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.