Thursday, May 14, 2015

"All My Sins Done Taken Away" (Song Lyric & Howard W. Odum's 1912 Book Excerpt)

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Revised August 5, 2016]

This is Part I of a two part series on the African American religious song "All My Sins Done Taken Away" (also known as "All My Sins Been Taken Away" and "All My Sins Are Taken Away".

Part I provides an excerpt from Howard W. Odum's 1912 book "Religious Folk-Songs Of The Southern Negroes". This excerpt includes some of Howard W. Odum's general comments about Spirituals and provides comments about and lyrics for the song "All My Sins Done Taken Away."

Click for Part II features YouTube sound files and videos of "All My Sins Been Taken Away" ("All My Sins Are Taken Away".)

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the unnamed persons who composed this song and thanks to Howard W. Odum for collecting and publishing the lyrics to this song.

Fellow in Psychology, Clark University


Reprinted from the Am. Jour, of Religious Psy. and Ed.
July, 1909. Vol. 3, pp. 265-365.


EXCERPT FROM March 8, 2012 [EBook #39078]
Author: Howard W. Odum

[pp. 36-40 given as-is]
"A single favorite stanza, regardless of its meaning, is constantly being sung in a dozen different songs. It is a distinct folk-song; and it matters little to which one it belongs; it serves its purpose in any one of them. So in the form of the verse, a single tune is adapted to lines that differ widely in length; likewise a single line is not infrequently made to fit into any tune that is desired. Again, no final version of any song can be given. The lines are rarely sung in exactly the same form. There are ordinarily as many versions of a line as there are combinations of the words without spoiling the effect of the rhyme or emphatic word. The stanzas have no order of sequence, but are sung as they occur in the mind of the singer; a song does not have a standard number of stanzas, but the length depends upon the time in which it is wanted to sing that particular song. In the songs that follow the most common versions are given. In giving the dialect no attempt is made at consistency; for the negro of the present generation has no consistency of speech. He uses “the” and “de”, “them” and “dem”, “gwine” and “goin’”, “and” and “an’”, together with many other varied forms, which will be noted in a later chapter; nor does it matter that each of the forms is used in the same line or stanza. In the old songs that are here quoted for comparisons, the exact form of speech in which they have been published is used. In the miscellaneous songs gathered here and there, what may be called the average dialect is used. The songs that form the basis of this work are those that are found among the present-day negroes of the South; in many cases the corresponding song of earlier days is given in order that a better study of the folk-songs may be made and the many points of resemblance noted. In all instances the basis of the chapter is the present-day song, and these should not be confused with those that have already been published. The words of the chorus and refrain are italicized. Further particulars will be pointed out in connection with the several songs.

Perhaps no better beginning can be made towards general classification of the religious songs of the negroes than by introducing some that combine several characteristics, but still have a general theme predominating. Sin is an important factor in the religious life of the negro and his songs refer to it in many forms. The three general tones which pervade the theme are: A note of victory over sin and the conception of it as being in the past or belonging to some other person; the conception of sin as being present and the singer as being in its grasp; and thirdly, the “sinner-man” himself and warnings given him. The very popular song, “All my Sins Done Taken Away” is typical of the first class mentioned above. There is no reason why the stanzas given below should come in the order presented, except that they are heard in this arrangement as much as in any other. The stanzas consist of two rhymed lines with the refrain. These, however, are usually extended to four, the first two and refrain being sung slowly and in a more or less plaintive tone, while the repetition of the same lines with the rhymed line and refrain are rapid and joyous. The common version follows.

I’m goin’ to heaven an’ I don’t want ter stop,
Yes, I’m goin’ to heaven an’ I don’t want ter stop,
All o’ my sins done taken away, taken away;
I’m goin’ to heaven an’ I don’t want ter stop,
An’ I don’t want ter be no stumblin’ block,
All my sins done taken away, taken away.

Instead of repeating the chorus line at the end of the first two lines that are sung, the negroes often vary the song by repeating the last half of the line, as in the following stanza:

Well “M” for Mary, an’ “P” for Paul,
Well “M” for Mary, an’ “P” for Paul,
An’ “P” for Paul;
Well “M” for Mary an’ “P” for Paul.
“C” for Chris’ who died for us all,
All o’ my sins done taken away, taken away.

The chorus is again varied from “all my sins” to “all o’ my sins” or “all of my sins,” “done taken away,” or “bin taken away,” while the entire line is sometimes changed in a single stanza. Sometimes it is sung as given above; at other times the line goes: “All my sins done taken away, bin’ taken away,” or omitting either “done” or “bin” it is sung equally well as “All my sins taken away, taken away,” while in the grand chorus at the climax of song the chorus goes:

Yes all o’ my sins bin taken away,
Yes all my sins done taken away,

Yes all o’ my sins bin taken away,
Yes all my sins done taken away,
Glory, glory to His name-e,
All my sins done taken away, taken away.

This last chorus may be repeated whenever the singers do not think of words to fit in with the songs, although this is rarely necessary. The following stanzas are sung in the same manner as those just given.

If I had er died when I wus young,
I never would a had dis rist to run,
All o’ my sins done taken away, taken away.

Well you oughter bin dere to see de sight,
The peoples come runnin’ both cullud an’ white.

My feet got wet in de midnight dew,
An’ de mornin’ star was a witness, too.

If you doan b’leave I bin redeem,
Jes follow me down to Jordan stream.

When a sinner see me it make him laugh,
Thank God-a-mighty, I’m free at las’.

Mary wept an’ Martha mourned,
Mary wept all ’round the throne.

Mary wept an’ Martha mourned,
All because deir brother done daid an’ gone.

Mary wept an’ Martha cried,
All ’cause dey brother done gone an’ died.

I’m goin’ to ride on de mornin’ train,
All don’t see me goin’ ter hear me sing.

I’m gwine to heaven on eagle’s wing,
All don’t see me goin’ ter hear me sing.

My mother’s sick an’ my father’s daid,
Got nowhere to lay my weary head.

I went down in de valley to pray,
My soul got happy an’ I stayed all day.

A number of other versions are common. Instead of “Mary wept all ’round the throne” is sung “all ’round God’s hebbenly throne.” Instead of the morning star as a witness the old songs have it “angels witness too.” Instead of in the valley, the old songs also had “on de mountain” and also inserted “I didn’t go dere to stay.” This version is sung in some of the songs still."...

White American folklorist Howard W. Odum describes "All My Sins Done Taken Away" as a "very popular song". Judging from my personal experiences as an African American and judging from the scarcity of examples of this song on YouTube, "All My Sins Done Taken Away" (or religious songs with very close titles) is no longer a popular song, and hasn't been popular for some time.

To date (May 14, 2015), here's a complete list of the description by race of persons on YouTube who sing "All My Sins Been Taken Away" or "All My Sins Are Taken Away":
an African American vocal group (sound file)
a (Black) Jamaican Gospel singer (sound file)
a White American vocal group (sound file)
an integrated American choral group (video)
an Asian choral group (two video)

[All of these examples are featured on Part II of this series (with one video example of the Asian group's rendition and one link to that group's rendition of this song.]

The racial referent "Negro" has been retired since the mid to late 1960s. The custom of spelling "Negro" with a small "n" was retired even before that time. The appropriate referent for this population is African American (with capital "a"s) and/or "Black" (with either capital "b" or lower case "b").

African Americans usually use the word "verse" instead of the word "stanza".

The dialectic word “gwine” is no longer used in African American Vernacular English. That word has been replaced by the word "gonna". Some African Americans may still use the word "done" as in "done taken away" to convey some action that happened a while ago - "My sins done taken away" means "My sins have been taken away (removed) for a while ago (some time ago). In my opinion, neither of the adapted titles "My Sins Been Taken Away" (My sins [have] been taken away) and "My Sins Are Taken Away" fully convey the meaning of that earlier title. I prefer the title "My Sins Have Been Are Taken Away".

The words "de" (the) and "dem" (them") are still used in African American and Caribbean American informal speech by those who are code switching (purposely using those words to convey Black heritage), and those who use those words as their primary means of speech. Because of the negative connotations associated with Southern Black dialect, few African Americans use those words in our renditions of African American Spirituals or early Gospel songs. I'd recommend not using "de", "dem", "gwine", "done" or other such dialectic words in renditions of Spirituals and early Black Gospel songs.

Here are standard English equivalents for the Black dialect words/spellings found in this excerpt of Howard W. Odum's 1912 excerpt:
"an' = and
bin = been (have been)
"cullud" = Colored [Colored people]
"de" = the
"daid" = dead
"dere" = there
"dey" - their
"dis" = this
"doan" = don't
"done" = have been [action that occurred a while ago]
had er' = haven't
las' = last
"rist" = race
"ter" = to
"wus" = was

The tune for "All My Sins Done Taken Away" (as performed in the examples featured in Part II of this series) is the same as or similar to the tune of "Ain't Gonna Grieve My Lord, No More" ("Oh, You'll Never Get To Heaven").

While the song "All My Sins Done Taken Away" doesn't appear to be well known now among African Americans, two verses from that song which were included in Howard Odum's 1909 dissertation are often found in other Spirituals that are still popular among that population. Those "floating verses" are:

"If you doan b’leave I bin redeem,
Jes follow me down to Jordan stream."

Contemporary English:
If you don't believe I've been redeemed
Just follow me down to Jordan's stream

"I went down in de valley to pray,
My soul got happy an’ I stayed all day."

Contemporary English:
I went way down to the valley for to pray
My soul got happy and I stayed all day]

A good case can be made that the song "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" comes from the Spiritual "Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet". That Spiritual contains the line "all my sins done taken away" (or similar words).

Here are quotes from Origin: Hand Me Down My Walking Cane
From: GUEST,jmrnky
Date: 15 Aug 01 - 03:05 PM
"Do any of you know the origin of "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" I have one source that says it was written by James A. Bland of "Golden Slippers" fame. However, that was the only one."

From: Mysha
Date: 15 Aug 14 - 07:39 PM

...Black past has it James A. Bland, 1880.

Sources given for the page are:
- David Ewen, Great Men of American Popular Song (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972);
- Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982);
- Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
It might be a bit of work to trace that year in them, though."
-snip- is described as The Online Reference Guide to African American History; This 13,000 page reference center is dedicated to providing information to the general public on African American history and on the history of the more than one billion people of African ancestry around the world."

masato sakurai
Date: 17 Aug 01 - 12:39 PM
"The Great Song Thesaurus (Oxford UP) has an entry "(Oh) Hand Me Down My Walking Cane," and it says:
1865 w.m. traditional black American spiritual
Was it? What was the evidence? Erskine Peters' Lyrics of the Afro-American Spiritual (Greenwood) contains a seemingly related one:
Hand me down my silver trumpet, Gabriel,
Hand it down;
Hand me down my silver trumpet, Gabriel,
Hand me down
Hand me down my silver trumpet,
Hand me down my silver trumpet,
All my sins been washed away. (Traditional)

Well, this version looks like a spiritual. But the collection (without melody) doesn't give the date or place it collected. According to Index to Negro Spirituals (Cleveland Public Library), "Hand Me Down" (this short title) is located in Utica Jubilee Singers Spirituals (1930), which I have not seen. There is no mention of "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" in Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943 (Oxford UP); the titles of 10 recordings are "Hand Me Down the Silver Trumpet," "Hand Me Down the Trumpet Gabriel," "Hand Me Down the Silver Trumpet Gabriel," "Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet, Gabriel," "Hand Me the Silver Trumpet," and "Hand Me Down" (and "Hand Me Down My Old Suitcase").

Surely, this version of "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" (so the title goes) has the silver trumpet" line, so these two song families are related; at least they were intermingled somewhere. But, up to now, I cannot confirm the thesaurus.

The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music has HAND ME DOWN DEM GOLDEN SHOES (Composer, Lyricist, Arranger: By Jacob J. Sawyer. Publication: Boston: W.A. Evans, 1883). The Library of Congress has two items of this song (this and this ). My guess (without any evidence)is, this was mistaken for James Bland's "Dem Golden Slippers." "
Pancocojams editor: The hyperlinks that were given as “this and this” in that 2001 comment now lead to a website page that has nothing to do with any song.

From: Q
Date: 16 Aug 14 - 12:47 PM
"Was Bland first, or was its origin in spirituals like "All My Sins Done Taken Away"?
See St. Helena Island Spirituals Permathread, 130500

Bland was a member of the first all black minstrel group in the 1870s, the Georgia Minstrels. He heard spirituals from ex-slaves working on the Howard campus."

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  1. Here's something that may or may not be known among members of the historically Black Greek letter fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. - their highly revered song "Hand Me Down My Kappa Kane" has its source in the "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" song. And "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" is an adaptation of the old Spiritual "Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet" which includes the chorus “All My Sins Done Taken Away”.

    A pancocojams series on "Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet", "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" & "Hand Me Down My Kappa Kane" will be published ASAP. And the links to those posts will be added to this post's comment section.

    1. When I wrote that the song "Hand Me Down My Kappa Kane" was much revered by Kappas, I meant that as a statement of fact -based on examples throughout the internet including YouTube.

      It seems to me (from the outside looking in as much as a female can) that the fact that "Hand Me Down My Kappa Kane" is ultimately based on at least one African American Spiritual ("Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet, Gabriel") should add to and not detract from the reverence that Kappas feel for that fraternity song.

  2. It is popular; look on Spotify and there are well over 100 versions. It sometimes goes by the title Walking Cane, sometimes Walkin Cane (and you need to search for both as Spotify is not that sophisticated) and sometimes Hand me down my Walkin Cane, as well as All my Sins...taken away. And by all sorts of musical genres and racially varied musicians too.

    1. Thanks for your comment, NSBarnett!