Calvin Earl
As A Storyteller / Musician I Share The Stories And Music Of Our Americana Musical Heritage & History.


In the spiritual songs,“Give Me That Old Time Religion” and “I Want To Die Easy, When I Die” the slaves were talking about their faith. These particular spirituals dealt with the slave’s desire to continue to strengthen their faith in God. And because these songs were communal songs sung by the slaves, the call and response of the slaves during the singing of these songs only heightened their resolve and commitment to their deep faith.

“Give Me That Old Time Religion”, was created as nearly all spirituals were created, by an unknown slave or slaves who passed the song down orally generation to generation. “Give Me That Old Time Religion, was sung in the slave community to ease their pains and find comfort for their soul but mostly to ignite a passionate & sustainable faith within their souls that would help carry the heavy burden of oppression they were forced to live their daily lives under.

Sharing & reinforcing their faith in God was a high priority for the slave, and this particular song helped strengthen that faith in God. The more they sang the song the more it strengthened their faith, the more faith they had the deeper their commitment to obtain freedom from bondage as it had been described happening in the Bible centuries before when Moses led his people to freedom. This song ignites a passionate faith within ones soul and even today “Give Me That Old Time Religion” continues to be sung in many churches around the world to rekindle our faith in God.

For the slaves the spiritual, “I Want To Die Easy, When I Die” is about having a strong faith in God to deliver freedom to live their life free of bondage. The word “easy” also meant “free” and the word “die” also meant “live free”. The slaves felt deep in their souls, living as a slave in bondage was not a way of life fit for any human being. If freedom could not be theirs here on earth, they believed freedom in the “afterlife” would be given to them in Heaven. For the slave the reality here in America to become free wasn’t easy, it took a lot of fortitude, gumption and hard work to obtain it. One way was if the slave could find a way to go North to Canada or across the water, on the other side of the Ohio river they would be free from the oppression. Living free, a person could build a life that would belong to them and their children. In many of the spirituals, the words had dual meanings “Jesus” was synonymous with the word “freedom”, and “Canaan”, which is another word for “Heaven”(for the slaves “Canaan” also meant “Canada”). This song represents their desire to escape the oppression of slavery, and live a God given life of freedom and prosperity.

Remembering our spiritual heritage and to relax to the soothing sound of spirituals: [email protected]


In the 1920’s Thomas A. Dorsey is credited with creating the original musical art form of African American Gospel music. Dorsey’s story is a fascinating and inspiring one, not only in the music world but because of it’s profound impact on American culture. Traditionally, the music used in American Christian churches across the country, in both black or white churches had been European hymnals.

African American gospel music began with Thomas A. Dorsey’s desire to create a new music to praise God. Thomas A. Dorsey was a blues pianist by profession who wanted to write music praising God when he became a Christian himself. He wanted to write music about his new faith, and proclaim his love for Jesus Christ through his original music. Dorsey really loved the blues and especially the rhythmic cadence of the blues music which as we know originally came directly out the spirituals sound. However unlike the spirituals the blues lyrics were more secular in nature.

So he created this new style of music using the rhythmic cadence of the blues and combining it with lyrics he wrote to praise the Lord capturing and cultivating his fervent love for God to share with other Christians. After writing several songs he made an attempt to sing them in black churches, and literally he was physically thrown out of churches and never invited back. The congregations one by one told him he couldn’t sing “that devil music in here”. In was commonly accepted in the black community that Blues music was “devil music”. Church clergy and members recognizing the blues rhythmic sound in his music regardless of his words praising God, to them it seemed sacrilegious and would not ever be accepted in church.

Struggling to find an audience, and being shunned and dismissed as nothing more than a Blues pianist, Dorsey continued to press on with a strong faith that his music would one day be accepted for what he intended, which was to praise God. Finally after many failed attempts, he began performing at outdoor tent revivals singing his gospel music in praise for the Lord. Slowly his music became less and less of a lightening rod for rejection and gradually his music become more accepted. On a roll, he enlisted the help of Mahalia Jackson to sing his songs, and the rest is history. Her amazing voice with his songs became an overnight sensation.

His most beloved song “Precious Lord”, was also sung and made famous by Mahalia Jackson.
Precious Lord, Dorsey says he wrote after a tragic event in his life. At his wife’s insistence Dorsey reluctantly left home to perform his music on the road at multiple events. Knowing his wife was pregnant, but convinced he would be home in plenty of time before for the birth of their child he left home to go on tour. While on the road he received a devastating telegram which read: Thomas come home your wife just died, your baby is alive. He immediately left for home and upon his return, he got the grave news his child had also died. Inconsolable grief set in his heart and all attempts of his friends and family to comfort him fell on deaf ears. He began to cry and scream at the top of his lungs to the Lord, why? why? A friend overheard Thomas, and said to him, “Thomas I think you have forgotten who you are praying to, you are praying to a precious Lord”. And with that statement, Thomas sat down at the piano and wrote this song, Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home…………..

So as you can see African American gospel music has a deep connection to the spirituals. Dorsey tapped into the vibrant American original music we call spirituals, created by the slaves with the intention in their music to connect to the Power who created us all to find comfort, healing, peace and love. Download the spirituals @


It takes courage and resolve to know who you are and where you came from. The end result is freedom and pure joy for the soul, because it helps you discover your life’s purpose that serves others and yourself well. The American story is like a patchwork quilt. It is made up of different patterns, colors, and separate pieces of cloth. Carefully the separate pieces are sewn together to make a beautiful quilt, that will be passed down in families generation after generation. Like the quilt, our stories bind us together as people. Like the quilt it took every slave and every non-slave to build this great country we live in today. As an American I am deeply grateful to all our ancestors. Their courage and dedication is inspiring. Freedom is a gift they paid forward so that we all might live free one day.

The truth is, if we don’t know where we came from, how can we possibly know who we are and where we are going. For those of us, like myself whose ancestors were born in slavery in America, the African American spirituals hold within them the key to our African American cultural heritage and America’s oral history. Because the African people brought here to America as slaves were stripped of their language, stripped of their culture, stripped of their music, and stripped of their sacred drums and for even more control over the slaves, it was forbidden for the slaves to learn how to read and write. It is astounding the courage and determination the slaves had to make a way out of no way to create an entirely original music and a new culture resolute in safekeeping a message of hope for humanity. These humble beginnings have left a vibrant legacy that has permeated African American culture and music even today. In knowing who we are today we must know our roots. And to do that we must know more about the slaves in America which is hidden within their music. To begin that journey you must first understand the music they created in the cotton fields of the Old South. For the slaves first and foremost singing gave their souls a secret and safe way to speak to God out loud. Along with the connection to God they felt while singing, the spirituals became a tool for the slaves to heal their pain, record their history, teach their young and encouraged them to stay focused on freedom, because one day they knew it would belong to them. And amazingly they kept this deep commitment to freedom, hidden in plain view for centuries. Obviously their lives depended on it.

And so it is, the humble open hearts of the slaves gave birth to an original American music we call spirituals. In 2007 the United State Congress would pass historic twin resolutions recognizing the African American Spiritual as an American National Treasure and honoring the slaves for their gifts to our nation with our deepest gratitude and respect. It’s time we believe in the possibilities life has to offer and go for our dreams to fulfill our nations promise: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The question is what will we pay forward to our children and great grandchildren? I’d love to hear your comments. Thank you so much for listening to my story and my music. I appreciate your business.

For programing, music and for more information on the history of the spirituals visit:


Who are we, American victims or heroes? Lately I find it difficult, even painful to watch the news as a select few dismantle our core foundation as Americans. America’s compassion, our openness to embrace different cultures and religions and provide care for those less fortunate as a hand up with the joy in knowing if we help one another we will all succeed is what this country is built on. When we dismantle food programs for those who need food, medical care for those who are sick, and the arts that inspire us to understand ourselves, we will decline as our country as we have never done before. We need to have learned from our history that slavery is not acceptable, and modern day slavery to greed for only a few people is also not acceptable.

Sometimes I find myself getting discouraged by the lack of interest and responsibility we have to preserve and support our albeit imperfect yet extraordinary national cultural arts heritage & music. I have asked myself this question a million times: What can I do or what can I say that will loose the chains of bondage we are still in today that keeps us from knowing our awe inspiring African American slave brothers & sisters who endured slavery in this country creating an original music in spite of there circumstances. Why don’t we as a nation focus on our accomplishments and contributions of all the cultures that make up our citizenry?

Thankfully yesterday, as my despair reached a low point, and as luck would have it, I found a letter of support on my desk from Dr. Dorothy Height, one of America’s greatest Civil Rights leaders, that she had written to me in 2005. Reading this letter again reminded me there is no room for despair only room for determination to keep going… and as an old spiritual states: “Ain’t nobody gonna turn me around, marching into freedoms land”.

Here is a quote from her letter about my work to expose the beauty, fortitude, and accomplishments of our slave brothers and sisters in American history in spite of their enslavement. This is what she said to me:

“The continuing legacy of those historic songs helped bind us together, gave us courage and helped us march together during the Civil Rights Movement. I believe as you do that this is historical and cultural information which should be preserved. Since it is not, you are performing an essential public service and for this you should be commended. Your talents have brought exposure and life to America’s first true art form. It is our social responsibility to preserve the culture that our forefathers died for.

Know that you are an important educational resource. Keep up the good work.”
— Dorothy I. Height
Chair & President Emerita
National Council of Negro Women, Inc

So today, I am reminded to march on, sing on, and be eternally grateful for the grace and beauty of my ancestors. I am because they were.

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