Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Three Versions Of The Gospel Song "I'm A Pilgrim" - Lyrics & Comments

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Revised 4/23/2013]

Soul Stirrers - I'm A Pilgrim

Uploaded by bcimasschoir on Apr 17, 2008
The lead was sung by Paul Foster.

This post features videos and lyrics of three African American versions of the Gospel song "I'm A Pilgrim". Information about this song is also included in this post.

From Lyr Add: I'M A PILGRIM (gospel-spiritual).

According to information posted by Dicho in 2001 on a Mudcat discussion thread about "I'm A Pilgrim", the oldest documented version of that song is from 1864 (The Southern Zion Songster, 1864, compiled by Editor, North Carolina Christian Advocate, Raleigh, NC. No author cited.)

In my opinion, the lyrics to that 1864 version of "I'm A Pilgrim" don't read like it was composed by African Americans. The words aren't written in "Black" dialect as was the case with songs by African Americans which were transcribed in the 19th century. And the song isn't given in call & response format. That Mudcat discussion forum also includes a version of "I'm A Pilgrim" from 1939. In contrast to the 1864 version, the 1939 version is written in "Black dialect". I'll add just one point about the words to that song- the 1939 version uses the "barber land" (meaning "barbarous") land instead of the phrase ("barren land") that is found in Versions #1 & #2 on this page, or the phrase "wearisome land" that is found in Version #3 on this page.

Without other comments, here are those three versions:

VERSION #1 [The video is placed at the beginning of this post]

(The Soul Stirrers's version)


Whooo! I’m a pilgrim
[I’m a pilgrim]
And a stranger
[And a stranger]
Travelin through
[travelin through]
This ole barren land
[Barren land]
I got a home
[I got a home]
In yonder city, Lord
And I will do
The best I can

Chorus: (repeated with group responses as above)

I’m a pilgrim
Nothin but a stranger
Everyday I’m travelin
this ole barren land
But I got a home
In yonder city Lord
And I’ll do
the best I can

Verse 1
(Group humming as counterpoint to the soloist)
I’ve been tempted, Lord
I’ve been tried
I’ve been discouraged
On every side.
While travelin
through this land, Lord
Lord I’ll do
[Lord I’ll do]
the best I can.
[The best that I can]

Lord, I’m a pilgrim
[I’m a pilgrim]
And I’m a stranger
[I’m a stranger]
Don’t you know I’m travelin
[I’m travelin]
This ole barren land
[Barren land]
But I’m not worried
[I’m not worried]
I’ve gotta home
[I’ve got a home]
Somewhere yonder city
[In yonder city]
And I’ll do the best I can.

Verse 2:
(When I) Get to River Jordan
With the tide
I can see Canaan
on the other side
When I get there
Take my stand
Lord I’ll do
[Lord I’ll do]
The best I can
[the best that I can]

Lord, I am a pilgrim
Yes! Travelin through
this ole barren land
But I’m not worried
I gotta home
Somewhere in yonder city
And I’ll do
the best I can.

(Repeat the chorus)

* This is my transcription of "I'm A Pilgrim" from that video. In this trascription, the group's responses to the soloist are given in brackets. Note that the interjections like "Whoo!" and "Lord" were probably changed with each performance. I didn't attempt to write all of those interjections. I also didn't write the lyrics as they are pronounced. However, (as is usually the case with African American English), the word "a" is pronounced "ah".

VERSION #2: The Hawkins Family - I'm A Pilgrim

Uploaded by robtyree2135 on Jul 4, 2010

From the album "The Hawkins Family Live"
Released In 1980, Light Records
Soloists: Tramaine Hawkins, Freddie Hawkins

(as sung by The Hawkins Family)*

Lord I’m a pilgrim
travelin through
this ole barren land
I want you to please
guide my footsteps
and please hold my hand.

Lord, I get so weary
travelin through
this land
Lord I want You to
Guide my footsteps.
And please hold my hand.

Chorus (Soloist & Choir):
Lord, guide me
As I travel
through this land
Lord, guide me.
Lord I want You to please
Hold my hand.

Lord I’m just awaitin
For the day to come
When I can see your face
And hear you say
“Well done”.

Chorus: (repeat 2x)

I can’t make it without you Lord
I can’t make it
I need you to be my guide
Please hold my hand
Please hold my hand

Soloist & Choir:
I’m a pilgrim
travelin through the land
But I need you Jesus
I said I need you Jesus
Just to hold my hand

Please hold my hand
I need you Lord
Lord I’m waitin
I’m just waitin
For the day to come
When I can see your face.
When I get to heaven
I can see Your face
And hear you say well done
Please hold my hand
I need you Lord
Please hold my hand
Please hold my hand.

* My transcription is based on that video but without the choir's interjections and without some repeats of the end refrain.

VERSION #3: The Gospel caravans i'm a pilgrim

MegaBlackisBeautiful, Uploaded on Aug 15, 2011

There are several videos online of White vocalists singing "I'm A Pilgrim (And A Stranger) ". Here's a link to one of those videos

Here is the lyrics to that version as sung by White American country singer Johnny Cash:



I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Travelling through this wearisome land
I've got a home in that yonder city, good lord
And it's not, not made by hand
I've got a mother, sister and a brother
Who have gone this way before
I am determined to go and see them, good lord
For they're on that other shore
I'm goin' down to the river of jordan
Just to bathe my wearisome soul
If I can just touch the hem of his garment, good lord
Then I know he'd take me home
I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Travelling through this wearisome land
I've got a home in that yonder city, good lord
And it's not, not made by hand

While I love many songs sung by The Hawkins Family, in this case I strongly prefer The Soul Stirrers' rendition of "I'm A Pilgrim" to that of The Hawkins Family or to the version led by Bro Mayo. (From now on I'll use the references, Version #1, #2, and #3. These comments refer only to the lyrics and not the peformances, though the way the songs were sung also influenced my preference for Version #1).

For me, the lyrics to Version #1 of "I'm A Pilgrim" was much more powerful than the other two versions. Unlike the other two versions of that song given in this post, the lyrics to Version #1 explained why the people depicted in that song considered the world to be "barren" (Verse 1). The people looked forward to going to heaven because they had a home there where life would be better than it was on earth. Knowing that they had a home in Canaan (heaven) gave them the strength to preservere, to endure, to "make it the best way they could". In spite of all of their troubles and the things that discouraged them, they weren't worried because they had the promise of a better life in their heavenly home. These people were strong in their faith.

In contrast, the people depicted in Version #2 seemed to me to be much more child-like and needy. The promise of heaven wasn't enough for them. They needed God to watch over them, to guide them, to hold their hand. However, they also were demanding of God ("Lord I want You to please/Hold my hand".) Furthermore, the reason why the people depicted in this version wanted to go to heaven was so they could see God's face and hear Him say to them "Well done". That seems rather prideful to me, especially since no reason was given in those lyrics for the belief that God would judge that they had done well in their lives.

In Version #3, both the land and the people's souls are referred to as "wearisome". However, no reason is given for either description, except perhaps for the fact that the families of those persons depicted in that version had died leaving them alone. Being reunited with their family is the reason given in the song for why the people in Version #3 want to get to heaven. In my opinion, the emphasis on being reunited with their family makes the reference to home (not made of hand or otherwise) much less powerful than the reasons why the people in Version #1 spoke of a heavenly home. And "home", heavenly or otherwise, wasn't mentioned at all in Version #2 of "I'm A Pilgrim".

I'm aware that the words to religious songs may not be as important as the spirit, intent, and the way that song is sung. However, for the record (please excuse the unintended pun), I wanted to share my thoughts on these three versions of this song.


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  1. A year late with this comment, but I too prefer the Soul Stirrers version. I would love, however, to hear Joe Ligon and the Mighty Clouds of Joy give this standard a whirl. Maybe they have.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mel.

      I don't know if Joe Ligon and the Mighty Clouds Of Joy recorded this song. But yes, I love their singing.

  2. By the way, I've been trying to label the type of clapping that is done in this Soul Stirrers - I'm A Pilgrim film clip [for instance at .053 and thereabout] when the singer hits his hands one time and then two times afterwards kinda fast.

    Is this off-beat clapping, or double time clapping?

    I know that I should know the difference, but I don't.

    Help! Thanks in advance.

  3. This is called the low - county clap. That's how we do it in South Carolina.

    1. Greetings, Lisa Ukuku.

      Thanks for responding to my question. So, is low-county clap the same as either off-beat clapping or double time clapping? And how would you describe (explain) how to do low-county clapping?

      Thanks in advance!