Calvin Earl
I Travel The Back Roads Of America In Search Of The Elements Of Peace In Our Musical Heritage & History.


Dear Mom,

I love you. As we celebrate Mother’s Day I am reminded of the beauty and strength of Mothers all over the world who nurture and tend to their children’s needs 24/7/365. You were no different Mom. Today, I imagine you in Heaven with your dancing shoes on, free to be you, singing joyfully your favorite spiritual song “There is a Bright Side Somewhere” and feeling safe and unconditionally loved by the Lord you loved so much on your earthly journey. Quite a different experience from your own life here on earth, which was filled with tragedy, poverty and fear, yet you had faith and hope that one day you would know peace. I imagine you know what that feels like now, and that makes me happy.

I came into your life when you were in your mid forties. I was your 9th child, and 7th son. Although I don’t actually remember it, the circumstances surrounding my birth were difficult at best, for several reasons. Not that I need any more reasons to love you, but when I learned just how much you had to overcome in your life, I was inspired by your shear will power and faith to overcome all the obstacles in your path. What transpired in a matter of 2 years just prior to my birth, could have easily fractured and separated any family, yet somehow even with hearts broken and your life shattered, your faith pulled you and your family through.

As the words flow from my heart onto this page as I tell the intimate details of your life, it’s hard to hold back the tears. The truth is your life story has given me hope and faith and has given me the strength I’ve needed to get through the hard times in my own life. One of the many gifts a Mother gives to her children.

Two years before I was born you gave birth to twins, Bessie and Jesse, however this joyful occasion became a tragic one. Bessie and Jesse were premature so they were put in incubators. Sadly the temperature in the incubator was too high, and the twins both died a horrendous death within a few short hours. My siblings years later, described the situation to me. I was told the twins skin looked and felt like crispy fried chicken which peeled off in your hands Mom, as you held their lifeless bodies in your arms, a visual image etched in my brain forever. I can’t even imagine the depth of your disbelief and pain. A year later, in September tragedy struck again. Walter Ale, your 6 year old son while having his tonsils removed by the local country doctor, the doctor cut a main artery during the operation and Walter bled to death on the operating table. Still mourning your loss of the twins, now Walter too, the family endured struggling emotionally but needed to work to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. Within 4 short months I would be born. I was born just after midnight, but what happened in the hours just prior to my birth caused me to also be born early. On the evening of my birth, as you were rushing to get your other children inside the house to safety in a dangerous electrical storm, you with me still in your womb were hit by ricocheted lightening, and a few hours later I was born premature delivered by a midwife in a share cropper cabin on the Glen Lillie Farm where you and Dad lived and worked in the fields. Somehow through it all you held our fractured family together, keeping a closer eye and a heightened protective spirit on all your children until your death, because it is what Mom’s do.

Although your burdens were great, I remember your smile as it lit up the room. I remember eating Sunday suppers with your homemade biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, and collard greens from the garden. I remember the hats you wore to church. I remember your face when all you had to feed me was sugar water because that’s all we had. I remember your smile, when I took your seasoned cast iron skillet outside, where I tried to clean in by rubbing and scraping it with dirt and water to clean it up. I had wanted to really clean it up for you, and you never let me know that I had ruined it. I also need to ask for your forgiveness Mom. All my life until I was fifteen we celebrated my birthday on January 15th. When I needed to get my birth certificate to get my drivers license and my birth certificate showed I was actually born on the 16th I was hurt and angry with you that you didn’t even know your own son’s birthday. Once I knew the truth surrounding my birth, I clearly see and understand why. I’m sorry I questioned your love for me in that moment. As an adult I see how foolish I was to question your love for me. I am sorry. Somehow Mother’s always seem to move past their own pain, fear and disappointments to look after their children as best as they can. I will always be grateful to you Mom.

Although you passed a long time ago, I am inspired by your story and how you just kept going in spite of the difficulties you faced daily. Today, way to many Mothers are losing their children to gun violence, poverty and fear. I hope you can hear me Mom, because I want you to know I am filled with gratitude that you were my Mother, and I can’t even imagine how difficult it was for you to raise your children, with all the heartbreaking tragedy you faced head on. I see your face Mom, when I see the Mother’s faces today, who display their beauty, strength, and their unwavering quest for justice for their children, like you. They endure the pain of losing a child. Yet life goes on, Mothers just keep moving forward, they never give up, they always find a way out of no way.

I salute you Mom and all the Mother’s in the world and in Heaven.

Love from your 7th son,


Is is true that spirituals can set you free at last? Can music change your life? The spirituals are a rare and distinctive music created by the enslaved Africans in America, capturing the vibrant essence and beauty of our common humanity. This music speaks to empowering yourself to live your dream, in spite of the obstacles you may face. These songs are about freeing your soul up from limitations to be your best self. They are the true essence and sound of freedom which is the ideal of America. Antonin Dvorak stated in 1895 that anywhere you hear a negro spiritual sung around the world, even if the spiritual is sung wretchedly, immediately the listener recognizes that the song originated on American soil.

A great example is the spiritual ‘Free At Last’. It’s very own personal history as a song was kept alive for future generations when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr mentioned it in his famous speech “I have a dream” on August 28, 1963 at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during his march on Washington DC during the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King used the spirituals to help motivate people but he also realized that the singing of spirituals kept people safe. There is something about a spiritual being sung that stops people in their tracks, it moves you to stop and listen. So Dr King was keenly aware, even though at the time the spirituals were not popular, he saw the beauty and the power within the music created by the slaves. Sadly today most people have not even heard the song Free At Last, but its title is kept alive because of Dr. King’s speech.

Free at Last was thought to have been created by the slaves fighting in the Civil War. The best documentation is in the writings of the white officers during the Civil War. Many wrote in their diaries of the music the slaves(now black soldiers) would sing and create songs at night around the campfires during the Civil War. The white officers were deeply moved by the courage and passion for freedom expressed in the music.  They noted in their journals that when the black soldiers would go into battle the next day after singing these songs, the black soldiers were unstoppable. It is a testimony to the endurance and grace of freedom, no matter who you are or where you came from.

Check out my version of Free At Last and let me know what you think? I’d love to get your opinions on it!!! Listen to ‘Free At Last’ on Spotify for FREE from my SHOP page to get moving and grooving today!



Many spirituals have multiple meanings and secret codes that have been hidden is plain view for years. For example in the spiritual, “Keep Your Hands On the Plow” it has secret codes about the slaves plan to escape from living their lives in bondage.

This spiritual was considered a “workday” song and many slaves sang it in the fields as a way to keep a rhythmic pace to ease the pain of the backbreaking work of picking cotton, priming tobacco, and planting crops. It helped them get through their work day after day in the sweltering Southern summer heat. In practical terms it is very difficult to plow a straight line in the fields and the rhythmic cadence of the song helped keep them focused on that straight line.

In this song, the lyrics also have secret codes and dual meanings. For the slave this song gave them courage to believe freedom was obtainable, if they stayed focused on it. In the lyrics, keep your “hands” (hands meaning your heart and soul) on the “plow” (plow meaning your freedom), hold on. Also “Jesus”, the son of God also had dual meaning for the slaves, Jesus meant “freedom” on all human levels, free from human bondage, freedom spiritually and freedom to pursue happiness for yourself and family. The slaves understanding of Jesus was quite profound considering the slaves were forbidden from even learning how to read and write. They also related to the Biblical stories of Moses leading the slaves to freedom which seemed extremely relevant to their own situation. If Moses was able to lead slaves out of bondage by having faith in God, they believed it would happen to them too.

“Keep Your Hands On The Plow” also became a freedom song during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The name of the freedom song became “Keep Your Eyes On The Prize”, and the lyrics changed to reflect the times. But the principle purpose of this freedom song stayed basically the same. Which was to encourage you to stay focused on the issue at hand – Freedom to have the same civil and human rights as every America, and freedom from oppression no matter the color of your skin. Download spirituals:


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]

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