This week the theater is abuzz with gospel tunes as the Crowns cast prepare for the first preview performance on Saturday. With the launch of the run just days away, we have compiled the second half of our guide to the tunes that inspired this 10th anniversary production of Crowns. Check out these classic hymns—you can also listen to a playlist that includes Opus 1 of “All Hymns Considered” on the Goodman’s YouTube page.
"His Eye on the Sparrow"
Written in 1905, “His Eye on the Sparrow” is a popular gospel hymn in African American church services. The song was originally penned by two white songwriters, lyricist Civilla D. Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel, but is most associated with Ethel Waters, shown in the video above. Ms. Waters is so well-known for this song that she even used the title for her autobiography.
"How I Got Over"
Clara Ward of The Famous Ward Singers composed this gospel hymn in 1951, which Mahalia Jackson went on to sing at the historic 1963 march on Washington. The recording above is from Aretha Franklin’s 1972 album Amazing Grace, recorded with the Southern California Community Church Choir.
"Just a Closer Walk with Thee"
We now hear Clara Ward herself sing in this recording of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” a hymn that dates back to the later half of the nineteenth century. It is a popular choice in traditional New Orleans jazz funerals and can be played as an instrumental or vocal.
"Follow the Drinking Gourd"
“Follow the Drinking Gourd” has deep roots as an American folksong, and was said to be used as a code with directions for escape via the Underground Railroad. The term “drinking gourd” refers in part to an actual gourd that was hollowed out and used to ladle water; in the song it’s referencing the constellation the Big Dipper, which contains the North Star. Escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad used the North Star to guide them north in the night.
"Walk All Over God's Heaven"
“Walk All Over God’s Heaven,” also known as “Heav’n, Heav’n” or “I Got Shoes,” was created during slavery times and is an example of a protest spiritual. In its original version lines like “all God’s children got shoes” declared that all people deserved these necessary items, which most slaves were denied. The most provocative line, which is left out of some versions (like the one above) says “everybody talkin’ ‘bout Heav’n ain’t goin’ there” points out the hypocrisy of many slave masters, who would go to church on Sunday and then treat their slaves in incredibly immoral ways. God’s children have a place in heaven, but the oppressors “ain’t goin’ there.”
Cover Image: "Mahalia Jackson" http://life.biblechurch.org/slifejom/holistic-music/1811-lift-up-your-heads-mahalia-jackson.html (accessed June 22, 2012).