While making plans for choir anthems for this month, Rev. Jan and I spoke about the possibility of using the hymn “There is More Love Somewhere” from our hymnal. This sounded like a great (and fairly simple, ‘singing something out of the hymnal for an anthem’) idea! It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I actually looked at the hymn in the book that I realized my error. There was very little music. Could you sing it? Sure. However, there was no accompaniment for the piano and there was very little information in the way of harmony. So, as all good composers do, I decided to write what I needed myself!
I started with research. I went and dug into the ‘wilds’ of the internet and realized a few interesting things: First, the hymnal lists the ‘tune name’ as BIKO. Wikipedia quickly informed me that, “Bantu Stephen Biko was a South African anti-apartheid activist. Ideologically an African nationalist and African socialist, he was at the forefront of a grassroots anti-apartheid campaign known as the Black Consciousness Movement during the late 1960s and 1970s.’ However, here’s the interesting bit. He wasn’t a musician and didn’t write the music for this hymn.
I dug a bit deeper.
I discovered, instead, that the first recording (hearing?) of the work is actually by Bessie Jones. Bessie Jones was one of the most popular performers on the 1960s and ’70s folk circuit, appearing usually at the helm of the Georgia Sea Island (Georgia) Singers at colleges, festivals, the Poor People’s March on Washington, and Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. As it turns out, by all accounts, while she might not have written the song (she claims she didn’t) it might be more correct to call the tune ‘Bessie’ or ‘Sea Island’ in tribute to our own Georgia history. I think both Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers might deserve a bit ‘more love’.
Well now, this is a historical tribute to Bessie. The backstory you mined for certainly gives Bessie and the Sea Island Singers a context , a time, and a place . It moves the music into a higher plane, with strength , purpose, and intent. Thanks to you, the song has been revived with deeper layers of harmony and history.
I’m going to listen more closely next time.
Love hearing the story of this song in our hymnal! Thank you for researching and uncovering all this history.