He's Got the Whole World in His Hands
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"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" is a traditional American spiritual, first published in 1927. It became an international pop hit in 1957-58 in a recording by English singer Laurie London, and has been recorded by many other singers and choirs.
Traditional music sources
The song was first published in the paperbound hymnal Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New in 1927. In 1933, it was collected by Frank Warner from the singing of Sue Thomas in North Carolina. It was also recorded by other collectors such as Robert Sonkin of the Library of Congress, who recorded it in Gee's Bend, Alabama in 1941. That version is still available at the Library's American Folklife Center.
Frank Warner performed the song during the 1940s and 1950s, and introduced it to the American folk scene. Warner recorded it on the Elektra album American Folk Songs and Ballads in 1952. It was quickly picked up by both American gospel singers and British skiffle and pop musicians.
Laurie London recording
|"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands"|
|Single by Laurie London with the Geoff Love Orchestra and Chorus|
|B-side||"The Cradle Rock"|
|Songwriter(s)||Robert Lindon, William Henry|
The song made the popular song charts in a 1957 recording by English singer Laurie London with the Geoff Love Orchestra, which reached #12 on the UK singles chart in late 1957. The songwriting on London's record was credited to "Robert Lindon" and "William Henry", which were pseudonyms used by British writers Jack Waller and Ralph Reader, who had used the song in their 1956 stage musical Wild Grows the Heather.
Laurie London's version then rose to #1 of the Most Played by Jockeys song list in the USA and went to number three on the R&B charts in 1958. The record reached #2 on Billboard's Best Sellers in Stores survey and #1 in Cashbox's Top 60. It became a gold record and was the most successful record by a British male in the 1950s in the USA. It was the first, and remains, the only gospel song to hit #1 on a U.S. pop singles chart; "Put Your Hand in the Hand (of the Man)" by Ocean peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1971; and "Oh Happy Day" by the Edwin Hawkins Singers reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1969.
Covers and adaptations
Mahalia Jackson's version made the Billboard top 100 singles chart, topping at number 69. Other versions were recorded by Marian Anderson (in Oslo on August 29, 1958 and released on the single His Master's Voice 45-6075 AL 6075 and on the extended play En aften på "Casino Non Stop", introdusert av Arne Hestenes (HMV 7EGN 26. It was arranged by Harry Douglas and Ed Kirkeby), Kate Smith, Odetta, Jackie DeShannon, Perry Como, the Sandpipers (1970; "Come Saturday Morning" LP) and Nina Simone on And Her Friends (recorded 1957). Andy Williams released a version on his 1960 album, The Village of St. Bernadette. The Sisters of Mercy played it at the Reading Festival in 1991. It is featured on The Good and the Bad and the Ugly bootleg album. Pat Boone recorded a version for his 1961 album Great, Great, Great.
In 1995, The Sisters of Glory, a gospel group that featured Thelma Houston, CeCe Peniston, Phoebe Snow, Lois Walden, and Albertina Walker, included the composition to their album Good News in Hard Times released on Warner Bros.
Mike Doughty adapted the refrain of the song for a new song of a similar title on his album Sad Man Happy Man. Additionally, Doughty's former band Soul Coughing performed a partial version live on occasion, usually as a segue into another song.
In popular culture
- In February 1978, English football team Nottingham Forest F.C. released "We've Got the Whole World in Our Hands" (Warner K17110) in conjunction with local band Paper Lace; the B side featured "The Forest March". The song has become a favourite in British football grounds, with the lyrics adapted in various ways; for instance, "We're the worst team in the League" has been heard at Rushden & Diamonds matches as well as Crystal Palace F.C. matches.
- In the 1982 film Tootsie, Dorothy Michaels (Dustin Hoffman) sings a line of the song to her (his) agent George Fields (Sydney Pollack), changing the words to "I've got the whole world in my hands."
- The song was also used in the 1987 film Roxanne with Steve Martin.
- In the movie Con Air (1997), Steve Buscemi plays a serial killer who sings "He's Got the Whole World" with a little girl. In the movie RocketMan, also from 1997, Harland Williams plays the role of an astronaut who sings "I Have the Whole World in My Hands" on a worldwide broadcast, and is then accompanied by millions of people around the world watching it.
- WWE wrestler Bray Wyatt started singing the song during his feud with John Cena, to accentuate Wyatt's gimmick as a cult leader.
- Boatner, Edward (1927). Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New. Sunday School Publishing Board, National Baptist Convention.
- Warner, Anne & Frank (1984). Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne and Frank Warner Collection. Syracuse University Press. p. 384.
- "Traditional Music and Spoken Word Catalog from the American Folklife Center (Performing Arts Encyclopedia, The Library of Congress)". Memory.loc.gov. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- Warner, Frank (1952). American Folk Songs and Ballads. Elektra Records.
- "Elektra Discography". Atsf.co.uk. 1954-04-19. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952-2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 460. ISBN 0-00-717931-6.
- Wild Grows the Heather, Allmusic.com. Retrieved 25 February 2017
- Wild Grows the Heather, OvertheFootlights.co.uk. Retrieved 25 February 2017
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 359.
- "Laurie London Biography - Music Artist Band Biographies - Artists Bands Bio - FREE MP3 Downloads". Music.us. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- Bremner, Jack (2004). "Shit Ground No Fans". Bantam Press. ISBN 978-0-593-05376-8.