Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spiritual "I Heard Of A City Called Heaven" (with lyrics & comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases seven examples of the African American Spiritual "A City Called Heaven" (also known as "I Heard Of A City Called Heaven"). The now standard lyrics to this Spiritual are also included in this post along with selected comments from some of these featured sound files and videos. In addition, this post includes information about African American arranger and choir director Hall Johnson and the Hall Johnson choir (after Example #6).

I consider Examples #2 and Example #4 to be what I refer to as "gospelized Spirituals", that is Spirituals that are performed in a particular Gospel style. And it seems to me that the sound file of Sarah Vaughn singing this song that is given as Example #3 has a hint of Jazz.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the composer/s of this African American Spiritual. And thanks to the all of the arrangers, singers and musicians who are featured in these examples. Thanks also to the publishers of these examples on YouTube and all those who are quoted in this post.

(composer/s unknown)

I am a poor pilgrim of sorrow
And I'm left in this whole wide world alone
No hope have I for tomorrow
I'm trying to make heaven my home.

Sometimes, I am tossed and driven, Lord
Sometimes I don't know where to roam
I've heard of a city called heaven
And I'm striving to make heaven my home

My mother has reached that pure glory
My father's still walkin' in sin
My brother and sister won't own me
Because I am tryin' to get in

"won't own me" = "have disowned me" (won't have anything to do with me)

These examples are presented in chronological order by their publishing dates on YouTube with the example with the oldest dates given first.

Example #1: Mahalia Jackson- "A City Called Heaven"

DaSourcespr06, Uploaded on Jul 20, 2008

The Queen of Gospel singing one of her greatest masterpieces, "A City Called Heaven", an old Negro spiritual. This is one of several versions of this song she sung.
The referent "Negro" was retired in the 1960s and eventually replaced with the referents "African American" and "Black".

Here are two comments from that sound file's discussion thread:
PennTrafford, 2008
"Mahalia loved singing the old songs - they were so rich with emotion and meaning. Thank you for posting this, DaSourceSpr06!"

Bell Head , 2013
the late Josephine Johnson sang this as the sermonic hymn at First Baptist Church in Baltimore in 1982. Same style and tempo, slow and sweet but in a high soprano voice. She sang it to the high heavens and when she finished she stomped her feet and got happy and that very High Baptist church took off. Oh that was CHURCH!!!
"got happy" and "took off" = felt the Holy Spirit and as a result, did Holy dances and/or praises God in other ways

Example #2: I Heard of A City Called Heaven.mp4

autocat12, Uploaded on Feb 12, 2010

Pastor O.W. Davis
Union Chapel MB Church
Huntsville, Al 35811
Notice the Ghanaian/Ivory Coast kente cloth stoles/sashes or ties that the choir wears. Click for a pancocojams post on the custom of African American Gospel choir members wearing kente cloth stoles.

Example #3: City called heaven - Sarah Vaughan - 1951

Jan van den Belt Uploaded on Jul 7, 2011

City called heaven
Sarah Vaughan with orchestra under the direction of Norman Leyden

Example #4: Amber Bullock sings "A City Called Heaven" (Audio Only)

AJM89 Uploaded, on Aug 16, 2011

Amber Bullock from Sunday's Best!
"Sunday Best is a reality television Gospel singing competition series which airs on BET." [Black Entertainment Television.]

This is an example of a gospelized Spiritual that also has a Jazz flavor.

Click for a not very clear video of this performance that was recorded from an android phone.

Here are three comments from the festured sound file's discussion thread:
Larika Ritchie, 2011
"Amber so far you are my best Sunday Best winner. You brought so much to the world of Gospel. We have to change up the monotany of singing shouting and screaming and just enter into the presence of God with ease. I love this song love this song please please put this on your award winning album because i am now a fan. Bless your heart girl and kiss your baby for me. That voice, that voice...Hallelejah.. U brought Jazz to gospel hellllooo"

lilsiskeke, 2011

anon6782, 2011
"Gospel & jazz, the annointing plus this woman's incredible God-given talent. What more could you ask for? 1:16 made the hair on the back of my neck stand up! This was the performance that made me stand up and take notice, then she just killed it with her version of "For Every Mountain". Can't wait to get her CD."

Example #5: Rev. Roosevelt Geddis - "I've Heard of a City Called Heaven"

Canaan United Methodist Church, Published on Apr 28, 2013

Rev. Roosevelt Geddis singing "I've Heard of a City Called Heaven" at Canaan United Methodist Church in Ridgeville, SC, on April 28, 2013. Isreal Singleton on organ. Johnny Rice on drums.

Example #6: Hall Johnson Choir- I've Heard Of A City Called Heaven

Nico Fournier Published on Jun 9, 2014
Here's information about Hall Johnson and the Hall Johnson Choir from
Hall Johnson (March 12, 1888 – April 30, 1970) was one of a number of American composers and arrangers—including Harry T. Burleigh, R. Nathaniel Dett, and Eva Jessye — who elevated the African-American spiritual to an art form, comparable in its musical sophistication to the compositions of European Classical composers...

In time, however, he became more interested in choral music, forming the Hall Johnson Negro Choir, the first of many choral ensembles, in 1925. Hall Johnson and his choir became renowned through their participation in the 1930 Broadway production of Marc Connelly's The Green Pastures as well as in national and international tours of the play, radio versions, the 1936 film adaptation, and Hallmark Hall of Fame television broadcasts.

Johnson would also go on to arrange music for and conduct his choir in more than thirty feature-length Hollywood films, as well as a number of short films and cartoons...

Johnson wrote of the spiritual:
"True enough, this music was transmitted to us through humble channels, but its source is that of all great art everywhere—the unquenchable, divinely human longing for a perfect realization of life. It traverses every shade of emotion without spilling over in any direction. Its most tragic utterances are without pessimism, and its lightest, brightest moments have nothing to do with frivolity. In its darkest expressions there is always a hope, and in its gayest measures a constant reminder. Born out of the heart-cries of a captive people who still did not forget how to laugh, this music covers an amazing range of mood. Nevertheless, it is always serious music and should be performed seriously, in the spirit of its original conception." [1]

Johnson was fluent in both German and French. Among the singers he coached were Marian Anderson, Robert McFerrin and Shirley Verrett. His arrangements of the spirituals have been recorded by some of the world's finest artists."...

Example #7: I've Heard of a City Called Heaven [Pearl Bailey]

Various Artists - Topic, Published on Nov 12, 2014

I've Heard of a City Called Heaven

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