dinsdag 3 september 2013

I'll Overcome Some Day (1900) / We Will Overcome (1950) / We Shall Overcome (1952) / I'll Be Alright (1955)

"We Shall Overcome" began as a gospel hymn "I'll Overcome Some Day" or "I'll be Alright" and union song "We Will Overcome", but it was transformed by its four authors into the rallying cry of the black Freedom Movement for civil rights.


The song is credited, for publishing purposes, to Horton, Carawan, Seeger and Hamilton. This is obviously inaccurate but this credit is particularly important for two reasons: Harold Leventhal, the folk music sage who managed the Weavers and Seeger, knew the song would be claimed by some music industry sharpie if singers involved with the movement didn't step in. Also, the royalties, initially assigned to SNCC, have, since that group's demise, gone to the Highlander Center where they are distributed in small grants for cultural expression to African-American groups working in the South.

In 1945, the words and tune came together in a song called "I'll Overcome Some Day," with additional words by Atron Twigg and a revised musical arrangement by Kenneth Morris, a Chicago gospel singer. Morris' musical arrangement was most likely derived from the 19th Century hymn "I'll Be Alright".
African-Americans on the remote Sea Islands off the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida sang "I Will Overcome" in the late 19th Century. One source states "I Will Be Alright" originated outside Charleston on Johns Island, South Carolina, with the same melody as today's "We Shall Overcome".

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Roberta Martin wrote another version ("I'll Be Like Him"), the last 12 bars of which are part of the current version of "We Shall Overcome."

Pete Seeger, who had the greatest hand in fashioning the song, also thinks it originated from the 19th century hymn, "I'll Be All Right" with an additional lyrical debt to Rev. Charles Tindley's 1903 "I'll Overcome Some Day"
In 1946, at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, Zilphia Horton, one of the people who ran that storied institution for the study of radical strategies, heard an adaptation of Tindley's song by members of a tobacco workers union in Charleston, South Carolina. A worker named Lucille Simmons had changed the words to fit their struggle--most importantly, substituting "We" for "I."
However, a letter printed on the front page of the February 1909, United Mine Workers Journal states that, "Last year at a strike, we opened every meeting with a prayer, and singing that good old song "WE Will Overcome". The lyrics and music were not printed, so we don't know for sure if this is the song we are exploring in this playlist, but the mention is significant, since this is the first mention of the song's being sung in a secular context and mixed race setting. It is also (if the quotation is accurate) the first instance of the use of the first person plural pronoun "WE" of a movement song instead of the singular "I" usual in the gospel and spiritual tradition.
Pete Seeger also mentiones it in the interview BELOW.

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Zilphia Horton on the Picket Line Chattanooga, TN, 1940s.

Pete Seeger talks about the history of "We Shall Overcome" in 2006

The song was published in September 1948 as “We Will Overcome” in the People’s Songs Bulletin Vol 3 # 8 (a publication of People’s Songs, an organization of which Pete Seeger was the director and guiding spirit). It appeared in the bulletin as a contribution of and with an introduction by Zilphia Horton, then music director of the Highlander Folk School of Monteagle, Tennessee, an adult education school that trained union organizers. It was her favorite song and she taught to countless others, including Pete Seeger, who included it in his repertoire, as did many other activist singers, such as Frank Hamilton and Joe Glazer, who recorded it in 1950.

The music may derive from a 1794 hymn called "O Sanctissima" or "Prayer of the Sicilian Mariners," though some parts of the song are more recent. The words "I'll overcome some day" first appeared in a hymn by C. Albert Tindley and Rev. A. R. Shockly in New Songs of the Gospel (1900); however, the tune was not the one we associate with the present-day song.

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You can browse this book on the next link

"O Sanctissima" or „O sanctissima, o piisima, dulcis Virgo Maria“ is part Christmas carol and part church motet, set to a melody called "The Sicilian Mariner’s Hymn to the Virgin" which may be Italian, English, or even Sicilian. No one knows, sometimes, where tunes originate, or when words become attached to a particular melody.
SICILIAN MARINERS is thought to be a tune sung by Sicilian seamen on board their ships when the sun set.

In 1966 James J. Fuld says:

The origin of the hymn "O Sanctissima" is uncertain, but its first known printing was, curiously, in the United States in May, 1794, in R. Shaw, The Gentleman's Amusement (Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore), p. 25, under the title "Prayer of the Sicilian Mariners".

It was published in London in 1795 with English text, a paraphrase of Psalm 19, God the Heav'ns Aloud Proclaim in the late Rev. James Merrick and the Rev. William Dechair Tattersall, Improved Psalmody, vol. I, p. 48, to "Sicilian Hymn".

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This lovely tune is such a mystery "O Sanctissima", with its original Latin text, the opening bars are familiarly known for their use in the song "We Shall Overcome."
All the early collectors implied an Italian origin, usually Sicilian, sometimes more specifically with the title Sicilian Mariner's Prayer. Yet there is no early Italian publication of the melody...

In 1788 the German philosopher, theologian, and poet Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) brought the melody to Germany after a trip to Italy. Originally a Sicilian fisherman's song, the melody was used for the Latin hymn "O Sanctissima".
In 1807, after the dead of von Herder, his heirs published "O Sanctissima" with a German translation ("O Du Heilige") in the collection Stimmen der Völker in Liedern

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You can read Johann Gottfried von Herders collection Stimmen der Völker in Liedern here:


It's on page 124:


 In 1816 the tune was also used for the German Christmas Carol  ("O du fröhliche!")
The author of the original is the famous Weimar "orphan father" Johannes Daniel Falk (1768-1826).
Heinrich Holzschuher (1798-1847) from Wunsiedel wrote the latter three verses, which are sung today.
After Johannes Daniel Falk lost four of his seven children to typhoid fever, he founded das Rettungshaus für verwahrloste Kinder (lit. the rescue center for abandoned children) in Weimar. In 1816 he dedicated this song to the children of the orphanage. The Melody was taken from „O sanctissima, o piisima, dulcis Virgo Maria“ which is still sung in Italy and the Roman Catholic Church. Falk found this song in Johann Gottfried von Herders (1744-1803) collection Stimmen der Völker in Liedern.

The tune of "We Shall Overcome" has also been changed so that it also echoes the opening and closing melody of the powerfully resonant 19th century, "No More Auction Block For Me", also known from its refrain as, "Many Thousands Gone". This was number 35 ("Many Thousand Go") in Thomas Wentworth Higginson's collection of Negro Spirituals that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly of June, 1867, with a comment by Higginson reflecting on how such songs were composed (i.e., whether the work of a single author or through what used to be called "communal composition"):


In fact "No More Auction Block" is equally indebted to "O Sanctissima" as "We Shall Overcome".

Listen to a version of "No More Auction Block For Me" by Paul Robeson.

But there's another influence: the chorus of "We Shall Overcome" has a close resemblance to "Caro Mio Ben" attributed to Neapolitan composer Giuseppe Giordani; this is also a late 18th century Italian song and was a staple of 19th century voice teachers.

The first recording of "We Will Overcome" was by Joe Glazer and the Elm City Four (1950)
In 1950 Joe Glazer made his first album, '8 New Songs for Labor,' for the C.I.0. Dept. of Education and Research.
It included "We Will Overcome", the previously unrecorded labor version of the old hymn. He had learned the song from Agnes Douty (at the same time as Pete Seeger had learned the song from Zilphia Horton).
And as Joe Glazer was singing "We WILL Overcome" to textile workers and other workers in 1947, Pete Seeger was singing "We SHALL Overcome" to audiences throughout the country. (Pete made a critical change in the lyric. Pete substituted the word SHALL for WILL. "I liked a more open sound," Pete explained. " 'We will' has alliteration to it but 'we shall' opens the mouth wider).
Pete tinkered a little with the music and added a couple of verses: "We'll walk hand in hand" and "The whole wide world around." Such adaptation was common with these "folk" songs. Somewhere along the line, "down in my heart" became "deep in my heart". In my singing I had dropped one of the original verses, "The Lord will see us through". My substitute verse was "We will build a new world," and that's the way I recorded it in 1950 in "8 New Songs For Labor". It was the first time a modern version of the song had been recorded.
(from Joe Glazer's autobiography "Labor's Troubadour")

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Listen here:

During a Southern C.I.0. drive, Joe Glazer taught the song to country singer  Texas Bill Strength , who cut his own version in 1950 on a custom pressing (SEE PIC BELOW), that later was picked up by 4-Star Records.
(reissued on 4-Star 45-1499 in July 1950 and on X-36 in January 1952)

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Listen here:

The song made its first recorded appearance as "We SHALL Overcome" (rather than "We WILL Overcome") in 1952 on a disc recorded by the Jewish Young Folk-Singers with Laura Duncan (soloist) (conducted by Robert De Cormier, co-produced by Ernie Lieberman and Irwin Silber on Hootenany Records (Hoot 104-A)

Here's the A-side of that disc

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Listen here;

It was rereleased in 1963 on Folkways album "Sing Out! Hootenanny" (Folkways FN 2513) (PIC BELOW), where it is identified as a Negro Spiritual.


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In 1952 Pete Seeger taught it to Frank Hamilton and Guy Carawan in California. Zilphia Horton died in '56. In '59 Guy Carawan came to work at Highlander as a songleader. In 1960 he organized an "all-South" workshop for some 70 young people to talk and explore "singing in the movement". They latched on to the song immediately, but during the next year, as it moved into the deep South, it took on a more pronounced rhythm [...]. Three weeks later these young people and Guy introduced the song to the founding convention of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) at Raleigh, N.C. A few months later across the entire South, it was not "a" song. It was "the" song.
Listen to a sample of a version by Guy Carawan recorded in 1960 at Newport.


And here's another version compiled by Guy Carawan in  1960


Another version was also derived from "I'll Overcome Some Day".

(c) Angelic Gospel Singers 1955 (as "I'll Be Alright")
This lovely gospel version of "I'll (We Will) Overcome" was Buddy Holly's favourite, in fact after his death in 1959 an old well worn 45 of "I'll be alright" was found among his possions. He even based one of his compositions on this gospel; "True Love Ways".

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Listen here: note that the second verse exactly follows the lyrics of the refrain of  CA Tindley's gospel "I'll Overcome Some Day"

In 1961 Reverend Gary Davis also recorded this version, with some new words.

Reverend Gary Davis
Producer– Kenneth S. Goldstein
Recorded By– Rudy Van Gelder
Vocals, Guitar, Written-By– Reverend Gary Davis
Recorded in New York on August 10th, 1961.


Listen here:

On May 7, 1962 Pete Seeger, the man who was a key-person in the birth of "We Shall Overcome", finally recorded his own live-version at the Bitter End Cafe in New York.
It was released on the album: "The Bitter and the Sweet" (Columbia CS 8716).


The roots of "We Shall Overcome" as a vehicle for social change can be traced to Tennessee in 1957, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. heard "We Shall Overcome" for the first time at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee — performed by Dutchess Junction resident Pete Seeger.
The school was active in the labor and civil rights movements and welcomed Seeger, Rosa Parks and King for its 25th anniversary in 1957, a year after the Montgomery bus boycott ended with the desegregation of that Alabama city's bus system.

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From left, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Pete Seeger, Charis Horton, Rosa Parks and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy at Highlander in 1957.

The first occasion on which Martin Luther King was recorded with a speech based on "We Shall Overcome" was recorded in 1962 on the next album.
Private pressing by: PICA (The Public Information Communications Association)
Rev. King's electrifying speech, of the Civil Rights Rally which was addressed at "The Zion Hill Baptist Church" in Los Angeles, California. June 17, 1962.
It contains the full speech; including the actual voice introduction by Bob Decoy, prior to the "We Shall Overcome" sermon given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Some tracks have accompanied Gospel music but are uncredited on this recording.


A second pressing of this recording exist: shortly after King's assassination in 1968, the LP reappeared with the same catalog number, but this time on the Dooto label (Dooto # 831). But everything else is the same at the exeption of the label.

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 DOOTO; is actually "Dootsie Williams". An American bandleader, producer, musician and owner of "Dootone Records".

Unfortunately, however, this pioneering 1962 release was actually an unauthorised recording.
Read all about that here:

The climax of the modern civil rights movement occurred in Birmingham. The city's violent response to the spring 1963 demonstrations against white supremacy forced the federal government to intervene on behalf of race reform. City Commissioner T. Eugene "Bull" Connor's use of police dogs and fire hoses against nonviolent black activists, led by Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King, Jr., enraged the nation.
On Good Friday, April 12, King is arrested with Ralph Abernathy by "Bull" Connor for demonstrating without a permit.

During the week of November 9, a live version of "We Shall Overcome", that Joan Baez recorded in May 1963 at Miles College in Birmingham managed to make the Hot 100 at No. 90. And that was it--even in the midst of a huge folk revival.
The most powerful and important political song of the 20th Century made the Billboard chart for precisely one week in the fall of 1963, yet it was heard virtually every day for years on radio and television, and its chorus and melody were known to all.


Listen here:

Pete Seeger's best recording of this song is from the June 8, 1963 Carnegie Hall Concert, where he performed it with the SNCC Freedom Singers, led by the now-legendary Bernie Johnson Reagon.
Seeger makes oblique reference to the "events" in Birmingham, Alabama. He explains that he visited the area, one front in the civil rights movement, a few weeks before. As he shares a brief set of the songs he heard there, more than a few in the crowd sing along.
When Seeger begins "We Shall Overcome," he urges his listeners to "go and help those people down in Birmingham and Mississippi . . . and maybe we'll see this song come true." And then he sings in that unshakable way of his. Pretty soon his believing becomes contagious, spreading possibility. And look where that eventually led: A reprehensible chapter in American history came to an end.


In 1963 the Freedom Singers recorded a live version at the Newport Folk Festival (July 26-28, 1963).

A few monts later, the Freedom Singers recorded a semi-live studio version for the Mercury-label.



The August 1963 March on Washington attracted an estimated 250,000 people for a peaceful demonstration to promote Civil Rights and economic equality for African Americans. Participants walked down Constitution and Independence avenues, then — 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed — gathered before the Lincoln Monument for speeches, songs, and prayer. Televised live to an audience of millions, the march provided dramatic moments, most memorably the Rev Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
The 22-year old folksinger Joan Baez, led the crowd in singing "We Shall Overcome" at the Lincoln Memorial during A. Philip Randolph's March on Washington.
Joan's performance was recorded on the next album:
Liner notes are by REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. Label reads: "The Council For United Civil Rights Leadership Presents WE SHALL OVERCOME, The March on Washington--August 28, 1963"! This is a LIVE RECORDING of the important speeches and songs that were heard that day in Washington, DC. This was a day that changed America forever. This day energized and focused the Civil Rights movement and it blossomed across the country from that day forward. This was the day of the now very famous "I Have a Dream" speech by REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. And, it is included on the album below in its entirety!


The album ABOVE was the first commercial appearance of this material. The Council of United Civil Rights Leadership was a small students label. They handed the recordings over to Sis Cunningham, one of the founders of Broadside, who then produced the wider circulation album below.


That important day in Washington was also filmed:
Joan Baez sings "We Shall Overcome" at about 12 min and 53 sec in the next VIDEO.
Martin Luther Kings "I Have A Dream" speech is at 25 min and 20 sec.

Here's a close-up of Joan Baez singing "We Shall Overcome" in Washington.
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After Joan Baez led a mass singalong of "We Shall Overcome" at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (later referred to simply as the “Great March on Washington”), and her recording of it promptly began climbing the charts, Motown took note. They quickly had one Liz Lands record her own version, a tie-in with an LP of other political material related to the Great March, including contributions from A. Phillip Randolph, Walter Reuther, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and – most significantly, taking up most of the second side of the album – Dr Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered a version of his “I Have A Dream” speech (recorded in Detroit in June, several months before the March, rather than being a live recording from the day).
Liz Lands version was also planned as Motown's 340th single side
"We Shall Overcome"- Liz Lands
Scheduled for a 45 rpm release on Divinity 99008 (A),
September 1963 (but the release was canceled at the time)
"We Shall Overcome" b/w "Trouble In This Land"
(“Written by George Fowler and Clarence Paul“)

The 45 release was canceled at the time. (maybe they were afraid to interfere with politics and possibly losing money).

Still Liz Lands version WAS released in 1963 on the next album:


And in 1968 the 45 of Liz Lands "We Shall Overcome" was finally released on the Gordy-label:


Listen here:

Mahalia Jackson also recorded "We Shall Overcome" in Los Angeles, Tuesday 25 September 1963 with Orchestra conducted by Marty Paich.


The Brothers Four recorded a version in 1964 on the next album (You can listen to a sample)


And the brothers of the Brothers Four: The Limeliters recorded a version in the same year on the next album (You can listen to a sample)

And there were also some reggae-versions:

Laurel Aitken 1966


The Maytals 1968


Prince Buster 1968


On March 31st, 1968, just four days before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the last version of his famous "We Shall Overcome" speech.

Here's the full text of that speech:


Joan Baez also performed "We Shall Overcome" in 1969 at the famous Woodstock-Festival
Baez began her set at 1:00 AM on Saturday, August 16 and closed Day One with "We Shall Overcome".

Here's the VIDEO of her Woodstock-performance.

Louis Armstrong's 1970 version, recorded 1 year before he died, has Louis on vocals. He doesn't play a single note on the trumpet, he leaves the honours to Thad Jones, Jimmy Owens, Ernie Royal and Marvin Stamm.


The following version was recorded at a reunion concert of the SNCC Freedom Singers in Washington DC in 1988 and was part of the soundtrack for the film on the history of the song. "We Shall Overcome" produced by Jim Brown and Ginger Productions won an Emmy in 1989 for the best news documentary.

During the 1993 Voodo Lounge sessions Keith Richards recorded a version of "We Shall Overcome"

- We Shall Overcome (When I Wage a Crown) (4:55): Keith Richards is on vocal and piano. He is sorting it out as he goes. Ice clinking alert at 1:31 and after the song at 4:57.
It was released in 1994 on Disc 4 of the Bootleg CD "Voodo Stew".
This song was later officially released on the 1996 record "Wingless Angels" with Richards and friends.


Listen here:

Bruce Springsteen recorded Pete Seeger's arrangement of this old folk traditional song with a group of non-E Street Band musicians at his Thrill Hill home studio in Colts Neck, NJ, on 02 Nov 1997, during the first of the 3 "Seeger Sessions". The song was recorded especially for the Mar 1998 tribute album, Where Have All The Flowers Gone: The Songs Of Pete Seeger (Appleseed Recordings, catalogue # APPLESEED 1024).


The song is also included on Bruce's 2006 cover album, "We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions".
It is the same Nov 1997 recording, but the mix is slightly different.
The Seeger Sessions consist of three recording sessions (a 2-days session on 01 and 02 Nov 1997, a 1-day session in Dec 2005, and a 1-day session in Jan 2006), during which all the album's songs were cut live in the living room of Bruce's New Jersey farmhouse. The songs were not rehearsed and all arrangements were conducted as Bruce and the band played.


Here's a Youtube of Bruce singing "We Shall Overcome":

Obama at Ebenezer
This is the conclusion of Obama's speech at the church on Martin Luther King on King's Birthday in 2008, when the congregation sings "We Shall Overcome."

From Pete Seeger's 90th Birthday Concert (Clearwater Concert), Madison Square Garden, 5/3/2009. Featuring: Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Bruce Cockburn, Guy Davis, Toshi Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Billy Bragg, Keller Williams, Ani DiFranco, Larry Long, Scarlett Lee Moore, Ruby Dee, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, New York City Labor Choir.

Roger Waters recorded a version to support the people of Gaza.
Here is what he says about the Gaza-issue:
"Over the new year 2009-2010, an international group of 1500 men and women from 42 nations went to Egypt to join a Freedom March to Gaza. They did this to protest the current blockade of Gaza. To protest the fact that the people of Gaza live in a virtual prison. To protest the fact that a year after the terror attack by Israeli armed forces destroyed most of their homes, hospitals, schools, and other public buildings, they have no possibility to rebuild because their borders are closed. The would be Freedom Marchers wanted to peacefully draw attention to the predicament of the Palestinian population of Gaza. The Egyptian government, (funded to the tune of $2.1 billion a year, by us, the US tax payers), would not allow the marchers to approach Gaza. How lame is that? And how predictable! I live in the USA and during this time Dec 25th 2009-Jan3rd 2010 I saw no reference to Gaza or the Freedom March or the multi national protesters gathered there. Anyway I was moved, in the circumstances, to record a new version of " We shall overcome". It seems appropriate.

In India, it is known as “Hum Honge Kaamyaab,” a song most every school kid knows by heart.

In the next scene from the movie "My Name Is Khan" the 2 songs "We Shall Overcome" and "Hum Honge Kaamyaab" are mixed.

The next PDF-File has a lot of information on the history of "We Shall Overcome" (page 66)


More recent research suggests that a more likely musical source was a gospel hymn entitled “If My Jesus Wills” which was composed during the early 1930s, published in 1942 and copyrighted in 1954 by an African American Baptist choir director named Louise Shropshire who was a close friend of songwriter Rev. Thomas Dorsey, and civil rights activists Dr. Martin Luther King and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Because of the lyrical and structural similarities Seeger now thinks that Horton probably taught him a secular version (that included her own verse changes as well) of Shropshire’s song.
Personally I think Louise Shropshire's version is merely another link in the chain of a song that evolved from Charles Albert Tindley's "I'll Overcome Some Day" to the wellknown version of "We Shall Overcome" and it's surely not the MUSICAL source.

Well judge for yourself after seeing the 2 Youtubes below.

3 opmerkingen:

  1. Ha Joop, met veel plezier je fantastische site doorgenomen. Heb is al weer heel wat jaren geleden dat Multiply ter ziele ging. Ben daar als Robyntje ook een aantal jaren actief geweest , kende dan ook je site. Ben altijd erg geinteresseerd geweest in de "origineeltjes" Vanaf 1988 alle uitgaven van Arnold Rypens aangeschaft. Ik heb inmiddels een leuk aantal van die origineeltjes bijelkaar gesprokkeld.. Een van die opnamen die nog ontbreekt is "We will overcome" van Joe Glazer.. Kan je die voor mij misschien weer uploaden?( Ik heb gemerkt dat DivShare helemaal niet meer werkt op je site) Tot horens en ik hoop dat je nog lang doorgaat!, Groet, Rob IJsseldijk

  2. Dag Rob, dat is idd lang geleden.
    Ik heb voor jou de de Divshares vervangen door Boxjes, die wel te downloaden zijn door op het pijltje rechtsboven te klikken.

    Joop groet

  3. Dag Joop, Veel dank voor Joe Glazer.
    Groet van Rob