Calvin Earl
I Travel The Back Roads Of America In Search Of Our African American Musical Roots And Cultural Heritage!

SACRED VOICES OF ALL OUR ANCESTORS, NOT JUST SOME.

Are we forgetting and leaving out some of the sacred voices of all our ancestors? When you don’t know your history, you don’t know your ancestors fortitude, or their inspiring determination to get right back up when they failed, or their triumphs, or their powerful spirit that succeeded in overcoming the impossible in a flat world of boundaries and limitations. If we don’t know where we came from how can you possibly know who you are or where you are going? The intention of our nation as a democracy was for all people in our nation to live free, and have the right to pursue “those 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 real truth is, from the beginning of this “great experiment” just staying alive, finding fresh water to drink, food to eat, shelter from the elements, and a spirit so strong to build a new nation it took an immeasurable amount of determination, courage and working together to accomplish their goals. All our ancestors together endured unspeakable hardships, no matter how they got here willingly or by force. These ordinary folks worked hard, and sacrificed much to build this nation and when greed and corruption set in, they set out to correct the greed of a few and abolish the evil institution of slavery that threatened the very foundation of the values this nation was built on. All our ancestors gave us our fundamental God given freedoms as human beings including our slave brothers and sisters, the abolitionists, the founding fathers, pilgrims, the Revolutionary War patriots, the Union Army soldiers, and yes even the Confederate soldiers who fought but lost a lifestyle of values that served only a few citizens not the values we set forth as a new nation.

Our ancestors built a nation where we value the ideals that no human beings are less or more than another, because we believe each person’s creative and inventive ideas and contribution will make the world a better place for all of us. Regardless of whether the immigrants who came to America willingly or by force they all gave their blood, sweat and tears to build a nation for, of and by the people. The American story is not a black story or a white story, it is a ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ story. They all built a country together because their lives depended on it. I don’t know about you but I believe today we have a lot more work to do. Slavery has turned into racism, not freedom’s song. There is no reason for any of us to be slaves to corporate greed and fear mongering that would choose to divide us as a nation and make the world unfit to live in. We all belong to one race: THE HUMAN RACE. We are better together as a united nation, knowing this country belongs to all of us and it is our diversity that gives us pride, strength and an innovative edge to breakdown the boundaries that challenge us today. We must honor all of our ancestors, not just some. We are following in the footsteps of extraordinary human beings who took a bold and courageous idea and chose to believe in the kindness and loving nature of the human spirit and that our Creators unalienable Rights belong to all of us together as Americans.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY! I LOVE YOU DAD(RIP)

Dear Dad,
Happy Father’s Day. If we are completely honest with each other and keep no secrets between us, our relationship as father and son wasn’t an easy one. We had unfinished emotional wounds that still needed healing when you died. Not having an opportunity to heal before you passed on, for me it took letting go and letting God help me on my journey. After much soul searching, I realized that the truth is I loved you. And loving you and being thankful you were my Dad, allowed me to love myself and be proud of who I am and where I came from. Although our relationship as father and son was never easy, I know you did your very best and I thank you for that. I know your life’s journey was not an easy one. You learned the hard way, that when you make bad decisions early on in life, it can take the wind out of your sails, but you didn’t give up which is a testament to your strength and courage. You turned your life around when you made a life with my beautiful Mother, and that is something you can be proud of. Times were never easy, you worked at different jobs to help keep a roof over our heads. I remember you picking cotton, shaking peanuts, and priming tobacco. You worked as a logger in the Great Dismal Swamp, an auto mechanic, and any odd job that came your way to help feed your family. But what you most liked to do was preach about how finding God changed your life forever, and sadly the money you made preaching would barely pay for the gas to get to and from a church. But you loved it, and that’s what mattered. Although it was a rare day to see you smiling, I always loved and appreciated those moments, and I’d like to share a few of those moments with you now.

Do you remember when I was 9 years old, you used to drive me to the radio station early Sunday mornings in Boykins, VA, so that I could play my guitar live on the radio? Remember how the radio DJ used to shout out with fever pitched excitement in his voice telling his listeners, “I wish you could see “Baby Calvin” playing that guitar, aahhh man, that little boy can really play that guitar”? He used to make me laugh inside when he said that, I thought he was funny, I could see you smiling too, as our eyes met as you watched me play. Funny how those radio segments brought me so much attention and even brought Mahalia Jackson and other famous groups to our church, including James Brown sending a representative in Roduco, NC to meet me. That was really cool.

One of the things I loved about going to those radio performances was the time we spent together when we were driving to and from the radio station. We’d climb into your two-toned green and white Ford Edsel with those ‘maypop’ tires you used to buy and we’d drive to the station. I would have my guitar in hand playing along while you sang and drove us down the road, just the two of us. You seemed so happy in those moments, and I liked those moments too. I suppose every boy longs for those moments of happiness with their Dad, I’m so grateful to have had such wonderful moments with you.

I know you and Mom had your hearts set on me becoming a minister, but Dad it just wasn’t my calling. It was nothing against you, but for me becoming a minister just wasn’t right for me. I knew I wanted to play music and I loved to play all kinds of music, and I knew you didn’t approve of that. I also liked to play sports, and in high school although I didn’t tell you, because you told me I couldn’t play sports because that’s not what a minister would do, I went against your wishes, I tried out anyway for high school track and field. My coach gave me a spot on the team after tryouts. He had me race in the 440. I actually loved that race. In 1967 at regional’s I ran the 440 in 46.9 seconds. My coach was so proud of me. I won several trophies, but it was always a bittersweet moment for me when I would win, because I couldn’t share it with my parents. When I left home to enter the military in 1972, I started playing music outside of church. I formed a rhythm and blues band I named the “Elements Of Peace”. We played at events, officer clubs on the Fort Ord Military base where I was stationed and we even got some radio play in San Francisco, California.

Today, I am a storyteller, musician, and documentary filmmaker. I am doing the work I love to do. I created a one-man show on the history of the spirituals, so I still get to sing the spirituals we loved singing together Dad. My work has given me the opportunity to travel and meet some wonderful folks along the way. I got to meet and talk about the spirituals with Barack Obama, who would become our first black President. He co-sponsored legislation I put forth to the US Congress in Twin Resolutions to honor our slave ancestors contributions to our nation, and recognize the African American Spirituals as a National Treasure. In June of 2008 President George W. Bush gave me a Presidential Proclamation honoring my work as a musician “celebrating the extraordinary talents and creativity of African-American singers, musicians and composers whose achievements have enriched our culture and enhanced our lives.” The tradition for honoring African American artists was started on June 7, 1979 by then President Jimmy Carter who formally designated the month of June as a time to honor the musical contributions of African Americans, and to annually designate the month of June as Black Music Month. And as luck would have it, I even got to meet and perform for President Jimmy Carter, several times at his historical site and private events in Plains, GA. I’ve even gone to church a couple of times with the President and Rosalynn Carter.

One day Dad, I’ll have to tell you the story about the bear…….

With gratitude and love,
Calvin

HARRIET TUBMAN USED SPIRITUALS ON THE UGRR

posted in: Blog, Spirituals | 0

Harriet Tubman talked about and used the spirituals to help guide the slaves to freedom in the North on the UGRR. Many words in the spirituals have duel meaning and were secretly coded for the slaves to help guide them on the Underground Railroad. For instance, in the spiritual “I’m on my way to Canaan Land” the word Canaan not only meant Heaven it also meant the North and specifically it meant “I’m on my way to Canada”, where slaves could live free in the years after 1833 when the British Parliament abolished slavery across the British Empire including Canada. Once across the border the slaves continued to sing the spirituals, songs their ancestors had created on American soil, as these songs were orally passed down through the generations for many reasons, one being to record their oral history for future generations to examine. As new citizens of Canada they introduced these songs to the Canadian culture.

Most of the spirituals refer to death or crossing over into the afterlife where slavery doesn’t exist, but the secret meaning was if you used the Underground Railroad you didn’t have to die to remove yourself from slavery. That is true for the spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. The secret code in this song was the word “low” meaning the deep South, lift me out of the South & slavery and carry me to freedom in the North. It was widely known for the slaves who knew about the Underground Railroad that Canada was a refuge from slavery. Harriet Tubman it is said sang this song as she passed by the window where her sibling worked in Dorchester County, MD to announce she was leaving on the UGRR headed North.

The spiritual Go Down Moses was a forbidden song for the slaves to sing as their masters, knew that was a song about escaping slavery. The slaves connected with the Biblical story of Moses leading his people to freedom and they wanted it for themselves. Harriet Tubman would defy the masters and sing that song at the top of her lungs. She became known as the “Moses of her people”. Harriet Tubman used the spirituals not only to talk with God, but to comfort and at times even to annoy people. Watch this video as she confronts a banker in NYC she believes God has chosen him to give her money to help passengers on the UGRR.

 

WADE IN THE WATER ON THE UGRR

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:  https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/calvinearl

 

 

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