Ellis Paul had an opportunity awarded to few singer-songwriters but coveted by many:
To visit the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives in New York City and choose Guthrie lyrics to which new music could be written.
The invitation extended by Woody’s sister Nora meant that after a white-glove search, “God’s Promise” was unearthed. Written in 1955 with a nod to a hymn Woody knew, the lyrics delivered a poem/prayer that was made new by Ellis’s melody.
The lyrics close with stanzas that carry Woody Guthrie’s deeply compassionate and soundly grounded take on what God might say:
I sure didn’t say I’d give you heaven on earth,
A life with no labor no struggles no deaths,
No earthquakes no dry spells, no fire flames no droughts,
No slaving no hungers, no blizzards no blights.
All that I promise is strength for this day,
Rest for my worker, my light on your way,
I give you truth when you need it, my help from above,
Undying friendship, my unfailing love.
I promise you power, this minute this hour,
The power you need when you fall down to bleed,
I give you my peace, and my strength to pull home
My love for all races all creeds and all kinds.
My flavors my saviors my creeds of all kinds,
My love for my saviors, all colors all kinds,
My love for my races all creeders all kinds,
My saviors my flavors my dancers all kinds,
My dancers my prancers my singers all kinds,
My flavors my saviors my dancers all kinds.
Ellis Paul sings it in this video recorded at The Guthrie Center at the Old Trinity Church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Elephant Journal archives