Sunday, February 9, 2014

Examples of the Spiritual "There Is A Balm In Gilead" & Karen Clark Sheard's "Balm In Gilead"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents three examples of the African American Spiritual "There Is A Balm In Gilead". This post also includes a video of Karen Clark Sheard's "Balm In Gilead" which is a gospelized version of this Spiritual. General information about this religious song is also included in this post. My definition of "Gospelized Spirituals" is found in that section of this post.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thank you to the composers and featured vocalists of this song.

Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and to the publishers of these YouTube examples.

"[There Is A Balm In Gilead" is a well-known traditional Black-American spiritual. The “balm in Gilead” is a reference from the Old Testament, but the lyrics of this spiritual refer to the New Testament concept of salvation through Jesus Christ. The Balm of Gilead is interpreted as a spiritual medicine that is able to heal Israel (and sinners in general). In the Old Testament, the balm of Gilead is taken most directly from Jeremiah chapter 8 v. 22: "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my [God's] people?" (Another allusion can also be found in Jeremiah chapter 46, v. 2 and 11: “This is the message (of the Lord) against the army of Pharaoh Neco … Go up to Gilead and get balm, O Virgin Daughter of Egypt, but you multiply remedies in vain; here is no healing for you” - see also Jeremiah chapter 22, v. 6.) [1]

The first appearance of the spiritual in something close to its current form is uncertain. A version of the refrain can be found in Washington Glass's 1854 hymn "The Sinner's Cure,"(see link below) where it is in 7s.6s.7s.6s rather than the Common Meter of today's refrain. Glass attributed this hymn to himself, but like several of the hymns so attributed, it is substantially the work of another. He attached to one of John Newton's Olney hymns [2] of 1779 this refrain:
There is balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole ;
There's power enough in heaven,
To cure a sin-sick soul."
Continue reading that page for more sources for this Spiritual. That Wikipedia page also include two versions of the lyrics for that song. Also, one version of the lyrics is included as sub-titles of the video given as Example #3 below.

These examples are posted in chronological order, with the oldest dated examples presented first.

Example #1: Mahalia Jackson- There is a Balm in Gilead

DaSourcespr06 Uploaded on May 7, 2008

One of my own personal favorites of Mahalia Jackson, "There Is A Balm In Gilead"!

Example #2: Paul Robeson - There is A Balm in Gilead

varadero1839, Published on Apr 4, 2012

Mr. Robeson sings a most beautiful rendition of this song. Merely his incredible voice, a piano and the Carnegie Hall venue were all he needed or ever will. From 1958!

Example #3: There is a balm in Gilead'.

Ronald Ellis, Published on Aug 23, 2012

sung unaccompanied by The Adventist Vocal Ensemble.
This song's lyrics are given as sub-titles within the video.


Karen Clark Sheard - Balm In Gilead (Live)

Uploaded on Sep 24, 2009

"Balm in Gilead" from the 1997 live concert in Detroit, featuring Donald Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers.
Click for the lyrics to this song.

* Gospelized Spiritual is my term for Spirituals that are arranged and performed in a Gospel style. Among other thing, this usually means that the song's tempo is increased.

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1 comment:

  1. As an aside, the female choir members in the Karen Clark Sheard video are wearing dresses & head wraps (geles) made out traditional mud cloth or what looks like that West African fabric. Among African Americans mud cloth is second only to kente cloth in its use as a visual symbol of our pride in our African heritage.

    Here's some information about African mud cloth:
    "Bogolanfini (“Bo-ho-lahn-FEE-nee”) or bogolan is the traditional cloth of Mali and is considered an expression of Malian national identity. In the western world, it's more commonly referred to as "mud cloth". Mud cloth is a long established tradition among the Bamana, an indigenous people who inhabit a large area to the east and north of Bamako in Mali."
    That page also includes various examples, colors, and designs of "Bogolanfini".