Monday, June 12, 2017

Blind Willie Johnson - A Motherless Child Has A Hard Time (1927 Gospel song)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post showcases the song "Motherless Child Has A Hard Time" Information about Gospel and Blues singer/guitarist Blind Willie Johnson is included in this post along with the lyrics of that song and two YouTube sound files of Blind Willie Johnson performing that song. The second sound file is particularly featured on this post for its vintage photographs.

The Addendum To this post features a sound file of the Five Blind Boys Of Alabama singing Blind Willie Johnson's composition "A Motherless Child Has A Hard Time".

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Blind Willie Johnson for his musical legacy. Thanks also to The Five Blind Boys of Alabama for their musical legacy. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these two YouTube examples of this song.

"Blind Willie Johnson (January 25, 1897 – September 18, 1945) was an American gospel blues singer and guitarist and evangelist. His landmark recordings completed between 1927 and 1930—thirty songs in total—display a combination of powerful "chest voice" singing, slide guitar skills, and originality that has influenced later generations of musicians. Even though Johnson's records sold well, as a street performer and preacher he had little wealth in his lifetime. His life was poorly documented, but over time music historians such as Samuel Charters have uncovered more about Johnson and his five recording sessions.


Recording sessions (1927–1930)
By the time Johnson began his recording career, he was a well-known evangelist with a "remarkable technique and a wide range of songs", as noted by the blues historian Paul Oliver.[12] On December 3, 1927, Johnson was assembled along with Billiken Johnson and Coley Jones at a temporary studio that talent scout Frank Buckley Walker had set up in the Deep Ellum neighborhood in Dallas to record for Columbia Records. In the ensuing session, Johnson played six selections, 13 takes in total, and was accompanied by Willie B. Harris on his first recording, "I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole".[7] Among the other songs Johnson recorded in Dallas were "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed", "It's Nobody's Fault but Mine", "Mother's Children Have a Hard Time", "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground", and "If I Had My Way I'd Tear the Building Down".[13][14] He was compensated with $50 per "usable" side—a substantial amount for the period—and a bonus to forfeit royalties from sales of the records.[13]

The first songs to be released were "I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole" and "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed", on Columbia's popular 14000 Race series. Johnson's debut became a substantial success, as 9,400 copies were pressed, more than the latest release by one of Columbia's most established stars, Bessie Smith, and an additional pressing of 6,000 copies followed.[15] His fifth recorded song, "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground", eventually the B-side of Johnson's second release, best exemplifies his unique guitar playing in open D tuning for slide. For the session, Johnson substituted a knife or penknife for the bottleneck and—according to Harris—he played with a thumb pick.[16] His melancholy, indescribable humming of the guitar part creates the impression of "unison moaning", a style of singing hymns that is common in southern African-American church choirs.[17] In 1928, the blues critic Edward Abbe Niles praised Johnson in his column for The Bookman, emphasizing his "violent, tortured, and abysmal shouts and groans, and his inspired guitar playing".[18]"...

The lyrics to this song are included in the summary statement for the sound file given as Example #1 below.

Example #1: Blind Willie Johnson “Mother's Children Have A Hard Time” Columbia 14343-D December 3, 1927

Tim Gracyk Published on Nov 3, 2014

Well, well, well, ah
A motherless children have a hard time
Motherless children have a hard time, mother's dead
They'll not have anywhere to go, wanderin' around from door to door
Have a hard time
Nobody on earth can take a mother's place when, when mother is dead, Lord
Nobody on earth takes mother's place when, mother's dead
Nobody on earth takes mother's place,
When you were startin', paved the way
Nobody treats you like mother will when
Your wife or husband may be good to you, when mother is dead, Lord
They'll be good to you, mother's dead
A wife or a husband may be good to you,
But, better than nothing has proved untrue
Nobody treats you like mother will when, when mother is dead, Lord
Lord, Lord, Lord
Yeah, well, ah
Well, some people say that sister will do, when mother is dead
That sister will do when mother's dead
Some people say that sister will do,
But, as soon as she's married, she turn her back on you
Nobody treats you like mother will
And father will do the best he can, when mother is dead, Lord
Well, the best he can when mother is dead
Father will do the best he can,
So many things a father can't understand
Nobody treats you like mother will
A motherless children have a hard time, when mother is dead, Lord
Motherless children have a hard time, mother's dead
They'll not have anywhere to go,
Wanderin' around from door to door
Have a hard time

This African-American singer and guitarist was a pioneer in mixing blues and spirituals. Lyrics of all his songs were religious, but his music drew from both sacred and blues traditions. He was one of the greatest slide (bottleneck) guitarists of his generation.

When singing, he sometimes used a gravelly false-bass voice, but other times he makes use of a tenor voice.

Blind" Willie Johnson lived from 1897 to 1945.

Example #2: Blind Willie Johnson ~Motherless Children Have A Hard Time~

ween jeep Uploaded on Oct 23, 2011

This video was uploaded from an Android phone.
Here are two comments from this YouTube video's discussion thread:
Mary Hollingsworth, 2014
"organic beautiful music -- literally touches my soul --- and the video is unbelievable love the little boy on the couch and the dancing girls"

Kelly Susan Israel, 2015
"agree this is the real deal here ! Nice footage as well would love to know more about the video here if you care to tell? Thanks for uploading this :)
Unfortunately, as of the publication date of this pancocojams post, no information is given in the summary or in the comments about the film clips that are featured in this video.

Blind Boys Of Alabama - Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time

Alligator Records Published on Feb 26, 2016
...GOD DON'T NEVER CHANGE: THE SONGS OF BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON. A stunning collection of artists and performances celebrate the timeless music of legendary gospel bluesman Blind Willie Johnson. From the Blind Boys Of Alabama's soul-baring "Mother's Children Have A Hard Time" to Tom Waits' virtual embodiment of Johnson himself on "The Soul Of A Man" and "John The Revelator." From Derek Trucks' and Susan Tedeschi's reverent reading of "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning" to Lucinda Williams' slide guitar-fueled lament in "Nobody's Fault But Mine" to Luther Dickinson's spirited take on "Bye And Bye I'm Going To See The King" (with The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band). This record is packed with incomparable recordings that speak as much to the greatness of the performers as they do the enduring legacy of Blind Willie Johnson."

Bessie Jones' version of "I'm A Rollin" includes the line "motherless child has a hard time"

Lord, a motherless child has a hard time.
(Just rolling through this unfriendly world.)
He's sometime up and sometime down.
(Rollin through this unfriendly world.)

Click for a pancocojams post that showcases Bessie Jones singing a version of "I'm A Rollin Through This Unfriendly World".

If you know of other songs that included this "motherless child has a hard time" floater, please share those songs/performers in the comment section below. Thanks.

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