Hymn 87
(tune: Just a Closer Walk With Thee)

I’m personally fascinated when I research a new song for my repertoire to discover its history. I hope you might share this interest, so let’s talk about a track that is very personal to me.

If you look closely on the back cover song list (see image here), you will find two songs listed as Hymn 87 (tracks 5 and 11). In a separate page, I tell the story of what is regarded as the “Cherokee Amazing Grace,” so named because its lyrics are widely recognized sung to that tune. In reality, The Cherokee lyrics have nothing to do with John Newton’s original lyrics. The Cherokee version tells of Christ’s second coming, how He spoke when He rose to tell us that. In the last 2 verses, it tells how the world will end and the good will live forever in heaven, in peace.

Back in the early ’60s I sang in a folk trio in Milwaukee called the Bayou Brothers. As was a popular performance style among groups like ours, we sang most of our songs together, in harmony, as a trio. But for gigs where time permitted, we each had a solo number. My solo song was Just a Closer Walk With Thee. Back then, various artists released versions of it on the pop charts, so doing a religious song was not as strange in popular music as it might be considered today. My mother told me that it was her favorite song that I did. I clearly remember her asking me to sing it again for her when she was near passing.

The origin of this song is somewhat uncertain, with many believing it was a song slaves sang in the fields before the Civil War. Some music historians dispute that popular notion citing a story of a man named Morris who heard a black porter on a station platform singing the song. The song so stuck to him that, at the next stop, he boarded a train back to ask the porter to sing it again so he could write down the lyrics and learn the tune. Of course, that story doesn’t address where the porter learned the song. Personally, I like to think it is another of the great gospel songs that became immortal, rising from the oppressed souls suffering in slavery.

Years ago, I don’t remember what I was listening to, but I heard a Christmas carol being sung in Cherokee. At first I didn’t notice, but after awhile I realized, I recognized the lyrics. At the time I only knew one set of Cherokee lyrics, those to the “Cherokee Amazing Grace.” Sure enough, it was Hymn 87 being sung to a completely different tune. A few years ago I came to another realization, that the lyrics of Hymn 87 fit perfectly with the tune of Just a Closer Walk With Thee. Since I already knew those lyrics, I was able to immediately start singing them to the tune I know so well and has such special significance to me.

So, if you look up Hymn 87 in the 2014 version of the Cherokee Hymn Book, you will find the tune identified there as Amazing Grace. That absolutely had to be on my CD that way, but I also wanted to include the version that is special to me.

You can listen to a 1 minute preview of this song here: