An unidentified guitarist brings it down home, determined to combine music with witness:
Beautiful Star of BethlehemAn unknown singer performs the gospel standard “Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem” while playing slide guitar. Old-time singing with NO synthesizers! Pure conviction and feeling, Praise the Lord.
(notice how deftly the lead singer steps over the mic cord at 1:40 and 2:00)
For this last version, I could only find the lyrics. The title, “Steal Away and Pray,” is the same as the Pace Jubilee Singers number above, but the lyrics are different.
The simplicity of these words tells me that this is an old folk tune which could function as a work song, strengthening and comforting the oppressed without attracting an unfriendly ear. I vote for this one — but I still don’t know how it sounded.
I just want to point out two lines that really jump off the page:
Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry; While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
This is such a powerful lever for uprooting all the isolation and guilt-tripping that gets twined up in so many people’s religious experience. Have you ever looked around and seen everybody else saved but you? Everyone else closer to God, more fluent in prayer, more connected, more disciplined than you? Do not pass me by!
I selected this video for the sheer energy — I really like how the choir director keeps everybody on point. This from a church in Montreal, Canada. Yes, there have been black folks in Canada for the longest time; it was one of the major termini on the Underground Railroad.
And little background here. Now that I know it arises from the life of Thomas Dorsey, it makes perfect sense. This is the man who wrote “Precious Lord” after his wife died suddenly while he was away blessing folks with his music. (Sung here by James Baldwin.)
Then I remembered this wonderful song, which I first heard — just one verse! — from a lady who got up to testify during a Spiritual Church service some years ago. She turned out to be pastor of another Spiritual Church, and one of the guest speakers that day.
I haven’t been able to track down the film it’s from, but it looks like the period in the 1930’s and 40’s when faux-exotic spectaculars were all the rage, with more attention to fabulousness than to any kind of authenticity, and popular entertainers of all kinds were shoehorned in, often to excellent effect.
Now, there’s nothing in the lyrics about the Three Hebrew Children fighting back, but somehow I don’t have a problem with it…
And here’s the Big Band Hollywood treatment by the Larry Clinton Orchestra, featuring the smooooooth baritone of Ford Leary:
After many years — decades! — of drudgery and scarcity which are not over yet, we enter into a time of miracles and wonders. (Yes, as an unashamed lefty, I do count Occupy Wall Street as a miracle and a wonder.)