“I Shall not I shall not be moved”

“ He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Ps. 16:8)

This is a song that points out that we shall not be moved if we keep the Lord on our right hand . The original text and tune are both anonymous. “I Shall Not Be Moved” is considered a traditional American folk song whose lyrics probably stretch back to the slave era, although there is no indication of when the song was written or who wrote it. It is a spiritual song that was adapted by the activists of the 1930s, with lyrics changed to “We Shall Not Be Moved,” similarly to how “We Shall Overcome” took on the collective voice in protest rather than its original singular voice. Typical of traditional spiritual songs, “I Shall Not Be Moved” consisted of a series of stanzas wherein a single line changed for each verse.

This folk song style was used probably because it made the song easy to remember and even easier for a song leader to sing with a group of people. Each stanza of “I Shall Not Be Moved” repeated the song’s title a number of times, inserting one changing line. The original stanza reads:
“I shall not, I shall not be moved
I shall not, I shall not be moved
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
I shall not be moved.”

According to Spiritual Workshop, some of the other traditional changing lines are as follows:
Like a tree planted by the water
When my cross is heavy
The church of God is marching
King Jesus is our captain
Come and join the army
Fighting sin and Satan
When my burden’s heavy
Don’t let the world deceive you
If my friends forsake me

Also as is typical of many traditional folk songs, the lyrics evolved through time to apply to the various causes about which the song has been sung. When the tune became an anthem of the labour movement in America, stanzas were adjusted to be appropriate to union organization. When the song was sung during the civil rights movement, stanzas were adjusted to reflect racial unity. Because of the song’s structure, only one line per stanza needed to be refashioned to be appropriate for the new context.

Both Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley recorded two of the most notable versions. Other great recordings of the song have come from the Harmonizing Four, the Jordanaires, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Ricky Van Shelton, and numerous others. Maya Angelou also titled a book of her poetry I Shall Not Be Moved as a tribute to the defiant American folk song and the movements it has inspired and accompanied.

Several attempts have been made to turn the spiritual into somewhat of a regular hymn with the addition of more substantial stanzas and using the original stanza as a chorus. Sacred Selections uses a 1939 Stamps-Baxter arrangement with words by V. O. Fossett and music arranged by Homer Franklin Morris. In 1950, The John Benson Co. came out with a version having words by John T. Benson, Jr. and music arranged by Mrs.James A. Pate:

1. “Jesus is my Saviour, I shall not be moved;
In His love and favour, I shall not be moved,
Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters,
Lord, I shall not be moved.”

2. “In my Christ abiding, I shall not be moved;
In His love I’m hiding, I shall not be moved,
Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters,
Lord, I shall not be moved. “

3. “If I trust Him ever, I shall not be moved;
He will fail me never, I shall not be moved,
Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters,
Lord, I shall not be moved.”

4. “On His word I’m feeding, I shall not be moved;
He’s the One that’s leading, I shall not be moved,
Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters,
Lord, I shall not be moved.”

Modern research has attributed the traditional arrangement to Edward Hammond Boatner who was born in New Orleans, LA, on November 13, 1898. His father, Dr. Daniel Webster Boatner, was a former slave who became an itinerant minister. Edward was exposed at an early age to the music sung by African Americans in the churches where his father preached.

Particularly fascinated by the spirituals of the former slaves, he began collecting them. Though he was educated in the public schools, most of his early musical education came from self-training. He applied for admission to the University of Missouri, but the young man’s race proved to be an obstacle despite his acknowledged talent, so he entered Western University, Quindaro, KS, in 1916, where he studied voice and piano. Despite the strenuous objections of his father, who wanted Edward to become a minister, he gave recitals in the community. At one of these programs, he was heard by tenor Roland Hayes, who later performed many of Boatner’s works on his concert programs. Hayes encouraged Boatner to move to Boston and continue his studies there. Boatner’s father would not support the venture, so the young man had to work for two years to earn what little he could and make the journey on his own. Hayes helped him make contacts in the city, and Boatner was able to support himself by giving piano lessons.

In 1918, Boatner recorded three of Harry T. Burleigh’s spiritual settings, including “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” for Broome Special Phonograph Records, a small African American-owned label based in Medford, MS. He continued his studies with faculty at the New England Conservatory, and he published the first of his spirituals setting, “Give Me Jesus,” in 1920.

The following year, Boatner received a one-year scholarship to attend the Boston Conservatory of Music, studying German, French and Italian vocal literature. He performed in concert at Hampton University, where he garnered the attention of choral director R. Nathaniel Dett, who invited Boatner to tour with him across New England. Dett became a mentor to the younger man. Boatner relocated to Chicago in 1925. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the Chicago College of Music (now the College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University) seven years later.

During this time, he served as a church choir director, continued to concertize, and also sang leading roles with the National Negro Opera Company. In addition, he became director of music for the National Baptist Convention from 1925 to 1931 and published his Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New with Willa A. Townsend in 1927. In the early 1930s, Boatner joined the faculty of two Texas historically Black colleges, Samuel Houston in Austin (now Huston-Tillotson University), and Wiley College in Marshall, where he was appointed their Dean of Music. He returned to New York in the latter half of the decade where he opened his own vocal studio and conducted community and church choirs. This allowed him to concentrate more on composing. Over his teaching career, Boatner’s students included opera singer George Shirley, entertainers Josephine Baker and Robert Guillaume, Blues songstress Libby Holman, and actor Clifton Webb. He was a prolific writer of textbooks on music theory and pedagogy, non-fiction–especially on racial issues, short stories, and a novel, One Drop of Blood.

Boatner continued to publish settings of Negro spirituals for choir and vocal soloist. Of approximately 300 works credited to him, some of the best-known are “On Ma Journey” (1928), “Trampin'” (1931), “O What a Beautiful City” (1940), and “City Called Heaven” (1952). A number of these settings were published by his own company, Hammond Music. He published 30 Afro-American Choral Spirituals, a collection for mixed chorus in 1971 and The Story of the Spirituals: 30 Spirituals and Their Origins for voice and piano in 1973. Also Boatner composed an unpublished opera, Troubled in Mind, musicals The Origin of the Spirituals and The Life of Jesus–a work composed of spirituals, text, and dance that was later renamed The Man from Nazareth, and a musical comedy, Julius Sees Her in Rome, Georgia. The Arlington Symphony premiered his Freedom Suite in 1967. He spent over three years researching and composing this work for orchestra, solo voices, mixed chorus and narrator. Of his four children, the eldest, Edward Boatner, Jr., grew up to develop his own musical career as jazz saxophonist Sonny Stitt. Clifford became a classical pianist, and Adelaide a classically trained contralto. His fourth child, Sarah, was also musically talented.

Continuing to teach into his eighties. Edward Boatner died on June 16, 1981 in New York. I have not been able to find precisely when Boatman made his arrangement of “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Modern books attribute the version beginning “Glory hallelujah, I shall not be moved” to him, but that seems to be from Fossett, and older books say that the version beginning “Jesus keeps forever, I shall not be moved” is the one from Boatman. The earliest that I have been able to trace it to hymnbooks is 1929 when it appeared in three: Gospel Crusade Hymns No. 2 edited by George W. Cooke for the Rodeheaver Co., and Praise Him and Revival Gems No. 3 both edited by Samuel W. Beazley for Beazley and Son. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1938/1944

New Wonderful Songs for Work and Worship edited by Thomas S. Cobb in his arrangement; and the 1978 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel Lemmons in an arrangement by D. N. Henderson (which also appeared in Henderson’s Majestic Praise). Today, it may currently be found in the 1992 Praise
for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand, as well as Sacred Selections.

For this hymn study, I shall use the “traditional” Boatner arrangement as found in Praise for the Lord, but the words are identical to the Stamps-Baxter arrangement found in Sacred Selections.
Couple of comments on the lyrics:

The song explains how and why we as Christians shall not be moved.

Stanza 1 says that we are anchored in Jehovah
“Glory hallelujah, I shall not be moved, Anchored in Jehovah, I shall not be moved; Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, I shall not be moved.”
Glory is a word that is often used in praise to God: Jude v. 25. Hallelujah is another word that expresses praise to the Lord (both the King James and the New King James translate this word simply as “praise [ye] the Lord): Ps. 148:1. We should want to praise Him in that we shall not be moved if we are anchored in Jehovah by our hope: Heb. 6:19

Stanza 2 says that we are abiding in His love
“In His love abiding, I shall not be moved, And in Him confiding, I shall not be moved; Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, I shall not be moved.”

There is no doubt that the Lord loves us: Jn. 3:16; Therefore, we need to abide in His love: Jn. 15:9-10. This is how we confide or trust in Him: Eph. 1:12

Stanza 3 says that Jesus will not fail us
“Though all hell assail me, I shall not be moved, Jesus will not fail me, I shall not be moved; Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, I shall not be moved.”

Hell refers to the powers of evil under the control of the devil who goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour: 1 Pet. 5:8. Hell assails us through the temptations that Satan places in our way: Jas. 1:14-15. However, Jesus will not fail us because He has promised never to
leave nor forsake us: Heb. 13:5-6

Stanza 4 says that we stand on the Rock of Ages
“Though the tempest rages, I shall not be moved, On the Rock of Ages, I shall not be moved; Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, I shall not be moved.”

The raging of the tempest is often used to represent the various trials and tribulations that this life brings to us: Jas. 1:2-3. Jesus is the Rock of Ages upon whom we build our lives when we hear
and do His word: Matt. 7:24-25. Thus, if we build on this rock, we shall not be moved: Ps. 62:6

In conclusion, the chorus repeats the idea of being like a tree planted by the water that shall not be moved (Ps. 1:3); “I shall not be, I shall not be moved, I shall not be, I shall not be moved; Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, I shall not be moved.”

A song with so much repetition like this is very hard to do a hymn study for because it has so very little substance to it. However, this one has been rather popular among us, at least in times past, most likely due to its inclusion in Sacred Selections. I certainly need to be reminded that if I truly am planted like a tree beside the waters “I Shall Not Be Moved.”

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2 Responses to “I Shall not I shall not be moved”

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  2. Richard Green says:

    Very interesting. I have some additional information for you. There is an earlier song with a similar title by Ackley that was published in Pentecostal Hymns, but other than the title, the earlier song bears little resemblance lyrically or musically to the modern “I Shall Not be Moved”. The earliest appearance of the modern song is in Spirituals Triumphant Old and New, by Edward Boatner, published 1927. In this book, Boatner acknowledged the contributions of both himself and others for arrangements of folk songs. Only one song in the book contains a copyright notice. Boatner claims original authorship of the song “I Shall Not be Moved” in this book, and gives a copyright date of 1925 and notice for authorship. I find no evidence to contradict this claim. Given the numerous other spirituals in the book where he claimed only as an arranger, I find Boatner’s claim very credible. The copyright registration is confirmed in the registrations for 1925. Boatner was the director of music for the National Baptist Convention from 1925-1931. The earliest recording of the spiritual was made by Blind Joe Taggart on November 6, 1926, which was after Boatner’s music had been given prominent exposure by the Baptists. Intense searches for phrases of the lyrics revealed no sources for the lyrics prior to the copyright registration by Boatner in 1925. Based upon the above, in my opinion, I find it very likely that Edward Boatner was in fact the author of “I Shall Not be Moved.”


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