Friday, January 3, 2014

A Cultural Critique Of The Song "Shut De Door" (Keep Out De Debil)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Let me start by saying that I think that "Shut De Door" (also given as "Shut De Do") is a song that has a very catchy tune and easy to learn lyrics that can be inspirational from a religious standpoint. But this post isn't about the musicality of that song.

From jump street I want to correct some erroneous beliefs about this song:
1. "Shut De Door" isn't a Caribbean folk song.


2. "Shut De Door" isn't a "Negro" Spiritual.

"Shut De Door" wasn't composed by a person from the Caribbean. It was composed in 1982 by a White American singer/songwriter Randy Stonehill who is from California and has no Caribbean descent, at least none that is indicated in his biography.

"My Top 10 Randy Stonehill songs"

November 11, 2011 By Fred Clark

7. “Shut De Do”
The lyrics here are pure CCM, but the catchy calypso lilt and the good humor and musical playfulness life the song to another level. That playfulness also suggests that this “devil” Stonehill is singing of is more like the Old Scratch of folklore than the archenemy of Peretti-esque spiritual warfare. It reminds me of my favorite story about the Devil, one told by Tony Campolo: An old preacher wakes in the night and hears a noise. He turns on the light as sees Satan, the devil himself, standing at the foot of his bed. “Oh,” says the preacher, “it’s just you.” And he turns off the light and goes back to sleep."
“CCM” = probably Contemporary Christian Music

"Old Scratch" is a nickname for the devil. Click
American Heritage Dictionary for information about this nickname.

The erroneous belief that "Shut De Door" is an old song -that is older than 1982 when it was composed by White American Randy Stonehill- probably mostly comes from these two verses of that song:

When I was a baby child
(Shut de do, keep out the debil)
Good and bad was just a game
(Shut de do, keep the debil in de ni-eet)
Many years and many trials
(Shut de do, keep out the debil)
They proved to me they not the same
(Shut de do, keep the debil in de ni-eet)


My mama used to sing this song
(Shut de do, keep out the debil)
Oh poppa used to sing it too
(Shut de do, keep the debil in de ni-eet)
Jesus called and took them home
(Shut de do, keep out the debil)
And so I sing the song for you
(Shut de do, keep the debil in de ni-eet)

But my main problem with the "Shut De Door" song, besides the false attributions of the song to Caribbean folk music or African American Spirituals, is exactly the "good humor and musical playfulness" of Randy Stonehill's renditions of his composition. It appears to me -from watching two YouTube videos of Randy Stonehill singing that song (particularly the video given below from the 1990s) that Stonehill is making fun of Black Caribbean culture. In his prefacing remarks in that videotaped concert it appears to me that Stonehill makes fun of Black Caribbean pronunciation, and-by extension Caribbean folk beliefs. Here's that video followed by my transcription of Randy Stonehill's introductory comments to his rendition of his song:

shut de do stonehill

newlifelooks. Uploaded on May 21, 2009

1990 look for diane wigstone!
Diane Wigstone is an American actress and director known for Christian themed productions.

Transcription with my comments in brackets [beginning at .34]

“Because the thing is we sound too polite...What better opportunity than now to go native with Uncle Ran? [When he says that the camera pans to one of the apparently very few People of Color in the audience. Then Stonehill sings some nonsensical words in Caribbean tune and says] It’s not “Shut The Door”, darn it, let’s regress. Just un-learn many many things...It’s “Shut de door”. "Shut de door". “Shut de door”. Keep out de debbil". [Audience members are shown laughing -at this accent or the words of the song?] Randy continues by saying laughingly “How’s the soup?”

[He and the audience laugh and then Randy says] “With this new exotic vision let us go forth, even now, and begins to sing the song...
It should also be noted that in the beginning of Randy Stonehill's singing this song, silhouette images of people dancing [Black people?] in a Hip-Hop fashion. The people are wearing necklaces. At least one man is wearing a large chain link necklace, a style that was popular among African American Hip-Hop music lovers.

In case the reference to "going native", and the question "Where's the soup?" went over some people's head, I've no doubt that those are nods to the stereotypical images of Black Africans cooking people in a huge iron pot. I've also no doubt that Stonehill's exhortation to his White audience to "regress and unlearn many things" was at the very least a back handed compliment to the supposedly simple, uncomplicated religious beliefs of folks "close to nature".

Here's a serious question for you - Doesn't Randy Stonehill's introductory remarks if not his actual rendition of his "Shut De Door" song have elements of black faced minstrelsy? Black people's superstitions are so funny. Ha. Ha. Ha. Never mind that some of those folk beliefs originated with Elizabethan European superstitions. Light the candle. Everything's alright (or "Everyting" as I found this word given on one lyric website for this song).

because "Shut De Door" has such a catchy tune and such easy to learn words written in call & response format, I'm not surprised that that song appears to be a standard for so many American school choirs. I'm glad that those choirs seem to take a much more formal approach to the song, as is the case with these singers:

Shut De Do

D Van
The choir member introducing the song invites the audience to "Join us In the Caribbean with the song “Shut de do”.

Like most YouTube viewer comment threads for this song, a number of the commenters critiqued the choir's rendition of this song, indicating that their choir sang it better. But there's one comment from that viewer comment thread which I won't quote because of its profanity which points out the choir's choice of "fake" Caribbean attire- the floral shirts that Americans seem to think Caribbean people and Hawaiian people wear.

I will quote two other comments from that viewer comment thread that reinforce my concerns that 1. people may confuse this song with a "Negro" Spiritual (because of its call & response textual structure) and people may think that all people from the Caribbean use Patois or Creole pronunciations or always use those pronunciations.
jesssicaax, 2007
..."The only problem was that we went faster since our principal was gonan cut it form the program whatever. You guys suck Its suppose to sound jhamaican not white -_- Middle schools did better then you guys."

Jarrod Freeman, 2009
"this a negro spiritual. the intonation is too correct and perfect for this type of song but whatver the conductor wanted goes"
Did you catch the inaccurate beliefs that there are no White Jamaicans, that all White people sound alike, and that all Jamaicans sound alike? smh [Shake my head (in exasperation and disdain)].

Also, besides spelling the long retired referent "Negro" with a small n [which is a big no no], did you catch the implication that White people's pronunciation is "correct and perfect", and other pronunciations are... what? ...Certainly they're not as correct or perfect.

It's interesting to me that all the YouTube videos that I've found to date of this song feature White singers and White choirs. I wonder why that is, and I wonder what Caribbean people think of this song.

I strongly believe that people who teach this song need to make sure that their students and their audiences know that this song was composed with a Calypso tune "in the manner of a Caribbean religious song" but it's not a "real" Caribbean song - if by "real" you mean a song whose composition is unknown but which originated in one of the Caribbean cultures or a song with a known composer of Caribbean descent. Mind you, because there are White people, Chinese people, East Indian people etc. from the Caribbean, composers of Caribbean songs need not be of some African descent.

Oh and I wish that choirs singing this song would refrain from wearing fake Caribbean shirts. But compared with other things related to this song, that's just a small matter.

Click for a companion post on the superstitions that are referred to in the "Shut De Door" song.

Thanks to those who are quoted in this post.

Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Shocking.

    One place I think you missed the mark is when you wrote the following:
    It should also be noted that in the beginning of Randy Stonehill's singing this song, silhouette images of people dancing [Black people?] in a Hip-Hop fashion. The people are wearing necklaces. At least one man is wearing a large chain link necklace, a style that was popular among African American Hip-Hop music lovers.

    The silhouettes are actually from Apple's highly successful iPod commercials from the mid-2000s. Specifically, they ripped off portions of this commercial:

    There, you can see that the necklaces are actually the white ear-bud style earphones that were made iconic by the then-only-available-in-white iPod.

    1. Greetings, Uumlad.

      Thanks for that information about the dancers. Here's the link to that Dance About it iPod Commercial video">

      Yes, I can see the ear plug necklaces that the dancers are wearing better in that original video. But I was specifically referring to the dancer that appears at around 2:02 or 2:03 of that "Shut de Door" video. I think he's wearing a chain link necklaces.

      Regardless, it certainly appears to me that those silhouetted dancers are Black and even if they aren't Black they are performing African American originated Hip-Hop dances (and not Caribbean originated dances) though a good case can certainly be made that Hip-Hop in part comes from the Caribbean and some dances that are referred to as Hip-Hop/R&B like the Butterfly are from the Caribbean (but I don't know if those dancers are doing that particular dance).

      But the points that I tried to make in this post can stand without those sentences about those dancers.

      And, yes, I was surprised by those remarks Randy Stonehill made before he began singing his admittedly very catchy song.

  2. Thank you for your research and perspective on this song. I am not a supporter of Contemporary Christian Music, and I first encountered this selection quite by happenstance. My interest in this is in its utility and appropriateness as choral music for church or concert. The points you make are well taken. Perhaps the real problem here is simply Randy Stonehill himself, who seems rather naïve in his good-natured if stereotypical characterization of a culture not his own.

    However, your observations raise some serious questions. If, as you seem to suggest, the song is unauthentic because its author seeks to emulate a style outside his own racial and cultural identity, does it follow that only African Americans should compose and arrange spirituals, that only Caribbeans of color should compose calypsos?

    If the use of dialect is the problem, then what of the numerous spirituals arranged by William L. Dawson, Jester Hairston, Rosamond Johnson, Moses Hogan, and many others, whose texts use dialect unabashedly? Shall performers, contrary to Mr. Stonehill’s recommendations, “normalize” the pronunciation, lest they give offense?

    And does it follow that only the originators of the spirituals or calypsos are qualified to perform the selections in the first place? Have whites any business performing an African American spiritual?

    This poses a real artistic quandary. In my profession, we prepare and perform music in an effort to be life-giving and life-enhancing. In so doing, we regularly cross cultural borders in a spirit of discovery and an abiding regard for humanity in all of its facets. We cannot speak all languages with equal authenticity, but I suggest that, regardless of our limitations, our desire to do so is a measure of genuine goodwill.

    1. Thanks, Stephen Mager for your comment.

      Here's a link to a pancocojams post that I wrote entitled "Singing Spirituals Using 19th Century Black Dialect"

      Here's an excerpt from that post:
      " I acknowledge that there are different opinions among African Americans and non-African Americans about the appropriateness of using 19th century "Negro dialect"* while singing Spirituals. For some people the question is one of preserving the authenticity of these Spirituals and not "watering them down". However, I'm much more concerned about how 19th century dialectic words may be interpreted as a reflection of the lack of respect for the intelligence and the literacy of African Americans in the past, and in the present. Perhaps if racism wasn't still so very much a factor in the present, I wouldn't be as concerned about how Black people are depicted in our songs. "...

      I have no problem whatsoever with non-African Americans performing Spirituals or any other genre of Black originated music. After all, Black people perform music from non-Black originated genres. I do have problems with the way any music may be interpreted or performed (for instance blackface and/or stereotypical depictions).

      I also have problems with people directly claiming or alluding that they or their racial/ethnic group originated a musical genre or a performing art and failing to give the credit to Black people when that credit belongs to people from that race.

      What is considered offensive changes over time. With regard to 19th century Black dialect in Spirituals and secular folk songs [such as "Shortnin' Bread], I believe that it's very important that people consider the negative connotations of so-called Black dialectic words [such as "dem", "Lawd", and "heben" that they previously may not have given a second thought.

  3. I was taught this song in grade school and led to believe it was a spiritual. I'm very surprised to learn that this is not the case! Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I think Stonehill's appropriation and apparent disdain for Caribbean and/or Black culture is beyond distasteful.

    1. Thanks for your comment, unknown.

      I don't know if Randy Stonehill is or was disdainful of Caribbean music when he composed "Shut De Door".

      I actually like that song and don't really think its appropriation if a person who isn't from one culture composes a song in the manner of another culture. What I think is problematic is if that person believes leads others to believe that what is composed is an authentic folk song from or an authentic cultural product from that culture.

      Also, I personally don't like the use of that dialectic English because of the negative connotations that dialect has about Black people.

      This subject is complicated and I haven't touched on all its ramifications.

      I appreciate your input.

  4. Hello,
    I saw your thoughtful post on this song. I remember this song coming out as I followed Christian music back then. Though I am not qualified to speak for anyone, I'll just give my simple opinion. Was Mr. Stonehill disrespectful or outright racist for writing a song like this. Well, no. This was during a time when Caribbean- and Africa-influenced music was very common: the Police, Paul Simon and many more. The subject matter was story from a certain viewpoint -- a common songwriting motif. The song was playful and while, according to today's cultural-sensitivity standards, the banter was not very, shall we say, atuned to 2017, from what I know of the artist, I would not cast aspersions upon his character or reputation. I can certainly understand your feelings and concern, however he has been, as far as I can tell, a reputable entertainer and humanitarian. I looked back at that album and found it pretty robust for what it was. Some light and some heavy songs. Anyway, thanks for you post. I enjoyed reading it!

    1. Greetings, Anonymous.

      I appreciate your comments.

      I don't know whether the composer of this song is racist or not. My point was that his "banter" as given in this post wasn't culturally sensitive when he made it, and isn't culturally sensitive now. Whether he meant or didn't mean to be disrespectful, in my opinion he was disrespectful and offensive. And I don't think that trying to be funny excuses that.

      Furthermore, I think that a lot of people believe that Randy Stonehill's song "Shut The Door" is older than 1982. This post- and also presumably Randy Stonehill himself- points out that that isn't true.

      I certainly understand that people can compose songs in the style of African American Spirituals or traditional Jamaican Spirituals. However, it should be clear that those songs aren't "traditional" (meaning composed in the 19th century).

  5. I believe you are missing the point of some of the previous comments. We (as a society) cannot look at things from 20, 30, 40 (etc) years ago through the same lenses of today and apply the same judgement to it. I understand your concerns regarding the introduction, but as previously stated, was likely a misguided attempt at getting his audience involved in the show. Particularly without any history of racism. Also as previously stated, other artists of this time frame incorporated this genre of music into their albums and songs and yet no mention of those artists “appropriating” the culture was made. As far as other people assuming it was an old folklore song, you cannot hold Mr. Stonehill responsible for what other people assume unless he specifically made statements alluding to that, which I have been unable to find. Lastly, this entire article and it’s presumptions are based on one single video clip, which is not enough to make the assumption that Mr. Stonehill was a racist who appropriated a culturally specific music genre for the express purpose of disparaging an entire race/culture.

    1. Anonymous, thank you for your comment.

      I stand by what I have written about this song, but I agree with you that my statements are based on one single video clip.

      As to whether Mr. Stonehill "was a racist who appropriated a culturally specific music genre for the express purpose of disparaging an entire race/culture", those are your words and not mine.

  6. To be fair I went to a multi-racial, multi-nation and diverse cultural Christian College. The West Africans really liked this song and they sang it along with their own regional songs.

    1. Thanks Pastor Swope for sharing your experience with this song.

      I'm glad that you and others liked this song.

      As I indicated in my post, I like it. However, that doesn't detract from the points that I made that the song isn't from the Caribbean although it appears to me that it is presented as though it is from that region of the world or from African Americans.

      I believe that for the record (no pun intended) it's important to make sure that people are aware of the provenance of this song, whether they agree with my criticisms of the song or not.