The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Leave It There

As I said in a previous post, I've always loved old country and old blues gospel tunes. I have a lot of fun attempting to chord and play their simple melodies on my guitar. Lately, I've been trying to learn the old gospel tune "Leave It There," or as it's sometimes called, "Take Your Burden to the Lord."

Charles Albert Tindley, author of "Leave It There," wrote many famous gospel songs including his most famous "I'll Overcome Someday," which was modified and used as the anthem "We Shall Overcome" for the civil rights movement in the '60s. He was born a slave and grew up to be the pastor of a large Philadelphia church.

Tindley (that's his pic to the right) apparently wrote "Leave It There" after he visited with a man who had lots of troubles. He told the man to put all of his troubles in a sack, take it to the lord, and leave it there. As the story goes, this advice later became the basis of his gospel song, "Leave It There" written in 1916.

The song encapsulates one of the strongest and most appealing elements in Christian theology: the idea that God can relieve personal suffering. I first heard that message in sermons in my youth when I didn't really know what suffering or having personal burdens really meant.

I don't mean I had an idyllic youth. I had my share of teen age angst like most all of us. At the time, it seemed like the weight of the world was coming down on me. But, compared to later developments, those little heartbreaks now seem trivial. With age, of course, we all learn about real suffering. And we learn that money, power, influence, contacts--none of that stuff protects you.

The simple concept in the song is, if you tell God what's bothering you, lay it on Him, your mind will be cleared and you will be at ease with yourself. The song doesn't mention forgiveness, but I think it's implied in the concept. In Catholicism I think the confessional embodies this idea. Among protestants, I think the idea is, that you can approach God directly through prayer.

I would hazard a guess (it's a guess only, I certainly don't have any statistics on this) that this concept has probably been involved in more conversions or "rebirths" than all the priests and pastors in the world combined.

Yeah, even a grizzled old skeptic like me can still understand and appreciate the power of this idea. Okay, sermon's over. Back to the song that expresses this concept.

Washington Phillips recorded a version of the song between 1927 and 1929; it's an interesting take because of Phillips' interpretation of the lyrics and his unusual "mystery" instrument. You can read more about this instrument and the speculation as to what it is on Wikipedia.

There are many other enjoyable versions of the song on You Tube, but there's one that really sounds different from all the others. It's by gravel voiced Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945). Blind Willie, who sang and preached on the streets, was poor all his life. He died of malarial fever shortly after his house burned in 1945.

Lucky for us, somebody got Willie into the recording studio, and he made several gospel blues recordings between 1927-1930. Because of those recordings, Blind Willie had a tremendous influence on all of his contemporary black gospel singers and those who came after him. The recordings also had a profound impact on American popular rock music. Many performers from Led Zepplin to Bob Dylan have cited his influence on their work. And perhaps most famously, his recording of "Dark Was the Night" was one of those chosen to be placed on both Voyager spacecraft which are now heading out into deep space.

One of the songs he recorded in those sessions from '27-'30 was "Leave It There." Here's Blind Willie's version of this old gospel tune.


  1. I like Phillips' version best but both are great. Thanks for these, Dan.

  2. It's just a great gospel song.
    Give a listen to Emmylou Harris, live March 2011 on You Tube. 3 minutes & 39 seconds WELL SPENT!

  3. Dan, this is actually one of my favorite gospel songs. Along with "He Wrote My Name In Heaven," and "Blessed Assurance."

    Heck, I've got about a hundred "favorite" gospel songs...I growed up in the church and all...

    But, "Leave It There" is one of those things that us not yet grizzled old skeptics understand well. (Seems some of y'all grizzled old skeptics do, too).

    Just sayin'...

    Dan, this is a powerful post.

    I got in to a long discussion with a co-worker this morning (long story I won't bore you with) about a situation at work. As we talked, she said, "Well, you don't hold grudges! I don't know how you don't, but you don't."

    It just so happens that I'd read this post this morning before I went to work, and had the perfect short answer. Oh, I'd probably have come up with it on my own. Certainly, I would have, being the spiritual genius that I am.


    But, this post gave me words to counsel her with. A happy life really is all about forgiveness...finding somewhere to leave what we CAN NOT humanly forgive...and trusting that the "somewhere" we left it is at the feet of SOMEBODY that can handle it much better than us.

    Just thought you'd like to know.

  4. Buck, I believe the Phillips version is best too. Any thoughts on the mysterious instrument?

  5. George, Thanks for the tip about Emmylou's version; if I'd known about that one, I'd have put it in the post. Hope you and Sara are doing well.

  6. Andy, glad you liked it. I really appreciate your comments about the post and was truly glad to hear that it was of some use to you. But I believe Mr. Tindley deserves all the credit because he's the one that wrote this beautiful gospel song.

  7. Any thoughts on the mysterious instrument?

    Well, other than following the Wiki link (which I did yesterday), no. Except for the fact one could prolly make some interesting long-distance calls on the Celestaphone.

  8. I love BWJ version-hear it in 1982 and have been trying to find it. Thank you!

  9. You're welcome. You Tube is a wonderful thing.