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How Can I Keep From Singing?

posted Aug 9, 2014, 10:06 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Aug 9, 2014, 10:06 AM ]
Apparently the first publication of this hymn text was on August 7, 1868. Titled "Always Rejoicing", it appeared in a new weekly, The New York Observer. A year later, Robert Lowry set it to music in his song book, Bright Jewels for the Sunday School. (He’s the minister who composed Shall We Gather At the River? while working here in Brooklyn at Hanson Place Baptist Church, which is now a Seventh-day Adventist Church.)

During the 20th century, it was not widely known. But Pete Seeger learned it from a family friend who heard it growing up in North Carolina. His version became popular in the folk revival of the 1960’s, though some of the original Christian wording was modified to reference what he considered the 1950’s 'witch hunts' of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

It’s frequently cited as a traditional Quaker hymn, though “early" Quakers did not permit congregational singing until after the Civil War. But hearing it in social activist circles of the 1960’s endeared it to many contemporary Quakers who have adopted it as sort of their own anthem, and published it in their songbook with both the original words and the additional verse.

It received new prominence in 1991 when Irish musician Enya released it on her album Shepherd Moons. The video features archive footage of political figures and references to the Gulf War and famine. The line about tyrants trembling shows the leader of the August Coup with visibly trembling hands—apparently toward the end when the coup was unraveling.