I wonder how many denominations have Duke Ellington in their hymnals?
A hat tip to our hymnal commission for finding a place for this piece. And, as I’ve talked about before, this fits in the ‘not every song in the hymnal is meant for the congregation to sing’ category – although I would love to be present in a congregation that knows how to sing jazz together.
Now I will admit, I only kinda knew this one before I got to it, which is a surprise, as my parents were huge fans of jazz from the big band era and the Harlem renaissance, and I am fairly sure this song was on one of the Ellington albums they owned. But maybe not – as I learned from reviewer Ken Dryden at All Music,
“Come Sunday” was the spiritual movement of Duke Ellington’s extended work “Black, Brown & Beige,” but after the longer piece was lambasted by critics attending its premiere at the 1943 Carnegie Hall concert, Ellington performed the complete work just once more before reworking it into a smaller suite.
So it’s possible this song only later found its way into collections. But either way, it’s not that familiar to me.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate it now…wow, do I. I even appreciate its connection to Easter. I wondered, when I read that, why this wasn’t in the Easter section, but then I thought that would limit this amazing piece. But look at these words:
Oo Oo Come Sunday, oh, come Sunday, that’s the day.
Lord, dear Lord above,
God Almighty, God of love,
please look down and see my people through.
I believe that God put sun and moon up in the sky.
I don’t mind the gray skies, ‘cause they’re just clouds passing by.
Heaven is a goodness time, a brighter light on high.
(Spoken) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,
(Sung) and have a brighter by and by.
I believe God is now, was then, and always will be.
With God’s blessing we can make it through eternity.
If that’s not a prayer for resurrection, I don’t know what is.
Now I can’t let this one go by without sharing a few versions. The first is from a church choir in Nebraska, whose version isn’t the most inspiring but helped me learn the song so I could sing it this morning.
This one is the incomparable Mahalia Jackson, singing with Sir Duke himself:
There are, of course, as many covers as there are jazz musicians. But I wanted to close with this little gem by Abbey Lincoln, complete with pops and scratches from the well-worn LP, that moved me to tears: