In the summer of 1980 my friend Adrian Russell put together a harmony quintet, performing under the name of Bright Sparkles in the Churchyard. The group consisted of Adrian, myself, Gill Harrison, Alison Tebbs and Tim Bull. The following year Richard Wren was drafted in as bass, to replace Tim, who was unavailable. We performed exclusively American religious music, including at least a couple of Sacred Harp numbers, and several from the camp meeting repertoire. Songs I particularly remember are the stomping ‘Hard Times’ (“Ain’t it hard times, tribulation, Ain’t it hard times, I’m going to live with God”) and the gloriously repetitive ‘I’m a witness for my Lord’. The group’s name came from this song, which in fact was not one we ever sang.
I’m not entirely sure we sang ‘Roll Jordan Roll’ as a group piece, but I certainly learned it from Adrian around this time. He found it in a Fisk Jubilee Singers’ Song Book – possibly this one.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers were a well-known vocal ensemble in the late nineteenth century, and they are still going strong today. They were formed in 1871 to raise money for Fisk University, which had been founded after the Civil War to provide higher education for freed slaves. The Singers sang spirituals, as well as some Stephen Foster numbers, and they toured not only the States but in Britain and Europe.
You can hear a 1927 recording of them singing this very piece on the Internet Archive.
Roll Jordan Roll