More About this Sheet Music
Before arranging these songs, we spent time learning about the impact Black composers like Francis Johnson had on our history, as well as, the origin stories behind some of these compositions.
We are delighted to share a little of what we read, and encourage those interested to learn along with us.
We Shall Overcome
We Shall Overcome, which the US Library of Congress named, “The Most Powerful Song of the Twentieth Century” was the unofficial anthem of the African American Civil Rights Movement.
It was also the subject of an intense copyright dispute. In January 2018, author Isaias Gamboa and the We Shall Overcome Foundation won a class-action lawsuit releasing it to public domain. “Its spiritual strength has now been unshackled so that its full power may be used to strengthen those fearless warriors who fight for justice, equality and freedom against the forces of evil.”
Research reveals the song was based on the hymn “If My Jesus Wills,” by Louise Shropshire and was later adapted by Zilphia Horton and Pete Seeger. The song features “short, simple lyrics” and “may be some of the most influential words in the English language,” adds the LOC. This version is in the key of C major and uses mostly diatonic harmony and implements a secondary dominant chord to give the song trajectory. You can listen to the Classical Roots Community Mass Choir sing a medley of “If My Jesus Wills/We Shall Overcome” here. (Source)
Play and sing along to We Shall Overcome on the Ukulele, includes Ukulele tab + lyrics.
You may recognize the melody from Chant as the spiritual song, Nobody Knows the Trouble I Seen.
This song is a moving tribute highlighting the way Black composers honored their heritage, keeping alive the memories of their ancestors and their plight.
The harmonic structure of the spiritual by Clarence Cameron White adds weight and complexity with dissonant chords and melancholy string arrangements.
Chant is arranged in the key of F Major and includes solfege.
Funga Alafia (Song of Welcome) sheet music is arranged for a duet in the key of C and uses the C major pentatonic scale.
This song has only four measures, but it has so much to offer! Funga Alafia features call & response, syncopated rhythms and a compositional device known as a canon. In this section, the first measure of the melody is sung, then another vocalist begins the same melody in succession.
Funga Alafia is a traditional West African folk song. Funga or fanga, is a welcome dance or gesture, alafia offers a wish of health, peace or prosperity. The refrain or response ashé gives thanks to an omnipresent force that connects all things. Since there are over 2,000 languages in this region there are many translations. It could be literal, “We come to welcome you to this place” or figurative, “I welcome you into my heart today.”
Lil Liza Jane
Li’l Liza Jane may seem like a simple, little ditty but it has an incredible history that spans centuries and transcends boundaries. The first version was published in 1916 but was most likely appropriated without consent. Thankfully, the work of BIPOC advocate and ethnomusicologist, Natalie Curtis, was able to link the origin of “Liza Jane” to an African-American song & dance.
Further than that, the chorus is presumably inspired by Funga Alafia, a traditional West African welcome song. Li’l Liza Jane has been adopted and adapted by many schools of music across multiple continents. It has stood an incredible test of time and its story grows stronger as we pass it along to you. To learn about the Li’l Liza Jane Documentary, click here.
Li’l Liza Jane Sheet Music is arranged in the key of C major and features call & response, syncopated rhythms and rhyming couplets.
Love Will Find A Way
Sing and play along to Love Will Find A Way from the Broadway musical, Shuffle Along. Shuffle Along was the first Broadway musical that prominently featured syncopated jazz music.
The show also contributed to the desegregation of theaters in the 1920s, giving many black actors their first chance to appear on Broadway.
Love Will Find A Way sheet music is arranged in Eb Major and includes lyrics & solfege.
Philadelphia Gray’s Quick Step
Philadelphia Gray’s Quick Step was written by American musician and prolific composer, Francis Johnson during the Antebellum period.
This style of song is reminiscent of jug band and string band music, which has become the sounds of modern folk and bluegrass. Philadelphia Gray’s Quick Step is arranged in the key of F major and includes solfege.
Francis Johnson was the first Black composer to have his works published as sheet music and to participate in racially integrated public concerts in the United States.
Francis Johnson led the first American musical ensemble to present concerts abroad, and he introduced the promenade concert style to America. (Source)
Shosholoza began as a folk song for the gold and diamond miners traveling back and forth between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The song Shosholoza features a repeating rhythmic pattern known as ostinato that is notated on the bottom of each sheet music page.
Shosholoza is a song form known as call & response. After the initial measure, the call and response will coincide every 4th measure.
Listen to the harmony created when sung together!
“The King of Ragtime,” Scott Joplin is a household name when talking piano, composition and the history of American music. Some of his most notable works are more than a century old and they still continue to dazzle listeners’ ears. “The Entertainer” was composed in 1902 and can be identified as a classic rag. This strict standard of composition allowed Joplin and his publisher to market their sheet music to a more affluent audience and helped ragtime migrate from its earthy origins to the parlors of the middle class. (Source)
Joplin was instrumental in preserving aspects of African-American popular heritage through the post-Civil War years, fusing elements from his formal musical training with the syncopated rhythms of ragtime.“The Entertainer” features syncopated rhythms, chromatic voice leading and parallel intervals. This is an arrangement of the main theme with a 5-note accompaniment. It is in the key of C major with solfège.
Come By Here
You may know Come By Here as “Kumbaya,” but did you ever wonder where it came from?
Reading suggests Come By Yuh or Yah, a Gullah word meaning “here,” is the phrase that morphed into Kumbaya over time. Despite common misconceptions, “Kum ba yah” are not African language words. This song is most likely an African American spiritual which originated somewhere in the American south, then traveled all over the world.
Come By Here is truly a global folksong.
Come By Here is arranged in the Key of C Major and includes Lyrics + Solfege. This version of Come By Here is fun, syncopated and should be played at a lively tempo.