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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"This Little Light Of Mine" (information, lyrics, & examples)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases eight examples of the religious song "This Little Light Of Mine". These examples include standard versions and Gospel (gospelized)* versions of this song.

Information about "This Little Light Of Mine" and one version of lyrics to ths song are also included in this post.

This post also includes my comments about why I think that this song which is documented as being composed around 1920 by White American Harry Dixon Loes is so often considered to be an African American Spiritual. Note that "African American Spirituals" were formerly called "Negro Spirituals". That term is still widely used today although the referent "Negro" has largely been retired from contemporary use.

*"Gospelized" is my term for a Spiritual or any other song that has purposed been composed or arranged to sound like a Gospel song.

The content of this post is presented for religious and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

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INFORMATION ABOUT THE SONG "THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE"
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Little_Light_of_Mine
"This Little Light of Mine" is a gospel children's song written by composer and teacher Harry Dixon Loes (1895–1965) circa 1920. Loes, who studied at the Moody Bible Institute and the American Conservatory of Music, was a musical composer, and teacher, who wrote, and co-wrote, several other gospel songs. The song has since entered the folk tradition, first being collected by John Lomax in 1939. Often thought of as a Negro spiritual, it does not, however, appear in any collection of jubilee or plantation songs from the nineteenth century...

Depending on the source, the song may take its theme from Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heaven." Or, it may refer to the words of Jesus in Luke 11:33, where he said, "No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light." Or, it may be based on Matthew 5:14–15, where Jesus said, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house."[1]

The song has also been secularised into 'This Little Girl of Mine' as recorded by Ray Charles[2] in 1956 and later the Everly Brothers. It has often been published with a set of hand movements to be used for the instruction of children.

Under the influence of Zilphia Horton, Fannie Lou Hamer and others it eventually became a Civil Rights anthem in the 1950s and 1960s... Over time it also became a very popular children's song, recorded and performed by the likes of Raffi in the 1980s"....

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From http://tincanland.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/let-history-shine-on-this-little-light-of-ours/
"This Little Light of Mine was written in the 1920s as a song for children by a white northern pastor/music teacher, Harry Dixon Loes. Inspired by one or more of several Gospels which reference the Lord’s shining light, it became a staple of Sunday School teaching across the U.S.

It was in 1952 when The Ward Singers, legendary pioneers of the modern gospel sound, turned it into a ‘gospel’ song for adults. Soon after, Zilphia Horton adapted it further still and taught it to Pete Seeger (as she did with We Shall Overcome) and other folk singers of the 1950s. It became a Civil Rights anthem, generally assumed to be a symbolic old slave song from the south.

Not surprisingly, This Little Light of Mine can be performed in pretty much any manner you please. I’ve found over 30 distinct versions.

Some of the names will be familiar (Brenda Lee, Etta James, Neko Case, Odetta, Roger McGuinn, The Seekers, Sam Cooke, Son House)...

No matter who is singing, This Little Light of Mine remains a most powerful song of personal freedom, and no matter the style, some of the child-like jubilation and wonder found in that original children’s hymn still shines through every time."

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From http://www.secondhandsongs.com/topic/42663
"There is compelling evidence that "This Light of Mine" was written by Harry Dixon Loes.

... The New Your Daily news published an article on the life and death of Odetta in which it was stated:
"What they all needed to do that day, she said, was tell the grownups not to start a war, because war never solved anything. As she and the children shivered in their winter coats, she told them how important it was for them to raise their voices for what was right, even if it sometimes seemed like no one was listening. Then she led them in singing “This Little Light of Mine,” a song of quiet defiance that was written by Harry Dixon Loes for the church, but quickly made its way to the streets and in the 1950s became a civil rights anthem.""

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SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE AND SOME AFRICAN AMERICAN SPIRITUALS
If "This Little Light Of Mine" isn't an authentic African American Spiritual, it certainly is composed using the structure found in a number of those Spirituals, i.e.
1. It begins with a chorus [also known as a refrain] that consist of an short, uncomplicated [simple] line that is repeated three times. The chorus ends with a short phrase that is repeated three times (i.e. "Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.")

2. The verses for Spirituals are composed of an easily remembered, uncomplicated line which is repeated three times with the same fixed line in between each of those lines. That fixed line is the same as the last line of the chorus.

This structure facilitates group participation. It's the same structure as standard call & response. However, notice that most versions of "This Little Light Of Mine" aren't sung as a call & response" song. A notable exception to that is the now classic rendition of this song by the Clara Ward Singers. That video is found below as Example #7.

3. Spirituals are open-ended, meaning those songs have no fixed length. Furthermore, many of the verses in Spirituals aren't fixed - the words to the verses and the order of the verses can be changed. Any number of verses can be sung for Spirituals. More verses can be added to so-called "standard verses" of those
songs, and/or other verses can replace those "standard verses".

Some folklorist call songs having those features "zipper songs".
-snip-
It's probable that Harry Dixon Loes was familiar with the structure of "Negro Spirituals" and then used that familiar structure to compose a song that would be easy for children to learn and sing.

The structure of "This Little Light Of Mine" is just one reason why I think people believe/believed that is an African American Spiritual. After all, a song could be purposely composed in a particular structure by people of any race or ethnicity.

But I think that the history of the United States in which White people often claimed the creative products of Black Americans is another reason why some people- including me- have questioned whether Harry Dixon Loes actually composed "This Little Light Of Mine" "from scratch" without hearing it or a song similar to it being sung by Black people.

That said, given that that attribution is a matter of record [no pun intended], until I come across any information that debunks it, I accept that "This Little Light Of Mine" was composed by Harry Dixon Loes.

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LYRICS
There are multiple versions of "This Little Light Of Mine". Here's the version that I learned as a child [in New Jersey, 1950s]

Chorus:

This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.

Every where I go
I'm gonna let it shine
Every where I go
I'm gonna let it shine
Every where I go
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Jesus gave it to me etc

Chorus

All in my life etc.


All in my home etc.

Chorus

[Add other nouns such as "All in my school" and "all in my church". Repeat the chorus two times at the end of the song.]
-snip-
I'm not sure what lyrics are found in the "This Little Light Of Mine" song that is credited to Harry Dixon Loes.

Another verse that appears to be widespread in children's versions of this song is "Hide it under a bushel? NO!" etc. For what it's worth, I don't recall singing that verse when I was a child.

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FEATURED EXAMPLES
(These videos are presented in chronological order with the videos with the oldest dates posted first.)

Example #1: Fresh Prince this little light of mine



swayzone, Uploaded on May 25, 2009

From the last and final season from one of the best comedy series of all time: Fresh Prince Of Bel Air.

This episode was called "Hare Today" and was episode number 18.

Watch Carlton and Ashley Banks perform a great version of "this little light of mine"!
-snip-
Read my comment below about African Americans wearing kente cloth stoles such as those worn by the minister & choir members in this telivion clip.

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Example #2:
This little light of mine - Corrina, Corrina / Una moglie per papà Soundtrack



xEDVIGEx, Uploaded on Dec 26, 2009

Stupenda versione a cappella della celebre canzone gospel "this little light of mine". E' la colonna sonora del film del '94 "una moglie per papà" con Whoopi Goldberg. Buon ascolto!

Very beautifull version of the famous gospel song "This Little Light of Mine." It's the soundtrack of the film "Corrina, Corrina"(1994) with Whoopi Goldberg.
Good listening!

This little light of mine...I'm going to let it shine! xD

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Example #3: This Little Light of Mine.The Angelic Gospel Singers



TrueGospelMan, Uploaded on Apr 4, 2010

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Example #4: singout GOSPEL - This Little Light Of Mine



singoutGOSPELde Uploaded on May 13, 2010

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Example #5: THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE, I'M GONNA LET IT SHINE



kitel2203, Uploaded on May 14, 2010
-snip-
I added this video as an example of an arrangement of "This Little Light Of Mine" for children. Notice that the children emphasize
the word "No!" in the verse "Hide it under a bushel". I'm not sure if this word was emphasized in the original composition of that song.

Also, notice the hand motions that accompany the children's singing of this song.

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Example #6: This Little Light Of Mine - Soweto Gospel Choir.flv



nubianmazen, Uploaded on Dec 29, 2011

Soweto Gospel Choir

South Africa
-snip-
This gospelized arrangement of "This Little Light Of Mine" combines that song with the Gospel song "If You Ever Needed the Lord Before”.

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Example #7: "Meeting Tonight/This Little Light"- Clara Ward Singers



Rowoches, Published on Jul 14, 2012

*I don't have the copyrights to this video, but I have been given permission, by Willa Ward, to post.*

The Clara Ward Singers in Antibes, France during the 1962 Antibes Jazz Festival. Thelma Jackson, lead. Mildred Means, soprano.
-snip-
"This Little Light Of Mine" begins around .41 in this film clip. I'd love to find the lyrics to this song. Here's a partial transcription. In this song the Clara Ward Singers use a call & response pattern in which the soloist sings along with the rest of the group on the response):

Soloist: This little light of mine
Soloist & Group: I’m gonna let it shine
Soloist: This little light of mine
Soloist & Group: I’m gonna let it shine
Soloist: This little light of mine
Soloist & Group: I’m gonna let it shine
Every day, every day, every day, every day
I'm gonna let my little light shine.

Soloist begins the line & Group joins in:
On Monday gave me the gift of love
On Tuesday, Peace came from above.
On Wednesday, He told me ????
On Thursday ???
On Friday He gave me a little more faith
On Saturday He gave me a little more grace.
On Sunday ????
To let my little light shine.
-snip-
Additions and corrections to this song are welcome.
-snip-
"Meeting [Here] Tonight" is an authentic African American Spiritual. Click http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=49613 for a discussion of that song, including early lyrics of that song that were included in the book Slave Songs Of The Old South.

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Example #8: ODETTA - This Little Light of Mine -

.

Adamfulgence,Published on Mar 11, 2013

Odetta's performance of this song is from the 2007 Grammy- nominated "Gonna Let It Shine", a live album of gospel and spiritual songs supported by Seth Farber on piano and the Holmes Brothers for background vocals.

"This Little Light of Mine" is a scripture song based on a Negro spiritual whose lyrics express the joy of displaying God's perfect love in the midst of every challenge that life presents. It was written by Harry Dixon Loes, a music composer and teacher, around 1920.

Taken from Matthew 5:15-16, "Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
-snip-
This summary has it both ways in that it refers to "This Little Light Of Mine" as a "scripture song based on a Negro spiritual" and also indicates that it was written by Harry Dixon Loe.

The composers of authentic "Negro Spirituals" aren't known. But a composer could purposely write a song in the manner of a Spiritual for creative reasons and/or to honor that history. And people could mistake such a song for an "authentic" African American Spiritual.

I usually consider any religious song that is composed after 1899 which has a known African American composer to be a Gospel song and not an African American Spiritual, even if that song has the same structure or a similar structure as a Spiritual. Example: Fred Hammond's "When The Spirit Of The Lord" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Inx1L0GUPQw.

Clarification: I believe that Harry Dixon Loes was a White American.

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Thanks to the composer of this song. Thanks also to the featured choirs, choir directors, arrangers, and musicians. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube and thanks to those who I quoted in this post.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

2 comments:

  1. Notice the kente cloth stoles that the minister and the choir members wear in the episode of the television show “Fresh Prince Of Bel Air [Example #1 in this post.]

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kente_cloth
    "Kente cloth, known as nwentoma in Akan, is a type of silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips and is native to the Akan ethnic group of South Ghana."
    -snip-
    Increasingly since at least the 1970s African American church choirs, ministers, and university/college graduates have worn kente cloth stoles as a clothing accessory which affirms their African heritage. Also, at their graduation ceremony students who are members of a historically Black Greek lettered fraternity or sorority often wear a solid color kente cloth stole in one of their organization’s colors . The stole also features the Greek letters of that organization in the other color that represents that fraternity or sorority.

    While there are many different colors and patterns of kente cloth, with the exception of Black fraternity/sorority graduates, the colors & patterns of kente cloth that are found in that video is by far the most commonly found type of kente cloth in the United States. That red & orange colored kente cloth with its green banners, blue banners and with black zig zag lines and other adinkra symbols is so heavily marketed in the United States for all kinds of African American products that it has become a marketing shortcut symbol for African American cultural pride.

    Each color and symbol that is found in kente cloth has a specific meanings in Akan cultures http://csdt.rpi.edu/african/kente/symbols.html. However, I believe that the only reason why that particular [mostly] red & orange colored kente cloth that I described above have become the standard form of kente cloth for African American isn't because of any color or shape symbolism, but is just because of marketing. The other colors & patterns of kente cloth are so rarely seen in the USA that I've heard some Black Americans say that the other color combinations & symbols of kente cloth aren't "real kente cloth".

    Since African Americans have "appropriated" an Akan cultural product as a symbol of our African heritage, it behooves us to respect the roots of that cultural product and learn more about its history & meanings.

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  2. In my comments about the similarities between "This Little Light Of Mine" and African American Spiriituals, I used the word "standard call & response", By "standard" I mean the call & response pattern that is regularly used for songs. There are variant forms of call & response compositions.

    One variant form of call & response is the signature pattern in contemporary [mid 1970s to date] African American originated foot stomping cheers. In those cheers the group voice is heard first and the soloist responds to the group. At the conclusion of one rendition of that cheer, the cheer immediately begins from the beginning with the group voice followed by the voice of a new soloist & that pattern continues until every member of the group has had one turn as soloist. Depending on the particular cheer, each soloist may repeat the exact same words as the previous soloists, with the exception of their name and other personal information such as their astrological sign. But in some cheers, each soloist is supposed to chant a new line/s that conforms to the beat that they are metronome-like producing with their feet, individual hand claps, and/or body slaps.

    Click http://cocojams.com/content/foot-stomping-cheers-0 for more information about and examples of foot stomping cheers.

    ReplyDelete