This month’s carillon tune is Never Grow Old, a gospel hymn written in by James Cleveland Moore. Along with Precious Lord, which was featured on the carillon back in February of this year, it was one of the first two singles from the album Songs of Faith recorded by Aretha Franklin at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, where her father was the preacher.
The year was 1956, and Ms. Franklin was only fourteen years old. The album was recorded live, and Franklin sang while accompanying herself on the piano. Her voice may not have been fully mature yet, but the authority with which she sang was entirely developed and worthy of the woman who would gain the honorific title, “Queen of Soul.” A later version was recorded live in January of 1972 at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California, with the Reverend James Cleveland. With Franklin’s gospel improvisation, comments from the preacher, and congregational call-and-response, it stretches to nearly 15:30!
To musicians of all kinds, Aretha Franklin was a legend. Any who doubt her versatility and adaptability can only be pointed to the 1998 Grammy Awards, when the great Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti canceled less than two hours before the performance and she stepped in to sing “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s opera Turandot. She did not sing it as an opera singer would, but as only she could, creating an unforgettable and iconic performance. At the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, she appeared to pay tribute to Carole King, singing A Natural Woman, and from the moment she came on the stage in her full-length fur coat and tossed her glittering handbag onto the piano, she held the audience — including Ms. King and President and Mrs. Obama — in the palm of her hand.
Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018 at the age of 76. Music will always be richer for her contributions to it.
James Cleveland Moore, Sr., wrote Never Grow Old in 1914, when he was 26 years old. He had come home to Draketown, Georgia from the seminary at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, to preach. His father was quite aged by that time and while he still led the singing at church, his voice was longer in good shape. Moore returned to school and wrote the hymn, dedicating it to his parents.
It was first recorded in 1926 by the Smith’s Sacred Singers of northern Georgia and sold over 225,000 copies (anything over 5,000 was considered very good for a recording of its kind at the time). Many consider it to be the first “country gospel” recording. Moore spent his life in Georgia and Florida as a Baptist minister, singer, songwriter, and teacher, and wrote over 500 songs, both words and music.
I have heard of a land
On the faraway strand
’Tis a beautiful home of the soul
Built by Jesus on high
There we never shall die
’Tis a land where we never grow old.
In that beautiful home
Where we’ll nevermore roam
We shall be in the sweet by and by
Happy praise to the King
Through eternity sing
’Tis a land where we never shall die.
When our work here is done
And the life-crown is won
And our troubles and trials are o’er
All our sorrow will end
And our voices will blend
With the loved ones who’ve gone on before.