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Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Free At Last" African American Spiritual & Gospel Song

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides three video examples & three lyric examples of the African American religious song "Free At Last".

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks also to the unknown composers of this song. Thanks to all the featured vocalists and musicians in these examples and thanks to the publishers of these examples on YouTube.

Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-african-american-roots-of-memorial.html for a pancocojams post that features a Joan Baez rendition of another song entitled "Free At Last"

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INFORMATION ABOUT THE "FREE AT LAST" SONG
The earliest example of this song (1907) was documented by African American collector John Wesley Work, Jr. (also known as J. W. Work, I). This Spiritual has been "gospelized", i.e. sung in a Gospel style.

The words "Free at last! Free at last!/Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" were popularized by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the end of what is now known as his "I Have A Dream Speech" that he gave during the 1963 March On Washington. In that speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to "Free At Last" as "the old Negro spiritual". A video clip of that speech is found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smEqnnklfYs
The text of that speech can be found at http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

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AN EARLY EXAMPLE OF "FREE AT LAST"
(Collected by John Wesley Work, Jr. and included in his book New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro, 1907)

Free at last, free at last
I thank God I'm free at last
Free at last, free at last
I thank God I'm free at last

Way down yonder in the graveyard walk
I thank God I'm free at last
Me and my Jesus going to meet and talk
I thank God I'm free at last

On my knees when the light pass'd by
I thank God I'm free at last
Tho't my soul would rise and fly
I thank God I'm free at last

Some of these mornings, bright and fair
I thank God I'm free at last
Goin' meet King Jesus in the air
I thank God I'm free at last

Source: http://www.negrospirituals.com/news-song/free_at_last_from.htm
-snip-
"John Wesley Work, Jr. (August 6, 1871[1] or 1873[2] - September 7, 1925) was the first African-American collector of folk songs and spirituals,[1] and also a choral director, educationalist and songwriter.[2] He is now sometimes known as John Wesley Work II, to distinguish him from his son, John Wesley Work III". Click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wesley_Work,_Jr. for more information about J. W. Work, Jr.

The first four lines given above are the chorus for that song. That chorus was almost certainly repeated after each verse. Also, given the nature of African American Spirituals, additional verses or substitute verses were probably sometimes sung for this song and the verses given above weren't necessarily always sung in that order.

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FEATURED EXAMPLES
These examples are presented in chronological order based on their posting date, with the oldest examples given first.

Example #1: Al Green - Free at Last



jacob van Gellekom, Published on Apr 13, 2013

give the old life for the new, free at last!

Lyrics:
(written and recorded by Al Green, 1973)

I'm free, thank God almighty
Free at last, free, free, free, free
Oh, I give Your name the praise
Free at last

Free, free, free, free
Thank God almighty
Free at last

Thank God almighty, free at last
Let me say I am
Free, free, free, free, free, free, free
Thank You Lord, yeah, yeah, no

Free, free, free, free
Thank You, thank you Jesus, the Lord, oh, yeah
Oh, how You pick me up, turn me around
Place my feet on solid ground
Yes You did and yes You did, yes You did

Hey, took me out of the muddy clay
Set me on a rock to stay
Yes You did, yes You did, yes You did

Oh, You blessed my soul with plenty of love
Gave me wings to fly above
Yes You did, yes You did, yeah

I love Your name, I love Your name
I love Your name, I love Your name
I love Your name, I love Your name
Whoa, I'm free, free
Yes, my love can't justify The King, yes I

Source: http://www.metrolyrics.com/live-free-at-last-lyrics-al-green.html

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Example #2: Blind Boys Of Alabama's new video 'Free at Last'



TheGigantem, Uploaded on Dec 18, 2007

They may be from Alabama but they've been spending time in the Crescent City. Four-time Grammy winners The Blind Boys of Alabama's new album 'Down In New Orleans,' their first in three years, will be released January 29, 2008 on the Time Life Music label. Recording for the first time in New Orleans, The Blind Boys are backed here by a trio of world-class New Orleans musicians: David Torkanowsky (piano), Roland Guerin (bass) and Shannon Powell (drums). Other guests include legendary pianist/producer and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Allen Toussaint, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and the horn-heavy Hot 8 Brass Band, one of the city's most vital young acts. But the band's deeply soulful and natural voices remain in the spotlight on 'Down In Orleans.' After performing together for over six decades, The Blind Boys of Alabama have enjoyed one of the more striking comebacks in recent memory. Their last several albums have earned these hipster septuagenarians the best reviews and record sales of their career, four Grammy Awards in a four year span, and a completely new, contemporary audience.
-snip-
Click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blind_Boys_of_Alabama for more information about the Blind Boys Of Alabama (also known as "The Five Blind Boys Of Alabama".

Lyrics: Free At Last
(as recorded by Blind Boys Of Alabama, 2007)

Group: Free at last, free at last
Thank God almighty, I’m free at last
Well, free at last, free at last
Thank God almighty, I’m free at last.

Soloist-One day, one day I was walking along
Group- Thank God almighty, I’m free at last
Soloist- I heard a voice but I saw no one
Group- Thank God almighty, I’m free at last

Chorus:
Soloist: Hey, I’m free at last
Group-Free at last
Entire Group -Thank God almighty I’m free at last
Soloist: Free at last free at last
Entire Group-Thank God almighty I’m free at last

Soloist- I met ole Satan on my way
Group-Thank God almighty I’m free at last
Soloist He said “Young man, you’re too young to pray.”
Group-Thank God almighty I’m free at last

Soloist-I said I’m free at last
Group-Free at last
Soloist-Thank God
Group-Thank God almighty I’m free at last

[Instrumental]

Soloist-Oh Satan's mad but I’m so glad*
Group -Thank God almighty I’m free at last
Soloist-He missed a soul that he thought he had
Group-Thank God almighty I’m free at last

[vamp]
-snip-
Transcription by Azizi Powell from the video. Corrections and additions are welcome.

*The "Devil's mad" verse is a floating verse that is found in a number of religious songs. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/05/part-ii-of-series-devils-mad-virgin.html for a pancocojams post that showcases several songs that include those words.

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Example #3: Joyful Noise - Free At Last



LadyKej, Uploaded on Jan 20, 2009

This is Joyful Noise, a gospel acapella group in the DC Metro area. They sang at a popular restaurant in DC (Bus Boys and Poets) to celebrate MLK Day and the upcoming inauguration. The performance included singing of traditional Negro Spirituals, spoken word performances and saxophone solos.
-snip-
I haven't attempted to transcribe this version. A transcription would be very welcome. Like other African American Gospel songs that are based on Spirituals, the verses appear to be made from floating verses that are found on other Spirituals. I think that the second verse that was sung is "I went down to the river and the water was cold/ It chilled my body but not my soul".

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