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Summertime/Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child

Mahalia Jackson

I came across this album – Bless This House – rummaging through a pile of records at a garage sale.

I knew Mahalia Jackson had a great voice but Gospel wasn’t a favoured genre of mine – normally, I would have flicked past it.

The album cover got me – a poignant photograph printed on solid board, aged and worn but still sturdy, reinforced at the edges.

A compelling album cover

A compelling album cover

Inspecting the vinyl, it looked more scratch than track – it made no difference  – this (possibly unplayable) old record and its captivating antique cover were always going to be carried away under my arm.

It was virtually unplayable … well, it was playable but it was like listening to the crackle of static electricity.

Mahalia Jackson and the Falls-Jones Enesemble played through that static – with grace, power and beauty.

And they did that regularly for ten years or so. For ten years or so, every visit to a record shop, garage sale, market or jumble sale, I was alert, my eyes peeled for another copy in better condition. Eventually, I found it – the cover design had changed, the vinyl almost pristine – at last the scratchy veil was lifted on the amazing piano of Mildred Falls and the searing voice of Mahalia.

Summertime/Motherless Child & Piece of My Heart – What’s the link?

Summertime has been recorded over 25,000 times, so I guess the fact that Mahalia Jackson and Janis Joplin are in that long list makes for a pretty weak link … but it is a link. Perhaps made slightly closer by the fact Summertime is the track before Piece of My Heart on Cheap Thrills.

The fact that Mahalia sang Summertime at all was pretty amazing considering that she rarely sang anything secular.

I spent hours sourcing images to accompany the version of the song (from Bless This House) on a video I was going to upload to YouTube, so you could have a listen. The copyright owners have it blocked. So, you’ll have to make do with this performance. It’s still good – but not a patch on  the Bless This House version.


Other Stuff You Might Enjoy.

* Just Mahalia, Baby! – an article celebrating Mahalia’s 100th birthday. It contains biographical detail, a number of videos and an interesting account of Mahalia’s appearance on the NBC’s Dinah Shore Chevy Show in 1958.

* Mahalia & Dinah Shore on the Dinah Shore Chevy Show singing Down By The Riverside.

* Della Reese talking about here experience with Mahalia Jackson. (4m 28s)

* The Summertime Connection – a website dedicated to recordings of Summertime. Here is a quote from its home page (unfortunately all the site has is a list of those recordings, you can’t listen to amy of them):

At May 1st 2011 at 00:01 GMT we know of at least 41,915 public performance [of Summertime], of which 33,345 have been recorded. Of these we have 25,998 full recordings in our collection.

* Summertime on Shmoop – Shmoop is an education website and it contains some great stuff.

Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child performed by Bobby Breen in the 1939 movie Way Down South.

* Playlist of  9 (YouTube) – Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child includes versions by Paul Robeson, Odetta, Van Morrison, Marilyn Horne, Charlie Haden & Hank Jones, Marion Anderson. 

* Playlist (YouTube) of 16 – Summertime includes Billie Holiday, Miles Davis Ray Charles & Cleo Laine, Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Fistgerald & Louis Armstrong, Keith Jarrett, Same Cooke, Leontyne Price, The Zombies, Angelique Kidjo.

And the next road takes us to?

North:  Piece of My Heart has already been taken.
East:     Ma Curly Headed Baby by Paul Robeson.
South:   It Ain’t Necessarily So  by Cab Calloway 
West:    God Bless The Child by Billie Holiday

Crossroad 19