Calvin Earl
As A Singer / Songwriter / Guitarist / Storyteller / Activist - I Share The Stories And Music Of Our Americana Musical Heritage & History.


Wade In The Water is one of the spirituals that has many secret codes embedded within the song that was used to give guidance to the slave as he embarked on his journey to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The lyrics in this spiritual talk not only about the religious ceremony as it pertains to the Christian Church where the religious rite of sprinkling water onto a person’s forehead or of immersion in water, or as John the Baptist baptized people in the river symbolizing purification or regeneration and admission into life as a Christian. ‘Wade in the water, ‘God’s gonna trouble the water’ for the slaves trying to escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, meant the first thing the slave master would do would be to send out the bloodhounds to track the slaves down. The bloodhounds could track the slaves easily on land, but the lyrics “God’s gonna trouble the water” tell the slave to actually find a body of water and then walk or wade in the water in that way the bloodhounds would lose the scent of the escaping slave and the slave would be safe from the dogs tracking them down.

Also in the lyrics ‘See that band all dressed in red, looks like the band that Moses led’ -It is thought that the lyrics reference Harriet Tubman whose nickname was ‘Moses of her people’. Many of the spirituals lyrics have dual meanings in the songs and in this song Moses and Harriet Tubman’s names are interchangeable because Harriet like the story in the Bible where Moses led the slaves to freedom, Harriet did the same for the slaves in the 1800’s in America.

In the last verse of Wade in the Water the lyrics are: If you don’t believe I’ve been redeemed, follow me down to Jordan’s stream – In the Bible there are several references to the Jordan River, and what the Jordan River meant to the slaves here in America was the secret code name for the Ohio River. If the slave could get across the Ohio River he or she would be free.

It is also noteworthy to hear the tone of the lyrics in ‘if you don’t believe’ was meant to be a dare or a challenge for you to face your fears because if you cross the river you will be free or as the slaves put it you will be ‘redeemed’. The spirituals including Wade in the Water all have this sense that the slave is trusting God to deliver justice either now or in heaven and that they believed and found real hope in God’s promise that if ‘you ask it shall be given’. Download my CD “GRATITUDE” a collection of spirituals for your enjoyment:


I thought it would be fun to share with you part of a letter I wrote to update my fans on my work to preserve the African American Spirituals as a National Treasure back in 2006 and 2007. It was without a doubt an adventure of a life time. I believed in my dream to have the United States government honor our slave brothers and sisters for their contributions to our nation and ensure the spirituals were preserved as an American National Treasure. I trusted with God’s guidance and help I could accomplish my goal and then I just went for it, staying focused until I succeeded in accomplishing my goal. Here is part of the letter I wrote to my fans at the end of 2006! I hope you enjoy the letter! Peace and love all around Calvin Earl

“I will be sharing with you my efforts & personal journey as I continue to invite the US Congress to preserve the African American spirituals as a national treasure. In addition I will also share with you my experiences as I take my one-man show “Gifts From My Ancestors” across America in hopes of drawing national attention to the extraordinary legacy of our ancestors.

I’m pleased to report that on March 28, 2006 United States Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) submitted to the Senate, Senate Resolution 407 to declare the African American spiritual a national treasure. And on May 2, 2006 the twin resolution was submitted in the House by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT) & Congressman John Lewis (GA) House Resolution 790.

In my efforts so far I have also obtained 113 cosponsors for this legislation in the House including the Speaker Of The House, Nancy Pelosi and the entire Congressional Black Caucus & 10 cosponsors in the Senate including Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Edward Kennedy, Elizabeth Dole, and Joe Biden just to name a few.

I also have been successful in obtaining endorsements for this legislation from the:
Dr. Dorothy Height – National Council of Negro Women
Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. – Harvard University
Dr. Cornel West – Princeton University
Dr. Clement Price – Rutgers University
Dr. Art Jones, University of Denver
Dr. Samuel Roberts – Columbia University
Michael Cogswell – Director of the Louis Armstrong House and Archives

As it stands today, the next step in my ongoing efforts to ensure this legislation is brought to a vote, it is necessary to resubmit the legislation to the 110th US Congress. I’m pleased to report that Senator Robert Menendez & Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro will resubmit the legislation to the 110th Congress in February 2007 in conjunction with Black History Month.

This landmark legislation is vitally important because without it, we as citizens of this nation stand to lose a significant historical segment of our national heritage. This legislation provides our nation the opportunity to recognize and honor the former enslaved African Americans for their contributions to our nation including the historical significance and beauty of their original music best known as the African American Spirituals with our deepest gratitude and respect.

Today you and I are faced with a choice. Do we or don’t we preserve the African American spirituals as a national treasure? I say we must. And I invite you to join with me to ensure the original music and the oral history created by the slaves are included in our history books and that they are held in the highest esteem as an American national treasure. I believe it is time we honor all of the gifts from our ancestors.”

Peace & Blessings,
Calvin Earl


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: download@


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 @

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