d r a f t

Sharon Irving and Anders Nordstrom of Pocket Radio (www.fb.com/PocketRadioChicago)


The singer

According to the About Page on her website, Sharon Irving of Chicago is a singer-songwriter, actress, worship leader and self-described “Spreader of Holy Mischief.”

The song

The Hymnary.org website says it is an African-American spiritual in the public domain, and Victoria Schwarz and Rev. Wilson Pruitt, say on a United Methodist Church website (“History of Hymns: ‘I Want Jesus to Walk with Me’,” April 7, 2019, Discipleship Ministries: United Methodist Church), “there is no record of this spiritual in early collections, which results in an undetermined first publication date and has led to some divergent scholarship on its origin.” It may be of Appalachian origin:

In the Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal, a reference is made to Don Hustad’s Dictionary-Handbook to Hymns for the Living Church (1978), quoting, “I Want Jesus to walk with me” is “probably one of the ‘white spirituals’ which thrived for more than two hundred years in the rural Appalachian culture.” The entry goes on to say that, “If Hustad’s assumption is correct . . . [it] may have its roots in early nineteenth-century camp meetings that were attended and led by Native Americans, African Americans, and Euro/Anglos” (Young, 423).

Carl P. Daw’s recent scholarship for Glory to God: A Companion claims a higher probability for an African American origin by revealing the appearance of a variant form of the spiritual in Dorothy Bolton and Harry Burleigh’s Old Songs Hymnal: Words and Melodies from the State of Georgia (1929). 

Harry Burleigh’s is a name to be reckoned with in his own right. A student of Dvořák’s when the Czech composer taught at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, he was an Episcopal church musician, a regular concert performer and a composer in his own right. Says Wikipedia:

Reputedly, Burleigh, who later became known worldwide for his excellent baritone voice, sang spirituals while cleaning the Conservatory’s halls, which drew the attention of the conservatory’s director, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, who asked Burleigh to sing for him. Burleigh said: “I sang our Negro songs for him very often, and before he wrote his own themes, he filled himself with the spirit of the old Spirituals.” Dvořák said: “In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.”

Uplinked Nov. 14, 2022]

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