Home Equipping Leaders African American Celebrating Black History Month #4

Celebrating Black History Month #4

Cleavant Derricks (1910-1977), African American and father of twin actor sons, Cleavant Derricks and Clinton Derricks-Carroll, studied at the Cadek Conservatory of Music, Knoxville, Tennessee, Tennessee Agricultural Industrial State College (now Tennessee State University), and the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville. By age twenty-one, he was at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., where he directed a gospel choir with over 100 voices and associated with numerous well-known musicians of the day, including his friend, Mahalia Jackson. As a Baptist pastor, he later served churches in Dayton, Knoxville, and Jackson, Tennessee; Beloit, Wisconsin; and Washington, D.C. He founded and grew the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. during the 1940s.

Derricks established a solid reputation and career as pastor, choir director, poet, musician, and composer with over 300 songs to his credit and several song collections. "Just a Little Talk with Jesus" (Worship & Song, no. 3107) is his best-known and most-performed song, but others include "When God Dipped His Love in My Heart," "We’ll Soon Be Done with Troubles and Trials," "When He Blessed My Soul" and "I Want the Light from the Lighthouse to Shine on Me." In 1984, Derricks was inducted posthumously into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Although African American, Derricks' music had great appeal to southern white singers and the singing conventions, even at a time in United States history when white singers would not normally perform music by African Americans. Many of Derricks' songs were published by white publishers, including the shaped note songbooks and the publications of Stamps-Baxter. There has been frequent exchange of music between black and white churches since the days of slavery, and Derricks' songs are no exception, continuing to enjoy great popularity in black and white churches, publishers' catalogues, and recording artists today. See also "Just a Little Talk with Jesus": Hymn Study.