Amen (See the little baby)

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The song "Amen (See the little baby)" is often listed as a spiritual, but it is NOT a spiritual. The refrain was written by B.H. Hogan and Laura B. Davis, copyrighted in 1935 by Rodeheaver, renewed in 1963, and now owned by Word Music. The original version is indexed on Hymnary here. The words and melody "See the little baby," etc., are by Jester Hairston, copyrighted in 1957 by Walter Schumann Co., purchased in 1965 by Bourne Music Co., renewed in 1985, also licensed through ASCAP. 

You can find new articles about this on Canterbury and also on Hymnology Archive. Dianne, please review this material and make the adjustments to Hymnary as you deem appropriate. 

Thank you.



Thanks for the heads up. 

I disagree. The words of the verse of the Hogan hymn are very different. Jesse Hairston arranged the song in 1963, but it was recorded earlier (late 1940's early 1950's) by the Wings over Jordan Choir, which sang spirituals and gospel songs. According to CCLI "See the little baby" is public domain.

Dianne, you didn't read my article. Many people also erroneously think "Jesus, oh what a wonderful child" is an anonymous spiritual in the public domain, when in fact it is by Margaret Allison. CCLI is hardly an authority on matters relating to spirituals. According to ASCAP, "Amen (see the baby)" is by Jester Hairston. According to the Library of Congress, "Amen (see the baby)" is by Jester Hairston. According to publisher Bourne Music, "Amen (see the baby)" is by Jester Hairston and they own the copyright.

Here are three more reasons why "Amen" is NOT a spritual.

1. If you consult Eileen Southern & Josephine Wright, African-American Traditions in Song, Sermon, Tale, and Dance, 1600s–1920: An Annotated Bibliography, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Black Music (NY: Greenwood Press, 1990), which is a detailed index of spirituals published up to 1920, there are ZERO examples of spirituals with an Amen refrain. If you check other collections of spirituals in the 1920s and 1930s, you will likewise come up empty handed.

2. If you consult Robert M.W. Dixon, et al., Blues & Gospel Records 1890–1943, 4th ed. (Oxford: University Press, 1997), which is a detailed discography of black music up to 1943, you will see only one song called "Amen, Amen, Amen," recorded in 1935 in Georgia. This has been digitized by the Library of Congress, and it is definitely not the same song.

3. Wings Over Jordan, as you mention, recorded the song several times, starting in 1948. They built careers out of singing spirituals. On their 1953 album Amen, they said it was NOT a spiritual. 

From Jester Hairston's own lips, he wrote "Amen." He readily acknowledged other songs to be spirituals, but not this one. (start around 9:07).

I have credtied Hogan and Davis as composers of the refrain and Hairston for author and composer of the verses. However, I am not convinced about the copyright. The song was recorded in 1948 but Hairston first copyrighted an SATB arrangement in 1957. It does not look like the words or music were copyrighted before 1948, They would need a copyright statement/registration. The copyright on the refrain by Hogan and Davis would also need to be renewed around 1991, and I was not able to find a renewal.

Yes, I understand WOJ recorded it in 1948 but Hairston did not submit a copyright claim until 1957. This does not negate his authorship, it just means he was late getting it registered. In another very famous example, "Precious Lord, take my hand" was written in 1932 but not copyrighted until 1938—and yet no one has ever questioned Thomas Dorsey's claim to authorship. The Hogan/Davis copyright was renewed in 1963 by Rodeheaver then sold to Word Music in 1969.

[According to the old law, the first term was 28 years, then the renewal was 47 years (1963 + 47 = 2010). I suppose the question is whether Word resubmitted the work under the new law, which would make the copyright term 95 years, through 2030]

I also want to say for the record, I have been in communication with Hogan's granddaughter, who had always been told the refrain was written by her grandfather, and she says, "His grandson, Carl Hogan, did his best to get 'Amen' credited to our grandfather but was not successful." We are taking a big step by giving credit where credit has been long overdue. Thank you.

When I was a kid, in the 1960s (b. 1954) I was definitely taught, and saw in authoritative print sources (including I'm pretty sure materials from the Library of Congress) , that it was 28 years with a 28 (not 47) year renewal.  At least, that is my clear and firm recollection. In 1963 I don't think there was a 47 year renewal on the books.

This Wikipedia article supports my recollection. The 47-year renewal wasn't enacted until 1976, and did take effect until 1978:

Works that were in their first 28 renewal period in 1977 (copyrighted between 1950 and 1977) had their renewal extended for 67 years, for a total term of 95 years.

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