This Little Light of Mine
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"This Little Light of Mine" is a popular gospel song of unknown origin. It was often reported to be written for children in the 1920s by Harry Dixon Loes, but he never claimed credit for the original version of the song, and the Moody Bible Institute where he worked said he did not write it. It was later adapted by Zilphia Horton, amongst many other activists, in connection with the civil rights movement.
The origin of the song is unclear, but the phrase "This little light of mine" appears published in poetry by 1925 by Edward G. Ivins, a writer in Montana. In 1931, the song is mentioned in a Los Angeles newspaper as "Deaconess Anderson's song". In 1932, the song was mentioned in a 1932 Missouri newspaper. In 1933, the song was mentioned in newspapers as being sung by a chorus at an African Methodist Episcopal conference in Helena, Montana and then various other churches around the United States later that year. In June 1934 John Lomax and Alan Lomax recorded the earliest known recording of the song when they recorded Jim Boyd of Jacksonville, Texas singing at the State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. In 1939 Lomax returned to Texas with Ruby Lomax during their Southern States Recording Trip and recorded the song again. This song and others were sung by a black woman, Doris McMurray who was imprisoned at Thomas Goree Unit in Texas and said that she learned the song from her grandmother in Waco. She sang the following lyrics, taught to her by her grandmother:
This little light o’ mine, I’m goin’ let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
Evrywhere I go, I’m goin’ let it shine (repeat)
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
In my neighbor’s home, I’m goin’ let it shine (repeat)
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
Many other verses have been added over the years, including impromptu lines appropriate to the occasion. The song is sung around the world, with the simple lyrics and tune resonating with all ages. Harry Dixon Loes, who studied at the Moody Bible Institute and the American Conservatory of Music, was a musical composer and teacher, who wrote or co-wrote several other gospel songs. He wrote a popular adaptation of the song "This Little Light of Mine" in the 1940's, but never copyrighted or claimed credit for writing the original, which remains of unknown origin.
Often thought of as an African-American spiritual, it can be found in The United Methodist Hymnal, #585, adapted by William Farley Smith in 1987, and in the Unitarian Universalist Hymn Book, Singing the Living Tradition, #118, with harmonies by Horace Clarence Boyer.
Some claim the song takes its theme from some of Jesus's remarks to his followers. Matthew 5:14-16 of the King James Version gives: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." The parallel passage in Luke 11:33 of the King James Version gives: "No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light." Given that the source is unknown and God and Jesus are not mentioned in the words, it is equally possible that the song reflects a global longing to be seen as a good person trying to make the world a better place.
The song was sung by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Godmother of Rock 'N' Roll, as early as 1960. The song has also been secularised into "This Little Girl of Mine" as recorded by Ray Charles in 1956 and later The Everly Brothers. It has often been published with a set of hand movements to be used for the instruction of children.
Under the influence of Zilphia Horton, Fannie Lou Hamer, and others, it eventually became a Civil Rights anthem in the 1950s and 1960s, especially the version by Bettie Mae Fikes. The Kingston Trio recorded it on College Concert in 1962, and The Seekers for their second UK album, Hide & Seekers (also known as The Four & Only Seekers) in 1964. Over time it also became a very popular children's song, recorded and performed by the likes of Raffi in the 1980s from his album Rise and Shine, releasing it as a single. It is sometimes included in Christian children's song books.
Odetta and the Boys Choir of Harlem performed the song on the Late Show with David Letterman on September 17, 2001, on the first show after Letterman resumed broadcasting, after having been off the air for several nights following the events of 9/11. Reverend Osagyefo Sekou and other counter-protesters sang "This Little Light of Mine" defiantly before a crowd of white supremacists and alt-right supporters gathered for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA in 2018.
The song featured on Hoyt Axton's 1963 album Thunder 'N Lightnin' named "This Little Light". LZ7 took their version of the song also named "This Little Light" to number 26 in the UK Singles Chart. The song is also sung in several scenes of the 1994 film Corrina, Corrina starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ray Liotta.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry chose to end their wedding in May 2018 with a version of the iconic song.
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- "Harry Dixon Loes – Yet Another Unitarian Universalist". www.danielharper.org. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
- "Did you know 'This Little Light of Mine' was birthed in the civil rights movement?". www.christianpost.com. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
- "Former S.L. Man Writes Poem for 'Truth N.Y.", Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah) 28 March 1925, Sat. p. 30
- E. G. Ivins, This Way Out, (1927) p. 56
- Prowd, H.D. "Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church". California Eagle. Los Angeles. p. 7.
- "St. Francisville Woman's 71st Birthday Party". Clark County Courier. Kohoka, Missouri. p. 10.
- "Program is Planned at A.M.S. Church in Honor of Dignitary," The Independent-Record (Helena, Montana) 09 Apr 1933, Sun, p. 2 (accessible on newspapers.com)
- "Church Announcements: Second Baptist" The Richmond Item (Richmond, Indiana) 21 Oct 1933, Sat, p. 8 (accessible on newspapers.com)
- "Plea for Faith Voiced by Noted Negro Educator," The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama)08 Dec 1933, Fri, p. 14 (accessible on newspapers.com)
- "Kodály Center for Music Education - Song". kodaly.hnu.edu.
- "This little light of mine".
- "This Little Light o' Mine". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
- Southern Recording Trip 2- John & Ruby Lomax 1939- Sections 10-22, field notes http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/southern-recording-trip-2--john--ruby-lomax-1939.aspx
- "How The Civil Rights Movement Transformed 'This Little Light Of Mine'". NPR.org. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
- United Methodist Hymnal, The (1989). This Little Light of Mine #585. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House. p. 585.
- "Hymns in Singing the Living Tradition - Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Rock Tavern". sites.google.com. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
- "The New Sounds for Christ in Zimbabwe – This Little Light Of Mine." The Daily Kos, October 6, 2008. Accessed June 7, 2009.
- Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 3 - The Tribal Drum: The rise of rhythm and blues. [Part 1]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
- "Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom". Smithsonian Folkways. Retrieved 2015-06-11.
- For example, it is in The Kids Hymnal: 80 Songs and Hymns, Hendrickson Publishers, 2007
- "Boys Choir Of Harlem News". Archived from the original on April 11, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2013.
- Matthews, Lyndsey (2018-05-19). "All the Ways Meghan Markle Americanized the Royal Wedding Ceremony". Harper's BAZAAR. Retrieved 2020-09-06.
- Spiritual lyrics Archived 2007-01-01 at the Wayback Machine
- Top 10 Civil Rights songs
- on YouTube
- This Little Light of Mine for choir.
- recording by Derek Lee Ragin of "This Little Light of Mine"
- "This Little Light of Mine" Doris McMurray, Goree Farm, Huntsville, TX: John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip.