Saturday, February 4, 2012

Vintage Gospel - God Specializes (Have You Any Rivers)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Dorinda Clark Cole - God Specializes

Uploaded by BlessedByTheBest on Apr 30, 2006

Dorinda sings "God Specializes." This is at the old edifice of West Angeles COGIC! Where Bishop Charles E. Blake is Pastor!

This post features four videos of the vintage ("old school" Gospel song "God Specializes" (also known as "Have You Any Rivers" and "Got Any Rivers"). I'm presenting these videos for their spiritual value, and also as a means of beginning an exploration of the differences between expected congregational "etiquette" in Black American churches and in White American churches. I also provide some history of how the chorus of this song was composed.

First, as background, here's an excerpt of my comments on October 28, 2008 on a Mudcat discussion thread that I started about this song
"I remember the song "God Specializes" from my childhood or youth in New Jersey *(1950s, 1960s). But because I wasn't sure about all of the words to that song, I decided to an online search. As a result of that search, I found an interesting discussion on God Specializes.

Unlike most gospel songs that have a known composer, there are multiple & significantly different versions of "God Specializes" (also known as "Have You Any Rivers). The words of the chorus appear to be more consistent than the words to the verses. But given that this song has a known composer - Oscar C. Eliason, why does it seem that the words of this gospel song been subjected to the folk process to the extent it has appeared to have been? It's also possible that the tune of this song might be different - though the tunes sung on three YouTube videos I watched were the same."
Here's the comment I referred to which was posted on July 20, 2008 as a Forum Guest by Vic Eliason: on
"My father is Oscar C. Eliason. Dad wrote the chorus in 1929.

He was dying of TB in a Minneapolis hospital and an elderly minister came by one evening and prayer was offered. The next day be began to improve and he continued to improve to such an extent that the Doctors admitted that something out of the ordinary had happened. As he was getting better he saw an adv. in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by a construction company that used the slogan. He changed the words to:

Got any rivers you think are uncrossable
Got any mountains you can't tunnel through
God specializes in things thought impossible
He does the things others cannot do.

because it spread from mouth to mouth it became altered in many interesting ways.

The story of how the verses were written in the later years is a very interesting one...

What a joy to know that this little chorus has touched and encouraged so many lives.

God Bless you."
I attempted to contact Vic Eliason at that business phone number he included in that comment. I spoke to someone who answered the phone, and was informed that he was unavailable at that time. I left a message indicating that I was seeking information about the song "Got Any Rivers". But, unfortunately, I never received a response to my query.

For the record (no pun intended), Oscar C. Eliason, the composer of "Got Any Rivers", is a White American.
The "Gospelized" rendition of "God Specializes" was composed in 1958 by African American Gloria Griffin, a member of the Roberta Martin Singers.

I wasn't aware of that information until I received the visitor's comment found below from Afi Scruggs. Here's another excerpt from that comment:
"That group [The Roberta Martin Singers] introduced the song to Black churchgoers in 1958. Griffin's song has a vamp that is an integral part of the composition."
Afi Scruggs' complete comment and my response to it are found below this post. Thanks Afi!

I also added the information about Gloria Griffin's composition of "God Specializes" to that Mudcat discussion thread on this song that I started in 2008. A guest to that forum, Donaldw1 wrote the following comment on that thread in March 25, 2010, but I didn't read it until after I had written this post:

"Please keep in mind Ms. Gloria Griffin who gospelized this song with the Roberta Martin Singers in the '50's."
Thanks, Donaldw1 for that information!
It appears that most of the YouTube renditions of this song by White Americans use the title "Got Any Rivers". However, the title "God Specializes" appears to be favored by most African Americans. Among African Americans, "Have you any rivers" is the first verse of this song, and "God specializes" is the chorus.

I've found that the most of renditions of White choirs that I've found on YouTube, and the many of the lyrics of verses for that song that are posted on that name that hymn website are different than those that many African American choirs sing. Furthermore, although the tune & the tempo may be the same, the way African American choirs and White American choirs sing this song (and other songs), may be decidedly different. Also, the way African American congregations and White American congregations respond to this song and other songs while they are being sung reflect the significant differences those American populations have regarding church etiquette and the value given to reponsorial communication. For instance, notice the differences in the way this song is sung and the differences between the congregation responses in the following two videos:

Got Any Rivers

Uploaded by luciamaria81 on Mar 14, 2008

Jimmy Swaggart music video
Note that Rev. Jimmy Swaggart does not sing any verses for that song, but repeats the chorus. The congregation remains seated, only responds during the "praise break", and then becomes silent again as Jimmy Swaggart sings the song again.

God Specializes - Jennifer Foreman.avi

Uploaded by MisterBurks on Oct 30, 2010

First, let me apologize for the brightness of the video ... I accidentally turned on the BACK LIGHT feature of the camcorder and everything was recorded as white as snow (almost) :-)

Now, last Sunday (Oct. 24, 2010) at my church was an absolutely incredible experience !
The choir was singing old school gospel and the children did their thing in a skit and then the sermon ! ... Like i said, "incredible !" .

Anyway, this song was one of the highlights of my day and Jennifer Foreman was on her mark !
Yeah, ... INCREDIBLE !

I hope you enjoy this tidbit as much as i enjoy bringing it to you

[Second Mt. Olive Baptist Church, Houston, Texas.]
In that video, members of the African American congregation offer encouragements to the musicians as they play chords for this song. During the renditon of this song - as the spirit moves them - members of the congregation clap their hands, and shout affirmations such as "Go 'head", "Come on now!", "Yeah". Also during the rendition, church members may stand facing the choir, some with one or both hands raised high in supplication. This manner of congregational responses are normal in most African American churches. It is also normal for some soloists to exhort the congregation to confirm what the words of the song say. For example, in the following short video clip, the soloist asks the congregation "Can I get a witness?" and also invites the congregation to say "Amen" and to sing along with her:

God Specializes!!! Fullness of Joy Ministries

Uploaded by drewdachoklit1 on Jul 6, 2007

Old School Church Meet and Greet at Fullness of Joy!!! Us doing what we do best, and that is having fun in the Lord!!! We love God and we have fun while doing it...
The soloist is identified in comments as "Mother Boyd". Unfortunately, the name & location of the church isn't mentioned yet in the comments. I just posted a comment asking for that information.

The lyrics to "God Specializes" as sung by Dorinda Clark in the first video on this post can be found in that Mudcat discussion thread whose link I provided earlier in this post. Additional lyrics can be found in the name that hymn link which I also provided.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Coco, let me take issue with the history that you've presented.

    "God Specializes" was written by Gloria Griffin who sang with the Roberta Martin Singers. That group introduced the song to Black churchgoers in 1958. Griffin's song has a vamp that is an integral part of the composition. I can't comment on the claim that Eliason wrote the song, "Got Any Rivers..." The similarities are intriguing. But Griffin's authorship is well documented.

    Swaggart's version is closer to Mahalia Jackson's interpretation. (
    But uploader notes that the song was originally entitled "God Specializes." Mahalia might have changed the title so her record didn't compete with Roberta Martin's. She's clearly singing the Martin song and Martin and (James)Cleveland are credited as co-writers.

    I suspect there are two distinct songs. One is "God Specializes," and the other is "Got Any Rivers."

  2. Thanks for your comment, Afi. I appreciate you sharing that information here.

    It seems clear to me that "God Specializes" and "Got Any Rivers" are related songs. But songs that are related can have two different composers.

    From his son's comments, it appears that Oscar Eliason composed "Got Any Rivers" in 1929, but didn't include any verses until many years later. In those intervening years, those "got any rivers" lyrics were being widely sung by the general public. Also, there may have been differences in the view of what was public domain in the 1950s then what is the view about public domain and what is copyright law now. Furthermore, as I'm sure you are aware, there are NUMEROUS examples of White people taking lyrics composed by Black people and copyrighting them with little or no changes.

    I think that it's highly possible that almost 30 years after Eliason composed that "Got any rivers" song, it may have been sung so much that those words may have been considered to be public domain. It's then possible that Gloria Griffin could have used the words that Eliason wrote as the first verse of the song that she composed. Griffin then addded more verses, and also that the "God Specializes" chorus to the song that she copyrighted.

    I think it's significance that the "Black" versions of this song use the words "Have you any rivers"/ Have you any mountains". This may have been purposely done to avoid any charges of copyright infringement.

    On a personal note, I much prefer the "God Specializes" song to the "Got Any Rivers" song. But that's, in large measure, because of the musical aesthetics I was socialized to prefer from a child on.

    Thanks again for your information, Afi.