Home History of Hymns: "Praise Ye the Lord"

History of Hymns: "Praise Ye the Lord"

"Praise Ye the Lord"
J. Jefferson Cleveland
The Faith We Sing, No. 2010

Praise ye the Lord, Hallelujah!
Everybody praise the Lord.
Praise God with the sound of the trumpet,
Praise God with the lute and the harp;
Praise God with the timbrel and dancing;
Praise God wherever you are.*

Judge Jefferson Cleveland (1937-1986) was one of the most important scholars and editors of African-American congregational song of the 20th century. Along with Verogla Nix, he edited what is arguably the most groundbreaking collection of African-American song in the last half of the 20th century, Songs of Zion (1981/1982).

Lutheran hymnologist Marilyn Stulken provides a biographical sketch of Cleveland’s life and accomplishments. Born in Georgia, Cleveland graduated from Clark College (Atlanta), Illinois Wesleyan University and received his doctorate in education from Boston University.

He served on the faculty of three historically black Christian colleges: Claflin College (South Carolina), Langston University (Oklahoma), and Jarvis Christian College (Texas), before teaching at the University of Massachusetts and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Cleveland’s musical arrangements, historical research and scholarship on the performance practice of African-American song have proven invaluable for the advancement of black gospel song, not only among African Americans, but also in Anglo hymnals to the present day. For example, Cleveland’s essay, “A Historical Account of the Hymn in the Black Worship Experience,” in Songs of Zion is a helpful introduction for laypersons and scholars alike.

In addition to serving as a hymnody consultant for the United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, he toured the United States and Africa in 1981 and Europe in 1984 as a teacher, lecturer and performer.

According to the Companion to Songbooks Global Praise 1 and Global Praise 2, “Praise ye the Lord,” a paraphrase of Psalm 150, was “the direct response by the composer to an assignment during a gathering [on contemporary psalmody] at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, [in 1981], of musicians involved in the development of a number of denominational hymnals.

“The assignment given by the conference coordinator, [UM Hymnal editor] Carlton R. Young, strongly encouraged each participant to compose a setting of a psalm in her or his own cultural or racial ethnic tradition. Judge Jefferson Cleveland responded the next day with this setting of the 150th Psalm [RSV], which was an immediate success and the only one presented reflective of the African American black gospel genre.”

The psalm paraphrase was first published in the Upper Room Worshipbook (1985). Interestingly, “Praise ye the Lord” was passed over for inclusion by the Hymnal Revision Committee of The United Methodist Hymnal (1989), but was included in The Presbyterian Hymnal (PCUSA) in 1990.

The joyful refrain allows congregations to participate immediately. The African-American gospel style is apparent not only in the music, but also in the use of language. The informality and accessibility of such lines as “Everybody praise the Lord” makes this an easy song for all ages to participate in and enjoy.

The four stanzas, a free paraphrase of Psalm 150, include the key ideas of the psalm, but conclude with a phrase that places the song in a gospel genre. Stanza one ends with, “praise God wherever you are;” stanza two, “praise God with all of your might;” and stanza three, “for God fulfills our needs.”

Stanza four departs from the specific psalm text with its reference to “Praise God on top of the mountains” and “down in the low valleys,” but not from the exuberant spirit of the psalm.

*1981 J. Jefferson Cleveland. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

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