Old-Time Religion

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This article is about the traditional gospel song. For the indie band, see Old Time Relijun.
"Old Time Religion"
("Give Me That Old Time Religion")
ThisOldTimeReligion1873.jpg
Page from The Jubilee Singers, 1873.
Music by Traditional
Language English
Form Negro spiritual
Original artist Fisk Jubilee Singers
(Earliest attested)

"(Give Me That) Old-Time Religion" (and similar spellings) is a traditional Gospel song dating from 1873, when it was included in a list of Jubilee songs[1]—or earlier. It has become a standard in many Protestant hymnals, though it says nothing about Jesus or the gospel, and covered by many artists. Some scholars, such as Forrest Mason McCann, have asserted the possibility of an earlier stage of evolution of the song, in that "the tune may go back to English folk origins"[2] (later dying out in the white repertoire but staying alive in the work songs of African Americans). In any event, it was by way of Charles Davis Tillman that the song had incalculable influence on the confluence of black spiritual and white gospel song traditions in forming the genre now known as southern gospel. Tillman was largely responsible for publishing the song into the repertoire of white audiences. It was first heard sung by African-Americans and written down by Tillman when he attended a camp meeting in Lexington, South Carolina in 1889.

Lyrics[edit]

Most common lyrics performed are a repetition of the chorus:

Give me that old-time religion,
Give me that old-time religion,
Give me that old-time religion,
It's good enough for me.

The lyrics, however, as sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers are:

Oh! this old-time religion,
This old-time religion,
This old-time religion,
It is good enough for me.

Following Tillman's nuanced changes[3] which accommodated the song more toward the tastes of white southern church congregations, Elmer Leon Jorgenson[4] and other editors preferred the more-formalized first line "'Tis the old-time religion" (likewise the repeated first line of the refrain).[5]

In popular culture[edit]

The SATB musical arrangement popularized in the hymnals published by Charles Davis Tillman is the background song in the 1941 film Sergeant York. It is featured prominently in the film Inherit the Wind. It also appears in Russ Meyer's penultimate movie Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens and in HBO's Carnivàle.[6]

A popular version of "Old Time Religion" was done by The Caravans in 1954 with a young James Cleveland singing lead. Vocals in the group also included Cassietta George, Albertina Walker, Louise McDowell and Johneron Davis. This version introduced a different, lively upbeat and a new chorus all its own:

Give me that old time religion! (old time religion)
I'm looking for religion! (good religion, like it used to be!)
Give me that old time religion! (old time religion, Lord)
Hallelueh! (Hallelueh, good enough for me!)


This song is referenced in Captain Beefheart's song "Moonlight on Vermont" on his 1969 album Trout Mask Replica. Numerous parodic filk verses for "Old-Time Religion" exist, some of the earliest of which were composed by Gordon R. Dickson and made famous by Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger in live performances and on their live album Precious Friend. The parody verses make reference to a very wide range of "old-time religions" that most Christians would consider pagan.[7]

The song is also sung in The Last Waltz by Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko, with Danko playing the fiddle. Robbie finishes the scene, laughing, saying "Well it's not what it used to be" before The Band plays "The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down."

Polk Miller's version is heard in the video game BioShock Infinite. It is featured in the lighthouse in the beginning of the game.

The song forms the basis for Jolie Holland's 2004 song "Old-Fashioned Morphine".

See also[edit]

Charles Davis Tillman

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pike, The Jubilee Singers, Item 198. See inset.
  2. ^ McCann, Hymns & History: An Annotated Survey of Sources (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1997), ISBN 0-89112-058-0, p. 595.
  3. ^ Tillman published his arrangement in his compilation Revival (Atlanta: Charlie D. Tillman, 1891), Item 223.
  4. ^ Great Songs of the Church, Number Two Edition (Louisville: Word and Work, 1937), Item 275.
  5. ^ See, e.g., Ruth Winsett Shelton, editor, Best Loved Songs and Hymns (Dayton, TN: R. E. Winsett Music Company, 1961), Item 347. Shelton rendered the song title as "Old-Time Religion" and credited it as an "Old melody" arranged by her first husband R. E. Winsett.
  6. ^ Carnivale music, Episode 3.
  7. ^ http://sacred-texts.com/bos/bos527.htm

Bibliography[edit]

  • Pike, G. D. The Jubilee Singers and Their Campaign for Twenty Thousand Dollars. Nashville: Lee and Shepard, 1873.