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Blues strike your heart just like church songs do. I've played blues at churches before and had the preacher patting his foot. 'Cause music ain't but music, and a song ain't but a song - Robert Diggs to George Mitchell

Author Topic: Twelve Gates to the City  (Read 1628 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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Twelve Gates to the City
« on: November 11, 2013, 07:59:53 PM »
Been listening to a lot of Rev. Gary Davis lately. Coincidentally while giving a TV show I hadn't heard of called Hell on Wheels a spin, an unaccompanied vocal version was part of the background. It sounded like a white southerner singing, couldn't place it if it was a recording, perhaps just done for the show as it seemed intended to be a part of the atmosphere and scene setting.

The show takes place at the end of the Civil War and hearing the song in it made me wonder about its origins. It was definitely a version of the song Gary Davis sings. Obviously it could just be an anachronism, and there is other contemporary pop and rock-based music in the program.

Anyway, I'm wondering whether anyone knows the origins of the tune? Google has me awash in Judy Collins, Bonnie Raitt and Roger McGuinn results.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2013, 09:02:15 PM »

Offline uncle bud

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Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2013, 09:37:08 PM »
Thanks, Stuart.  It sounded like someone who knew what they were doing, so Ralph Stanley is no surprise.

Though I am more interested in the origins of the song. Of course, RGD introduced Children of Zion as being 500 years old, so who knows... ;)

Edit to add: I'm not implying there are Civil War-era origins, btw. I have no clue. Just wondering how far it goes back.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2013, 09:40:13 PM by uncle bud »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2013, 11:18:54 PM »
I also tried a search by the alternate title, "Oh, What A Beautiful City," but with similar results. Perhaps an advanced search in "Books" might yield its earliest attested and extant published version--at least of those books (probably hymnals) held in the Google text base.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #4 on: November 12, 2013, 04:00:21 AM »
"According to John, the New Jerusalem is "pure gold, like clear glass" and its "brilliance [is] like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear [/size]jasper[/color][/size]." The street of the city is also made of "pure gold, like transparent glass". The base of the city is laid out in a square and surrounded by a wall made of jasper. It says in Revelation 21:16 that the height, length, and width are of equal dimensions - as were the [/size]Holy of Holies[/color][/size] in the [/size]Tabernacle[/color][/size] and First Temple - and they measure 12,000 [/size]furlongs[/color][/size] which is approximately 1500.3 miles). John writes that the wall is 144 [/size]cubits[/color][/size], which is assumed to be the width since the length is mentioned previously. 144 cubits are about equal to 65 meters, or 72 yards. It is important to note that 12 is the square root of 144. The number 12 was very important to early Jews and Christians, representing the 12 tribes of Israel and 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ. The four sides of the city represented the four cardinal directions (North, South, East, and West.) In this way, New Jerusalem was thought of as an inclusive place, with gates accepting all of the 12 tribes of Israel from all corners of the earth."
[/size]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Jerusalem
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2013, 05:39:22 AM »
Well, yeah, but I still meant the song. ;)

Offline CF

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2013, 07:41:36 AM »
The radio session Big Bill, Brownie & Sonny did with Studs Terkel . . . Sonny plays 12 Gates & says he knew it as a child that his mother sang it. Maybe he actually learned if from Gary Davis (who recorded it in '35).
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline Stuart

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2013, 09:02:37 AM »
Given the extent of writing on the Bible, any general search is going to result in a needle in a haystack of needles. (As I have found out.) What we need is a searchable text base with some tight search parameters so the results don't include everything under the sun containing any of the search words. And even then, there are limitations.

It might be worth your while to just check a good library to see what its holdings contain re: hymnals, and then go through the table of contents, starting with the oldest one, to see if it contains "Twelve Gates to the City" or "Oh, What a Beautiful City." You never know until you try.

One potential problem is that older books might be held in the library's rare book collection and thus access may be restricted. But you can cross that bridge if and when you come to it.

Phil, I hear the New York Public Library calling your name.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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« Last Edit: November 12, 2013, 09:45:40 AM by Mr.OMuck »
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #9 on: November 12, 2013, 09:54:59 AM »
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #10 on: November 12, 2013, 04:21:46 PM »
The version at http://www.negrospirituals.com/news-song/oh_what_a_beautiful_city.htm suggests at least origins back into the 19th century, though I base that only on the use of dialect, not any background information that appears on the site, since there's nothing. This one uses those floating "dressed in red" verses that occur in Wade in the Water etc.

OH ! WHAT A BEAUTIFUL CITY


Oh! What a beautiful city!
Oh! What a beautiful city!
Oh! What a beautiful city!
Twelve gates to the city
!Hallelu!

Three gates in-a de east
Three gates in-a de west
Three gates in-a de north
Three gates in-a de south
Making it twelve gates to de city
Hallelu!

My Lord built-a dat city
Said it was jus-a fo? square
Wanted all-a you sinners
To meet Him in-a de air
Cause He built twelve gates-a to city
Hallelu!

Who are all-a those children
All dressed up in white?
They must be the children
Of the Israelites
?Cause He built twelve gates-a to city
Hallelu!

Who are all-a those children
All dressed up i red?
They must be the children
That Moses led
The Lord built twelve gates-a to city
Hallelu!

When I get to Heaven
I?m gonna sing an shout
Ain?t nobody up there
Gonna take me out
?Cause He built twelve gates-a to city
Hallelu!

Offline frankie

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #11 on: November 12, 2013, 04:31:15 PM »
I was just about to post that link, UB...  those lyrics are interesting, and just looking over them, they seem to scan pretty well with the accompaniment played by Rev. Davis and what I can remember of those played by Sonny Terry and Blind Boy Fuller.

It sure would be nice to know what the source of the transcription is.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #12 on: November 12, 2013, 05:08:09 PM »
I think this song's origins are probably shrouded in slavery's sad cloud of anonymity.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline Kokomo O

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #13 on: November 13, 2013, 05:45:53 PM »
You're undoubtedly right about that, Mr. O'Muck, or at least Reconstruction's equally sad cloud of anonymity.

One thing that caught my attention in the lyrics, though, which I'd never picked up on while listening, is the reference to the children dressed in red. We infer from Louis Collins that dressing in red, for women at least, is a funerary custom, at least among African Americans of a certain time and place. Maybe that verse is an allusion to the losses of slavery, referring as it does to the children that Moses led from bondage. Interesting that it follows on the reference to children dressed in white, who seem to be resident in the promised land.

That points to origin, or at least modification, in the black tradition, outside of the written hymnals.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #14 on: November 13, 2013, 07:09:24 PM »
Hi K. - Re. dressing in red (and white, black, blue etc.) for a funeral. I've posted elsewhere my strong doubts and informal, limited research regarding this as a funerary custom starting here http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=1105.msg48261#msg48261. Prepare for windbaggery, ye who pursue that link.  :P

I agree all things point to the spiritual tradition and, by extension, likely an anonymous composer in the slavery, Reconstruction or Jim Crow eras. Whether Twelves Gates was written in a later, more formal composition process or originates earlier as a traditional slave song would be nice to know. I've found nothing so far in some preliminary browsing and searching through collections of spirituals and slave songs, other than the text above.


Offline Kokomo O

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #15 on: November 15, 2013, 03:01:06 PM »
UB, thanks for pointing us toward that thread from the past. I've now read the whole thing again, and my take from the one-sitting consumption, as opposed to my drib-and-drab reading the first time, is that there may or may not have been a loose or weak tradition, at least in some areas of the south, for black women to dress in red for funerals or mourning or both, but that it was nonexclusive, so they'd dress in red at other times as well, including when they felt like it.

A fair summary?

And by the way, isn't windbaggery what internet forums were invented for?

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #16 on: November 16, 2013, 11:09:40 AM »
And by the way, isn't windbaggery what internet forums were invented for?
No. They were invented for pointless vitriolic arguments.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #17 on: November 16, 2013, 12:12:18 PM »
And by the way, isn't windbaggery what internet forums were invented for?

Don't forget about "gasbaggery" --and of course "Weeniebaggery," one of my favorite pastimes.  :P

Come to think of it, maybe it should be a separate category all its own in the "Jam Session" division.
« Last Edit: November 16, 2013, 12:15:38 PM by Stuart »

Offline Kokomo O

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #18 on: November 17, 2013, 06:31:00 PM »
Stumblin' and Stuart, I was tempted to respond to both of you with vicious ad hominem attacks in light of the fact that you couldn't see that clearly the internets were invented to serve as a home for windbaggery and windbaggery alone. But I figggered I'd pick up a guitar instead. Hope you're doing the same.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #19 on: November 18, 2013, 08:09:41 AM »
Hey Kokomo, leave the ads for hominy out of it. If you're going to attack me, do it on my on demerits--but try not to be too viscous as things are thick enough around here. If I factored all of the windbaggery and BS out of my life, I'd probably cease to exist--in cyberspace, anyway. I feel another existential crisis coming on...

Offline Kokomo O

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #20 on: November 19, 2013, 08:22:26 PM »
Hominy! Yellow or white?

My people came from the Rumania/Ukraine border area, where it was yellow, but one generation down south put a stop to that blasphemy.

Hope that's viscous enough for you.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Twelve Gates to the City
« Reply #21 on: November 26, 2013, 07:49:57 PM »
I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I have no idea what you are talking about KO. I suspect everyone who is getting exercised about this is taking things way too personal.  :P

 


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