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All That is Carnal
April 26, 2013 10:18 AM   Subscribe

The strange ecstatic journey of a Shaker hymn from rural New York to Soul Train.

Come Life, Shaker Life began as a Shaker hymn composed by Issachar Bates in 1835. The Shakers, more properly known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing gained their nickname as a reference to their ecstatic style of worship, which often featured particular forms of dance and movement. You may know their more well-known hymn Simple Gifts, also featured in Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring.

In an unexpected turn, Richie Havens used this hymn as the basis for his song Run, Shaker Life. It was in turn picked up the the Voices of East Harlem and performed at an incredible concert at Sing Sing prison. Though the context shift from 19th century religious practice to 1970s funk, soul and rock seems abrupt, the ecstatic nature of the music remains present in this performance on Soul Train. The seemingly unrelated Run Shakers Life by Joe Cocker can be found on his album On Air which was recorded live at the BBC from 1968-1969.
posted by Polyhymnia (18 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you for this post! I was only familiar with the hymn through a lovely hammered dulcimer instrumental version, and it's neat to learn more about it and its history.
posted by beryllium at 10:38 AM on April 26, 2013


This is great.

I'm just going to go ahead and drop the Weezer version of Simple Gifts here, too, in spite of the fact that I am consistently disappointed in their trajectory as a band.
posted by The World Famous at 10:42 AM on April 26, 2013


That Sing Sing footage is officially the funkiest thing of all time.
posted by unSane at 10:45 AM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is awesome. I feel like people tend hear "folk music" and think it just means bellbottoms and ballads about flowers or whatever, but this is the deal: it's music, by people, for people, that other people just do a thing with and it's out there.
posted by cortex at 10:47 AM on April 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Thanks so much for posting this.
posted by rocketman at 10:56 AM on April 26, 2013


Love it! And, there is that fist in the Sing Sing performance. 1972?
posted by maggieb at 11:02 AM on April 26, 2013


I'm wishing I could find you guys my favorite traditional version of this, which I believe is by the Boston Camerata as part of the Christmas Revels. But I think it might exist only on VHS and in my head. A version of it seems to exist on this album which also features some of the last surviving members of the Shaker community.
posted by Polyhymnia at 11:04 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yup, maggieb, 1972!
posted by Polyhymnia at 11:05 AM on April 26, 2013


I feel like people tend hear "folk music" and think it just means bellbottoms and ballads about flowers or whatever, but this is the deal: it's music, by people, for people, that other people just do a thing with and it's out there.

Honestly, one of the most fun music swaps I did was a playlist of "Pop songs based on folk songs/performed by pop singers". I was putting on things from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, Nick Cave...I had to pick from three different versions of "Black Betty", and a week after sending the thing out I realized I could have put on some surf guitar or some Beach Boys.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:11 AM on April 26, 2013


That moment in the Sing Sing show about three minutes in when the crowd stands up and roars and the band's in the pocket so deep and the singers come forward and EVERYBODY feels good is...well, it's something we don't have words for, which is why humans invented music. Go listen to that again. I'm on my fifth.
posted by echo target at 11:13 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you are interested in knowing more about the Shaker use of dance and music in their worship, and in hearing more interesting songs (they have one about George Washington, for instance) this book and CD is very good. (Simple Gifts: Shaker Chants & Spirituals). I did not know until I read this book, for instance, that spectators often attended Shaker worship services to see the dancing.
posted by not that girl at 11:46 AM on April 26, 2013


Man, watching that Sing Sing footage, and hearing the MC saying "Power to the People" near the end, or watching something like Wattstax from a year later, you can sort of see why, in the early '70s, certain people in government and law enforcement were terrified of actual revolution.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:05 PM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thank you for this post! I was only familiar with the hymn through a lovely hammered dulcimer instrumental version, and it's neat to learn more about it and its history.

beryllium, are you perhaps referring to the one by Malcolm Dalglish from "A Winter's Solstice II" from Windham Hill records?
posted by dnash at 1:20 PM on April 26, 2013


That Sing Sing footage is officially the funkiest thing of all time.

The Harlem Shaker
posted by dubold at 1:55 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Time to pull out the Voices of East Harlem LP. I long ago converted Run, Shaker Life, but it must be time to hear those kids kick all of it again.
posted by issue #1 at 4:07 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fantastic post.
posted by benzenedream at 9:24 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


That Soul Train link takes me to a clip from the Soul to Soul movie. And though it's labelled Richie Havens, it's actually Voices of East Harlem again.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:00 AM on May 1, 2013


PeterMcDermott, I did realize that the clip was mistitled, but should have clarified. Unfortunately, I didn't think to double check the other info provided. You are correct, that is from the Soul to Soul concert. Thanks for letting me know, and I'll see if the mods can update it. I'm excited to check out the rest of the Soul to Soul film.
posted by Polyhymnia at 10:28 AM on May 2, 2013


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