Move On Up a Little Higher

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"Move On Up a Little Higher"
Single by Mahalia Jackson
ReleasedDecember 1947
RecordedFriday, September 12, 1947
Songwriter(s)Rev. William Herbert Brewster
Producer(s)Art Freeman

"Move On Up a Little Higher" is a gospel song written by W. Herbert Brewster, first recorded by Brother John Sellers in late 1946,[1] but most famously recorded on September 12, 1947, by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, a version that sold eight million copies.[2] The song was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in (1998).[3] In 2005, the Library of Congress honored the song by adding it to the National Recording Registry. It was also included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts, and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock.[4]


Composer Rev. William Herbert Brewster (1897-1987) composed "Moved On Up a Little Higher," through the imagery of a "Christian climbing the ladder to heaven," the song encourages black upward mobility, hence reflecting the postwar Afro-modernist sentiments:"

"The fight for rights here in Memphis was pretty rough on the Black church . . . and I wrote that song "Move Up a Little Higher"... We'll have to move in the field of education. Move into the professions and move into politics. Move in anything that any other race has to have to survive. That was a protest idea and inspiration. I was trying to inspire Black people to move up higher. Don't be satisfied with the mediocre...Before the freedom fights started, before the Martin Luther King days, I had to lead a lot of protest meetings. In order to get my message over, there were things that were almost dangerous to say, but you could sing it."[5]

"Move on Up" was originally written for one of Brewster's religious pageants or passion plays. Brewster's maintained that the entire piece—lyrics, melody, and harmony—came to him in one flow, and shortly thereafter he taught the song to his principal vocal soloist, Queen C. Anderson. But it was the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson, who, according to Brewster, "knew what to do with it. She could throw the verse out there."[6] Producer Art Freeman insisted Jackson record "Move on Up a Little Higher"; released in December 1947,[7] the single became the best-selling gospel record of all time, selling in such great quantities that stores could not even meet the demand.[8] Brewster was pastor of East Trigg Avenue Baptist Church, one of the churches where young Elvis Presley studied the ecstatic moves of his gospel heroes.[9]

Recording Sessions[edit]

First Session[edit]

"Move On Up A Little Higher," September 12, 1947, New York City, Apollo: Mahalia Jackson (vocal), Mildred Falls (piano), and Herbert James Francis (organ).[10]

Re-record Session[edit]

"I Will Move On Up A Little Higher," New York City, November 23, 1954, Columbia, (Rev. William Herbert Brewster/Arranger Mahalia Jackson): The Falls-Jones Ensemble, with Mildred Falls (piano), Ralph Jones (organ), Jack Lasberg (guitar), Frank Carroll (bass), Bunny Shawker (drums), and Mahalia Jackson (vocal). From The World's Greatest Gospel Singer album, Columbia CL 644; Originally Released March 14, 1955.[11]

Notable cover versions[edit]


  1. ^ Hayes, Cedric and Robert Laughton. "The Gospel Discography, 1943-1970" (2007), Eyeball Productions, page 298 - ISBN 0-9686445-8-9
  2. ^ Koster, Rick. Louisiana Music: A Journey from R&B to Zydeco, Jazz to Country, Blues to Gospel, Cajun Music... (2002), Da Capo Press, page 271 - ISBN 0-306-81003-4
  3. ^ Grammy Hall of Fame Award
  4. ^ 500 Songs That Shaped Rock Archived July 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Ramsey, Guthrie P. Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop (Music of the African Diaspora) (2003), University of California Press, page 52 - ISBN 0-520-24333-1
  6. ^ Ramsey, Guthrie P. Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop, page 53
  7. ^ Burford, Mark. Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field, Oxford University Press, page 100 - ISBN 978-0190634902
  8. ^ Billboard Chart history
  9. ^ Guralnick, Peter. Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000, Da Capo Press, page 415 - ISBN 0-306-80999-0
  10. ^ Decca/Apollo recordings
  11. ^ "Columbia Record CL 644: The World's Greatest Gospel Singer". Archived from the original on 2008-10-05. Retrieved 2007-12-22.
  12. ^ All Music: "Move On Up A Little Higher"[dead link]

External links[edit]