy!

For more spirituals see these posts:

This Little Light of Mine

It’s Me

The Black Church–This is Our Story This is Our Song–Film Review

This Little Light of Mine

No, contrary to popular belief, this song did not originate as a African-American spiritual.  It actually made it into the American folk music tradition when it was found and documented by John Lomax in 1939. At Goree State Farm in Huntsville, Texas, Lomax recorded Doris McMurray singing the spiritual. The recording can still be found in the Library of Congress archives.

The author is Harry Dixon Loes, a gospel songwriter and music director from Michigan who worked at the Moody Bible Institute. The song was written for children in the 1920s. It sounds similar to other Southern spirituals of the time which probably accounts for it’s often mistaken attribution (even in hymnals).

It was popularized during the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and is still used in Sunday Schools today.  We often sing it on Via de Cristo weekends.  The repetitive lyrics are lively and easy to learn.

Free at Last

Free at Last was thought to have been created by the slaves fighting in the Civil War. The best documentation is in the writings of the white officers during the Civil War. Many wrote in their diaries of the music the slaves, now black soldiers, would sing and create at night around the campfires during the Civil War. The white officers were deeply moved by the courage and passion for freedom expressed in the music. They noted in their journals that when the black soldiers would go into battle the next day after singing these songs, the black soldiers were unstoppable.