Even a Sparrow Matters

It’s Friday and time for a post about another old gospel song.

I have shared several now and hope you have enjoyed them.

This week’s song is one of my husband’s favorites.  He has often performed this song in church services and at “gospel sings.”

The song starts with a question:

Why should I feel discouraged?  Why should the shadows come?  

The song quickly gives the answer:

His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

This thought is based on the scripture in Matthew 10:29-30

“Two sparrows sell for a farthing, don’t they? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Never be afraid, then—you are far more valuable than sparrows.”

While this song was made famous by two different African-American singers,  Ethel Waters and Mahalia Jackson, it was written by a Canadian lady living in Elmira, New York.

In her own words:

“Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We developed a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle – true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh 20 years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair.  Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day, while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: ‘His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.’ The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The song ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow’ was the outcome of that experience.”

Ethel Waters was born to a teenager who had been raped.  Although she was raised by her grandmother, she took the last name of her father.  She demonstrated her musical talents while very young, singing at the age of five at church.  On her 15th birthday she won an amateur night and began performing in vaudeville in 1917.

In 1953 she sang this song in the movie “Member of the Wedding” and brought the song to the attention of the world.  She loved the song “His Eye is On the Sparrow” and in her later years she often sang it for the Billy Graham crusades.

Mahalia Jackson made the song even more popular when she sang it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.  The song became associated with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.  Rev. Martin Luther King Jr said Mahalia did not just sing the song, it was her life story.

Mahalia spoke of the song and its meaning to her:

“When our savior came, now he didn’t come down here just to tell people to believe on him, he healed the sick and he healed the blind, he raised the dead. He did things for people. So salvation and the Word of God can do things for you. It can open doors for you. And I know it can, Studs. Look what it done for me. And my people have–we’re coming along, but my God, we’ve come along so slow till we chokin’.”

For my husband and I, the song has always been a comfort.  No matter what the circumstances of life, we can sing and find joy in the knowledge that God truly loves us and is aware of all we face each day.

 

My First Solo Performance

Continuing my posts on the old gospel songs we used to sing, today I remember the first song I ever performed in public.

As a young girl I took piano lessons and when my father, who was a minister, had speaking engagements he often would have me play and sing something before he spoke.  Although I was shy, I think this experience gave me confidence in appearing before an audience that helped me later as I became a speaker for women’s events and a pastor’s wife.

Just how good my voice and piano playing was remains open to question, but with my red hair in banana curls, I was a hit.

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The first song I learned to play was an old song born in the slave fields of  the southern states.  Although the original author of the spiritual is unknown, it is acknowledged that the song arose from the oral tradition of songs passed from person to person and generation to generation among the plantations of the South.

Imagine being a slave and totally at the mercy of the slave owner.  What kind of life could it be when you were forced to work from dawn to sunset?  When you could be beaten or sold to another slave owner without a chance to even say goodbye to your family?   No promise of freedom – how easy it would be to despair of life.

But somewhere in that life of sorrow and pain many slaves found hope in God.  In spite of their circumstances they clung to the belief that God was in control and they found courage in that belief.

They sang:

He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

The song was first published in 1927 in the hymnal Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New.  Later it was introduced in the USA and became popular with the folk song crowd in the 30’s and 40’s.

Laurie London, a young British singer, released the song in 1957.  It quickly became #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Since then many artists have made recordings of the song, but perhaps one of the most famous (and my favorite)  is Mahalia Jackson’s version.

The verses have changed depending on who was singing the song but this verse was not in my version of the song.  ♥

He’s got the gamblin’ man in His hands
He’s got the sinner man in His hands
He’s got the gamblin’ man in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

As I grew up and became more proficient in my music, I left that song behind.  But recently as I have played for the residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes, I have added it back to my selection of songs.

While they sit and listen to the songs I play – when I play this one I am guaranteed that many will join in with me and smiles will be in abundance.

Since I began singing this song again, I added my own verse for the senior citizens.

He’s got all us old folks in His hands
He’s got all us old folks in His hands
He’s got all us old folks  in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.  Psalms 19:1

“Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens.  Isaiah 48:13

But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.  Isaiah 64:8

Check out the other gospel songs I have written about here:

“My” Hymn – Great is Thy Faithfulness

From “You Are My Sunshine” to “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”

Recognize This Beloved Song – “Faith’s Review and Expectations”