Come By Here

A couple of rare liturgy posts over at Vox Nova yesterday, including one with a bonus question: When was the last time you heard Kumbaya at a Catholic Mass? According to commenter Matt Talbot, the argument against it is pretty much summed up thus:

The thing about “Kum Ba Yah” is, it’s not really a bad entrance song – there are better ones, I guess, but there’s nothing heretical or especially problematic about it that I know of: “Someone’s singing, Lord, Kum Ba Yah [Come by here]” – this is a threat to all that is holy? From what I can gather, it seems to me the objection is that the hippies sang it, They’re Not On Our Team, and thus Kum Ba Yah is evil.

Matt nails it. When ridicule has jumped the shark, I pretty much think it’s time to pile on the critics instead. Consider this analysis of the history of the song (probably collected from the Black South in the early 20th century) and when the Reagan-era mockery began. Jeffrey Weiss, Dallas Morning News, distills it down, with Pete Seeger’s help:

It’s a one-word title that rolls easily off the tongue. It sounds foreign, and that makes it funny to many Americans. It’s African-American, so racists deride it. It’s African-American, so sappy white liberals couldn’t wait to suck the soul out of it. It’s a song that generations of summer campers (and folk-mass celebrants) were forced to sing, and they’re sick of it.

Since nobody really knows, let’s give the final word to Pete Seeger, from his liner notes to the 1958 album Pete Seeger and Sonny Terry at Carnegie Hall:

“At any rate, it is a beautiful example of how the world’s folkmusic continues to intermingle, sans passports or permission, across boundary lines of fear and prejudice.”

Fear and prejudice. An interesting observation fifty years later.

What are the usual reform2 arguments?

The song is all about “us.” No check: the only human beings addressed are “somebody.” Intercessory prayer, it seems.

The song is not about God. No check. Addresses God in the second person. A bit closer than the stiff third-person reference in … say, the Ave Maria.

The critics have gone all mainstream at least on this ditty. According to Mr Weiss, WaPo, the Christian Science Monitor, and Rick Santorum were at the head of the line. So the next time you see a Conservative dissing the nice little song, just inform them they’re on the same track as the Obama worshippers, just a different train.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgical Music, Liturgy, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Come By Here

  1. Matt Talbot says:

    Thanks for the link, CS.

    I really am bothered by a lot of the invective that is hurled back and forth about this stuff. I’ll probably do a follow-up post in the next few days.


  2. Liam says:

    I’d much rather have Kumbaya than Let There Be Pizza On Earth..

  3. Matt

    My post has stirred up some of it. The whole point of my post is that the drawing lines of some who try to fight this war is on false presumption: that only one form is acceptable and anything else is relativism. Which is sad. They do not understand how theirs is a subjectivism.

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