Sunday, April 22, 2018

Edward Boatner, The Earliest Known Arranger of The African American Spiritual Known As "Trampin" As Well As Certain Other Spirituals

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part pancocojams series on the African American Spiritual "Trampin'".

This post presents excerpts of two online biographical articles about Edward Boatner who appears to be the earliest arranger of that Spiritual and certain other Spirituals.

The Addendum to this post includes additional online references to Edward Boatner as well as comments about the song "Trampin" from the online folk music forum "Mudcat".

Click for Part II of this series. Part II provides definitions for the word "trampin(g)" and includes some examples of floating verses from Spirituals which have been used in the renditions of "Trampin". Part II also showcases some YouTube examples of "traditional" renditions of "Trampin".

Click for Part III of this series. Part III showcases some "non-traditional" African American YouTube examples of the "Spiritual" Trampin. The Addendum to Part III also showcases an example of "Trampin" that was recorded by the White American singer Patti Smith as that version appears to be the most widely known example of this song (based on Google searches).

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

As a reminder, I reprint portion of obscure or hard to find articles or books to raise awareness of those articles/books and their subject matter.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Edward Boatner for his musical and literary legacy and thanks all those who are quoted in this post.

"African American Spirituals" is the term that I prefer to use for that body of music that has generally been referred to as "Negro Spirituals". I prefer the term "African American Spirituals" because "African American" is the formal term for this population as it replaced the outdated and now largely considered offensive term "Negro" in the 1970s.

It's my position that "spirituals" usually refers to certain religious songs composed by unknown Black Americans prior to the end of the 19th century. According to that position, I usually categorize religious songs that were and are composed by African Americans (or others) after the 19th century in the early 20th century -even those that have the same structure/s as Spirituals are usually categorized as "early Gospel" songs. I also used the term "Gospelized Spirituals" to describe arrangements of Spirituals in an African American Gospel style.

I acknowledge that Edward Boatner and Willa A. Townsend's 1927 book is titled Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New. However, I believe that the word "new" in this title refers to Boatner's arrangements for some of these songs, rather than newly composed songs that weren't based on older 19th century Spirituals. (Notice that the term "settings of..." is used in the quoted biography rather than the contemporary synonym "arrangements of".)

As such I think that Edward Boatner was the earliest arranger of the song "Trampin", not that song's original composer.

Edward Boatner Biography by Randye Jones
"Edward Boatner (1898-1981)

Baritone, composer and educator Edward Hammond Boatner was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 13 November 1898. His father, Dr. Daniel Webster Boatner, was a former slave who became an itinerant minister. Edward Boatner was exposed at an early age to the music sung by African Americans in the churches where his father preached. He was particularly fascinated by the spirituals of the former slaves and began collecting them.

Boatner was educated in the public schools of St. Louis, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas. Most of his early musical education came from self-training. He applied for admission to the University of Missouri, but the young man’s race proved to be an unbreachable obstacle despite his acknowledged talent. He was entered Western University, Quindaro, Kansas, in 1916, where he studied voice and piano. Despite the strenuous objections of his father–who wanted Edward to become a minister–he gave recitals in the community. At one of these programs, he was heard by tenor Roland Hayes. Hayes encouraged Boatner to move to Boston and continue his studies there. Boatner’s father would not support the venture, so the young man had to work for two years to earn what little he could and make the journey on his own. Hayes helped him make contacts in the city, and Boatner was able to support himself by giving piano lessons. In 1918, Boatner recorded three of Harry T. Burleigh’s spiritual settings, including “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” for Broome Special Phonograph Records, a small African American-owned label based in Medford, Massachusetts. He continued his studies with faculty at the New England Conservatory, and he published the first of his spirituals setting, “Give Me Jesus,” in 1920.

The following year, Boatner received a one-year scholarship to attend the Boston Conservatory of Music, studying German, French and Italian vocal literature. He performed in concert at Hampton University, where he garnered the attention of R. Nathaniel Dett. Dett invited Boatner to tour with him across New England, and Dett became a mentor to the younger man. Boatner relocated to Chicago in 1925. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the Chicago College of Music seven years later. During this time, he served as a church choir director and continued to concertize. He also became director of music for the National Baptist Convention and published his Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New with Willa A. Townsend in 1927. In the foreword of the collection, the compilers explained that many past settings of spirituals had the
...Tendency to get away from the harmony and characteristic way in which the songs were originally sung, and therefore much of their real import is lost. To the end that the ‘old-time’ way of singing these songs may be preserved, is this edition brought forth.1

In the early 1930s, Boatner joined the faculty of two Texas historically Black colleges, Samuel Huston, Austin, and Wiley College in Marshall, where he was appointed their Dean of Music. He returned to New York in the latter half of the decade and opened his own vocal studio. Over his teaching career, Boatner’s students included opera singer George Shirley, entertainers Josephine Baker and Robert Guillaume, Blues songstress Libby Holman, and actor Clifton Webb. He continued to direct church and community choirs. He was a prolific writer of textbooks on music theory and pedagogy, non-fiction–especially on racial issues, short stories, and a novel, One Drop of Blood. Author Gisele Glover speculated that Boatner’s desire to write music books, especially those designed as self-help texts, was a “part of a response to his own difficulties in obtaining music instruction during his youth.”2

Boatner continued to publish settings of Negro spirituals for choir and vocal soloist. Of approximately 300 works credited to him, some of the best-known are “On Ma Journey” (1928), “Trampin'” (1931), “O What a Beautiful City” (1940), and “City Called Heaven” (1952). A number of these settings were published by his own company, Hammond Music. He published 30 Afro-American Choral Spirituals, a collection for mixed chorus in 1971 and The Story of the Spirituals: 30 Spirituals and Their Origins for voice and piano in 1973. In The Story of the Spirituals, the composer commented about the history of the music:
For many years after emancipation, blacks turned their backs on the slave-created spirituals. Perhaps it was too bitter a reminder of the past. Today there is more ready acceptance of this part of our musical heritage. We certainly should not forget that ragtime, jazz, blues, swing, gospel, rhythm, and rock and roll all have stemmed from the spiritual! Although there have been many Afro-American contributions to the forms, styles and trends of American music, the original and the most beautiful remains the spiritual.3

His compositions were regularly performed by many of his era’s top concert singers, such as Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Carol Brice, Ellabelle Davis, and Leontyne Price. Contemporary artists who have commercially recorded Boatner’s settings include Barbara Hendricks and Jessye Norman.


Edward Boatner continued teaching into his eighties. He died on 16 June 1981 in New York."

Boatner was educated at Western University in Quindaro, Kansas, Boston Conservatory and received a Bachelor of Music from the Chicago Music College (Now the College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University). He also studied music privately. He began as a Concert singer with the encouragement and assistance of Roland Hayes — who performed many of Boatner's works on his concert programs—and choral director R. Nathaniel Dett. He also sang leading roles with the National Negro Opera Company. For the National Baptist Convention, he served as the director of music from 1925 to 1931. Boatner was a professor for Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University) and Wiley College in Marshall, TX. He then settled in New York conducting a studio and directed community and church choirs. This allowed him to concentrate more on composing.

Boatner was the natural father of the great sax player Sonny Stitt, but the boy - named Edward Boatner, Jr. - was given up for adoption early on to the Stitt family, growing up in Saginaw, Michigan.

Notable arrangements
Oh, What a Beautiful City
Le Us Break Bread Together
Soon I Will Be Done
I want Jesus to walk with me
, for Marian Anderson

Notable compositions
Freedom Suite for chorus, narrator, and orchestra
The Man from Nazareth, a "spiritual musical"
Julius Sees Her, a musical comedy" "

I. Other online references to Edward Boatner
Edward Boatner papers, 1941-1980.
Author: Edward Boatner
Edition/Format: Archival material : English
The Edward Boatner papers reflect his activities as composer, choral conductor, music professor and author of music textbooks. The music in the collection consists of scores for "Freedom Suite," his musical comedy "Julius Sees Her in Rome, Georgia," and his opera "Troubled in Mind." There are also scores for four gospel songs written by Boatner, and voice parts for selections from his musical play, "He Will Answer”

Boatner, Edward, -- 1898-1981.

1 Edward Boatner and Willa A. Townsend, eds. Spirituals Triumphant Old and New. Nashville, TN: Sunday School Publishing Board, National Baptist Convention, 1927.

The Edward Boatner papers reflect his activities as composer, choral conductor, music professor and author of music textbooks. The music in the collection consists of scores for "Freedom Suite," his musical comedy "Julius Sees Her in Rome, Georgia," and his opera "Troubled in Mind." There are also scores for four gospel songs written by Boatner, and voice parts for selections from his musical play, "He Will Answer."
The collection includes typescripts of Boatner's music instruction materials, plays, short stories, and other writings, including "The Damaging Results of Racism" and "Great Afro-Americans." Published reviews in the collection include those for performances of "Freedom Suite," and of the musical play, "The Man From Nazareth." A New York "Times" article focuses on Boatner's career, and his role in the regained popularity of the spiritual. A "Washington Post" article provides an interview with tenor Roland Hayes, one of Boatner's mentors.”
Note: A number of YouTube videos such as this one of Marion Anderson singing "O What A Beautiful City" cite Edward Boatner as the composer of certain Spirituals. I believe that he actually should be credited as the arranger of these songs.

II. Comments from Mudcat Discussion Forum about the Song "Trampin"

Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Tryin' to Make Heaven My Home
Date: 20 Oct 03 - 04:37 PM

"Many versions of "Poor Pilgrim." See thread 42490. Listed as "Tossed and Driven" in Randolph, a fine version as well.

"Trampin', Trampin'," is similar in some respects, and is sung mostly in black churches, while "Poor Pilgrim" is a white gospel song.

"Trampin'" is included in "Songs of Zion" as a spiritual, a traditional song with some copyrighted arrangements, which should be sung "slowly, with a firm beat," in the arrangement by J. Jefferson Cleveland and Verolga Nix (copyrighted 1981, Abingdon Press).

"Songs of Zion" (Abdingdon Press, 1981-1982) grew out of the "Consultation on the Black Church," held in 1973, where it was recommended that the Section on Worship develop a songbook from the Black religious tradition to be made available to United Methodist churches.

The version of "Trampin'" in "Songs of Zion" has the verse "I've never been to heaven but I been tol', dat de streets up dere am paved wid gol', as well as "If you git dere befo' I do, Tell all ma friends I'm coming too."
The editors insist that spirituals should be sung in dialect, and give instructions."
Here's the link to the Mudcat discussion thread on the song "Poor Pilgrim": That discussion thread includes an example that was "heard about 1895).

Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Tryin' to Make Heaven My Home
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 22 Oct 03 - 05:27 PM

The "Songs of Zion" only has the two verses that I have indicated, plus the refrain. Never seen a long version in print, but I'm sure that any congregation would mix and match as needed."
Pancocojams Editor's Note: These comments are quoted for informational purposes only, with particular focus on the fact that the song "Trampin" (given here as "Tryin' to Make Heaven My Home" wasn't included in any compilation of African American Spirituals until 1926 (or 1927).

For what it's worth, I was an active participant in that Mudcat forum for a period of time and, through that participation, was aware of and impressed with "Q" scholarship. For the record, "Q" was a White American who moved to Canada in his later years and demonstrated avid interest in African American folk music (including Spirituls). I thank Q (and some other "Mudcatters") for teaching me -through their examples- to be search for, document, and credit sources for information that I publish online and elsewhere.

That said, we didn't always agree and I'm not certain that the "Tryin to Make Heaven My Home" ("Trampin") song "goes back to white gospel of the 19th century). Also, I've not seen any documentation that "Poor Pilgrim" ("I am a poor pilgrim of sorrow/I'm tossed in this wide world alone"...) "is sung mostly in black churches, while "Poor Pilgrim" is a white gospel song."

Furthermore, I vehemently disagree with the position that African American Spirituals should be sung in (so-called) 19th century Negro dialect.

This concludes Part I of this three part series on the African American religious song "Trampin".

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