Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole sing “Steal Away”

Written by Michael Barrett

Associate Artistic Director, NYFOS

In category: Song of the Day

Published June 23, 2020

We revisit a week of Black American spirituals curated by Michael Barrett. This post originally ran on September 29, 2015.

Today’s Song of the Day features Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole in “Steal Away.” The lyrics are “Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus. Steal away, steal away home. I ain’t got long to stay here.” Again, it is code for an escape to freedom. This recording from 1957 is a good reminder of how gospel music was (and in some places still is) accompanied—a piano and a hammond organ with all its vibrato. The spiritual is beautiful, and even though it is one of Harry Burleigh’s original settings, it doesn’t seem to be a favorite of singers. Its internal qualities perhaps don’t make it a frequent choice for recitals, but it has long been near the top of my list. In Ms. Jackson’s voice (and her glacial tempo), it’s a wonderful piece of American history.

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Michael Barrett is the co-founder and associate artistic director of New York Festival of Song, as well as the co-founder and music director of the Moab Music Festival in Utah. A conductor and a pianist, Michael was a protégé of Leonard Bernstein and serves as music advisor to the Leonard Bernstein Estate.

1 Comment

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    I love this Spiritual Journey Hymnal Song. It reminds me of my Childhood with my Papa and Mama. They were from Mississippi . I remember the deep meaning of Spiritual Songs sanged that drove my Papa to bring his family together for Family Devotion Time. He’d read from The Bible and Mama would Sing Spiritual Songs like this… I’d ask lots of questions about the history of The Spiritual Songs ..,

    My parents grew up during times when Slavery was abolished but Racism was Still Alive. My Papa was born February 13, 1919?he Served In The Military Army Branch in WWII and my Mama was born April 1, 1931 they had 16 Children together and raised us and departed through Death Apart them in their Marriage Union. The background History we heard growing up was significant that we Needed Jesus Christ to Forgive Folks Ignorance about Slavery because it’s Sin …Jesus Christ Died for our Sin Debt. God made each Skin Color and Nationality and that ain’t Sin.


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