Music That’s Close To the Hearts of Americans
It’s quite natural when you hear music that’s a cross between Traditional Gospel music and Jazz. The line between these two music genres is ultrathin as “Just A Closer Walk with Thee” illustrates. Moreover, it’s wrapped around a mystery-- who penned it? If we were to say that it alludes to the Gospel, that is, what is written in the Bible, these verses could lead to the answer: James 4:8 “Come near to God and he will come close to you.”, and 2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we walk by faith, not by sight”. Traditional Gospel music traces its roots to the 19th century when slaves worked the fields singing the familiar words about walking at the Lord’s side. However, Gospel Music historian Horace Boyer countered this by recalling a story about a music producer hearing the song from porters at the train stop. As he was riding the train, he had a last song syndrome moment which made him get off at the next stop and hop onto another one back to the porters who were singing. He found a porter who agreed to sing it for him as he wrote the words down. Kenneth Morris added a few words and then published the song “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” in 1940, which became the Gospel and Jazz standard shortly after that. And it went on to be an American classic. It got caught up in the recording boom and it was recorded in a rainbow of music genres including Brass Band music. To many Americans, hearing and singing “Just A Closer Walk with Thee” triggers memories of attending church service with family and singing along with piano accompaniment of the hymnal standard, feeling a divine connection. It comes as no surprise that at New Orleans Jazz funerals, it is popular as either a hymn or a funeral elegy probably because of its last stanza. Many song artists have recorded their take on it and there’s a variety in rendition--jazzy, catchy, and solemn.