This question directly relates to researches I have done in early Gospel
records, particularly those produced by Homer Rodeheaver.
In some cases, such as "If I Could Only Hear My Mother Pray Again," the
traditionally accepted "first recording" was preceded by a
Rodeheaver recording by a matter of many years -- it was recorded for
Special by the Bethany Bible School of Chicago's Ladies
Harmony Quartet in 1925, and then not again until the 1930s.
But as for "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" I know of no recording earlier
than that made by the Selah Jubilee Quartet for Decca on
October 8, 1941, followed hard by another by Sister Rosetta Tharpe for the
same company on December 2nd. I'm pretty sure that
it was the Tharpe recording, with Lucky Millinder, that established the
piece as a generally known commercial entity.
Whomever said that it was written by someone in 1939 either has rocks
in their head, or is a lawyer. Bunk Johnson recorded it in
1945 and understood it to be an old traditional New Orleans parade piece.
While there has been considerable study in the realm
of New Orleans Parade Bands, I don't feel that the repertoire played by
such bands is particularly well understood -- it contains
funeral music of French origin, such as the 19th century piece "Guirlande
de fleurs" in addition to the American tunes we know
well. My opinion -- and it is just that -- is that "Just a Closer Walk" is
a New Orleans funeral parade piece that originated between
1900-1910 and that at first it emerged without lyrics, which were added
later. It is just closest to that idiom, rather than vocal spirituals
sung in black churches in the late 19th century, a genesis also claimed for
it. Before 1920 instrumental worship in black churches
was rare to almost non-existent as it was considered sinful, and
instruments were not used. The long breathed notes, and slow pace,
of the piece suggests brass instruments rather than the more lively
spirituals associated with singing.
Again, my thoughts about where the piece comes from. But the recording data
is what it is.
Uncle Dave Lewis
On Sun, Feb 10, 2013 at 7:51 AM, Thomas Stern <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Forwarding this query from the ballad list - I think folks on 78 or ARSC
> list may have the answer.
> What is the earliest recording?
> Best wishes, Thomas.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [log in to unmask] [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
> Sent: Sunday, February 10, 2013 6:21 AM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Just a Closer Walk With Thee
> I wonder if anyone can resolve a dispute that's about to erupt on another
> message board.
> Someone there says that the spiritual Just A Closer Walk With Thee was
> written in 1939. However, gut feeling suggests to me that, while it might
> have been first copyrighted then, the song goes back way before then.
> Would anybody know who's right?
> Many thanks,
> Fred McCormick.