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January 14, 2012

'Gleam' production has put a venerable spiritual in my head

The experience of attending "Gleam" at Center Stage has stayed with me, despite some reservations about the play and one of the performances. As I said in my review, the work made me think of the great spiritual "This Little Light of Mine," which has been ringing through my head.

I should the say the melody that I know and love is ringing through my head. There are two musical treatments of the words. Maybe someone can fill me in on the true history of each -- they're similar, but distinct.

The best known -- judging by frequency of YouTube entries, for one thing -- is embraced by black gospel singers and white folk (and rock) singers alike.

The one that I learned is part of the Negro spiritual tradition. The first time I realized that it wasn't so widely known was when I played it on the piano at a memorial service for ...

a Baltimore Sun colleague, a beautiful and sweet copy editor named Dacia, who died at an absurdly young age.

After the service, several people asked me what that tune was, and I felt terrible that I hadn't announced it -- I had assumed everyone would know why I chose to honor the memory of Dacia, with her gently gleaming personality, by playing "This Little Light of Mine."

Anyway, I wanted to share two versions of the spiritual now, just because it's on my mind again and it has me thinking of all the wonderful people I've known, some gone, some still here, who have been such a shining presence in my life.

My favorite interpreter is Leontyne Price, whose version never failed to move me to tears when I heard her sing it as an encore at recitals. This White House performance is a good representation. I also found Paul Robeson's stately recording, so I included that, too. I hope you enjoy:


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Center Stage, Clef Notes, Drama Queens

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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