Old-Time Religion

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"Old Time Religion"
Page from The Jubilee Singers, 1873
Song by Fisk Jubilee Singers (earliest attested)
GenreNegro spiritual

("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.


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] that 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]

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!)

  • British folk busking duo The Brotherhood (Don Partridge and Pat Keene) recorded a lively version of this song on their 1966 album "Singin' 'n' Sole-In" [7]
  • American experimental band The Residents recorded a lively version of this song during their 1999 "Wormwood" tour.
  • 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.[8]
  • The song is also sung in The Last Waltz by Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. 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.
  • James Booker covered the song on his album United, Our Thing Will Stand (2004).
  • The song opens the 1999 film version of Inherit the Wind starring Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott.
  • The song forms the basis for Jolie Holland's 2004 song "Old-Fashioned Morphine".
  • In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell mentions to interviewer Bill Moyers that "a friend" (Pete Seeger --see above) revised the song with references to non-Christian deities:

Give me that old time religion
Give me that old time religion
Give me that old time religion
It's good enough for me
Let us worship Zarathustra
Just the way we used to
I'm a Zarathustra booster
He's good enough for me
Let us worship Aphrodite
She's beautiful but flighty
She doesn't wear a nightie
But she's good enough for me

See also[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. ^ Fontana TL5390
  8. ^ http://sacred-texts.com/bos/bos527.htm


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