Music and Spirituality: Freedom

On August 15, 1969, a folk guitarist from Greenwich Village played the opening set to what is still the most memorable concert in American history. Richie Havens, who has a unique way of playing and tuning his instrument, played for three hours, receiving ovation after ovation.

Running out of songs to play and exhausted from the heat, Richie continued playing. For the finale he played a version of the Negro spiritual: "Sometimes I Feel," and his astounding performance gained him international praise.

The original spiritual was written by Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949): an accomplished musician and composer. An aficionado of folk songs and spirituals, Burleigh wrote:

"Success in singing these Folk Songs is primarily dependent upon deep spiritual feeling. The voice is not nearly so important as the spirit; and then rhythm, for the Negro's soul is linked with rhythm,and is an essential characteristic of most all Folk Songs." (source)

Each time I listen to this, my heart aches with despair for an unjust world. With each violent strike of the guitar, I can feel his disgust, his despair, and his outrage for an oppressed people. I feel like throwing this notebook at the wall, and crying as I listen to to his voice cry for freedom.

Yet woven into this emotional expression, there still remains that all-important ingredient: hope. The entire piece becomes a psalm of spiritual redemption. In front of 500,000 people, Richie delivered the same message we hear at mass: offer your pain up to God.

I find that pretty groovy, if you can dig on that.

If Burleigh was still alive, I'm sure he'd be just as moved.

(Simply writing the lyrics doesn't convey the entirety of this piece, so I've included the best video link I could dig up. Footage is from the motion picture "Woodstock.")

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