Sunday, March 18, 2012

Three Renditions Of The Spiritual "Elijah Rock"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases three renditions of the African American spiritual "Elijah Rock". This post also includes the lyrics to one version of "Elijah Rock", and my opinion about the meaning of the chorus "Elijah rock/Shout shout/Elijah rock/Comin up Lord".

In addition, this post includes my comments about the use of so-called "Negro" dialect in the performance of African American spirituals.

My thanks to the featured vocalists & musicians. My thanks also to those who uploaded these videos & transcribed the lyrics to this song.

Moses Hogan Chorale - Elijah Rock

Ernest Battle, Uploaded on Jan 1, 2007

Performed by original members of the Moses Hogan Chorale in June, 1996 at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans, LA. Dedicated to all Chorale members and all singers throughout the world who have performed any of the works of Moses Hogan. Lastly, this video is dedicated to the memory of our beloved artistic director and dear friend, Moses George Hogan and also, chorale members Rhonda Ragin and Percy Ewell.

Video #2: MAHALIA JACKSON Live during European tour late 1960's

Uploaded by elfeco on Feb 24, 2007

Elijah Rock This is how a true Diva gives a performance. She sings as if it will hurt her if she cant get it out,she is not a performer, she is a singer. Her vocal POWER has never been duplicated. Probably my favorite live performance

Video #3: "Elijah Rock"- Rev. Charles Nicks & St. James Baptist Choir

Uploaded by Rowoches on Aug 31, 2009

Here we have the St. James Baptist Church CHoir, under the direction of Rev. Charles Nicks, singing a familiar Gospel number, that has been recorded by several people including Mahalia Jackson, Cleophus Robinson, Betty Perkins, and several others.


(traditional African American spiritual - anonymous composer/s)

Elijah Rock shout shout.
Elijah Rock comin' up Lord.
Elijah Rock shout shout.
Elijah Rock comin' up Lord.

Satan is a liar and a conjure too.
If you don't watch out
He'll conjure you.
If I could I sho'ly would
Stand on the rock where Moses stood.


Ezekiel said he saw him
Wheel in the mid' of a wheel.
John talked about him
In the book of the 7 seals.
Some say the Rose of Sharon.
Others say the Prince of Peace.
But I can tell everybody (this ol' world).
He been a rock and a shelter for me.


You can call my rock in the morning.
Call him late at night.
He's always with me
And all my battles he'll fight.
When I'm in trouble
I can call him on the line.
He put a telephone in my heart (bosom)
And I can call God anytime.



Editor: The words in parenthesis in the lyrics are alternative words that could be sung.

Click for another text version of the song "Elijah Rock". I discuss that version in my comments about "Negro" dialect that follow.

I believe that the words "Elijah rock/Comin up Lord" refer to the prophet Elijah ascending up to heaven.


"According to the Books of Kings, Elijah defended the worship of Yahweh over that of the more popular Baal, he raised the dead, brought fire down from the sky, and was taken up in a whirlwind (either accompanied by a chariot and horses of flame or riding in it)."
In my opinion, "Elijah Rock", "rock" refers to the chariot that Elijah rode in rocking (moving back & forth).

"Shout! Shout!" is a command to sing praises to God.

And "Comin' up Lord" is an abbreviated way of saying "Coming up to be with the Lord (in heaven). An alternate line for "Coming up Lord" that I remember my church's choir singing when I was a child & teenager was "Elijah rock / comin up Glory". "Glory" is a referent for "heaven".

* My recollection of this line of "Elijah Rock" is from [the African American church] Union Baptist Temple Church, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 1950s to 1970s, if not later. The verses to that song were very different from those in the version given above or the verses given in that Wikipedia page for "Elijah Rock".

The lyrics I recall used the same pattern of two sets of two line rhyming verses. Each line of those couplets were separated by the refrain "Elijah rock comin' (or "coming") up Glory". The chorus was sung afte the fourth line of the second couplet. The lyrics that I recall for "Elijah Rock" were floating verses which were also used for other spirituals. They included the verse "If I could I surely would / Stand on the rock where Moses stood". In that verse the word "rock" refers to an actual rock (where Moses stood to see the promised land). Other verses for "Elijah Rock" were "I went to the valley but I didn't go to stay / My soul got happy and I stayed all day", "If you don't believe I've been redeemed / just follow me down to Jordan's stream", and "The river of Jordan is chilly & cold / It chills my body but it warms my soul".

The Wikipedia text version of "Elijah Rock" is unsourced. However, there is a brief sound file on that page that is credited to the Northwestern High School (Hyattsville, Maryland) Concert Choir, 2002. I have no information about the racial composition of that choir or its choir director.

I find it interesting that that lyrics to what I call "the Wikipedia version" of "Elijah Rock" include 19th century so-called "Negro" dialectic words while the version given above which is attributed to the great African American Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson does not contain such dialectic words. Here is what I mean by "Negro" dialectic words from the Wikipedia version of "Elijah Rock":

"Come on sister help me to pray tell me my Lord don pass dis way"


"...Elijah Comin' up Lawdy, Comin' up Lawdy Comin' up Lawdy, Comin' up Lawdy"
In their desire to be "authentic", I've found that many more non-Black choirs use that kind of dialectic English in their performances of traditional African American spirituals. But it's my direct & indirect experience as an African American that we (African Americans) rarely use such dialetic language in our performances of spirituals & Gospel songs. When we sing those religious songs, African Americans say "Lord" and not "Lawd" or "Lawdy", "don't and not "don", "them" and not "dem", "this" and not "dis", "then" and not "den", "that" and not "dat", and "these" and not "dese". Also, in singing spirituals & Gospel songs African Americans almost always say "Master" for "massa" (as a referent to God or Jesus), and seldom if ever do we say "mammy" and "pappy" for "mother" and "father".

Most of these 19th century Southern American [not just Black Southern American] dialectic pronunciations aren't used any longer by the majority of African Americans (or White Americans) in everyday speech. However, in the Wikipedia version whose link is given above, the word "ain't" (or the phrase "ain't gonna" as found in the spiritual "Aint Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around") and the clipped ending "comin'" and other clipped endings for verbs) are still retained in the everyday speech of many Americans (regardless of race, ethnicity, or region). Consequently, words such as "ain't" and "gonna", "comin'" (and other clipped verbs) may be used in African Americans' performances of "Elijah Rock", and other that spirituals & Gospel songs.

That said, under certain circumstances, some African Americans may consciously "code switch" to long retired forms of "downhome" (Southern) speech that are found in that Wikipedia version of "Elijah Rock" -including "dis" for this and "dat" for "that" and "Lawd" for "Lord". I refer to this conscious use of African American dialect as "Putting On The Black". Click for a post that I published on that topic.

*It's also important to note that since the 1960s, the word "Negro" has been retired as an acceptable referent for African Americans (Black Americans). Also, for various reasons, most African Americans consider "Negro" spelled with a lower case "n" is considered highly insulting. However, "negro" may be purposely used by African Americans to refer to another Black person who is always seeking White favor, and/or otherwise talking and acting in ways that aren't in the best interest of Black people. Click for a post on this subject.

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  1. Thank you for this excellent story about the origins and forms of this song. The choir at my church is doing the song on October 2.

    1. You're welcome. Judith Martin.

      And thank you and your church's choir for sharing this wonderful Spiritual.