|Marla Dixon, with all-star support, singing 'Over in the Gloryland'|
Among the most popular titles are:
Down By the Riverside
Does Jesus Care?
On Higher Ground
Over in the Gloryland
Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down
His Eye is on the Sparrow
In the Sweet By and By
The Old Rugged Cross
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Just a Closer Walk With Thee
Take My Hand, Precious Lord
We Shall Walk Through the Streets of the City
Where He Leads Me
It is No Secret
The Lily of the Valley
The Saints Go Marching In
I began to wonder how it came about that such tunes have a place alongside the old pop songs, blues and rags in our repertoire.
It's easy to believe the myth that spirituals were sung in the cotton fields by toiling slaves in the mid-Nineteenth Century and that - when jazz bands came into being - they would have played them and from about 1910 would have 'jazzed them up'.
But I'm not sure it's that simple. I have found no evidence that this happened. For example, can somebody please let me know of any recordings of spirituals or hymns by jazz bands before 1927? I think there's nothing in the early recordings of the ODJB, King Oliver, Kid Ory and so on.
Until somebody does, I prefer the following explanation.
In 1927, Columbia Records twice recorded the great Sam Morgan Band in New Orleans. The recordings were made in the Godchaux Building, 527, Canal Street. Four tunes were recorded on each occasion. The resulting eight recordings are still considered a hugely important part of the history of traditional jazz and have influenced hundreds of bands over the decades.
The legend is that - like other jazz bands - the Sam Morgan Band played mostly for dancing and did not include religious music in its dance hall repertoire. However, one of the recording engineers was very keen on such tunes as Down By The Riverside and suggested that Sam's band should record them.
So the Band included three 'spirituals' in the eight recordings - and the rest is history: if Sam could do it, why not the rest of us?
Here's a stirring modern example of a spiritual in a jazz band performance. In this video, we see two of the best bands in the world joining together to perform Over in the Gloryland - one of those spirituals made famous in 1927 by Sam Morgan: CLICK HERE.