Song of the Day: "Keep Your Lamps"

Song of the Day: "Keep Your Lamps"

One of the most chilling yet heartening, goose bump-inducing songs I’ve ever heard or performed is the old spiritual, “Keep Your Lamps.” I’ve heard several different versions of the song, and while many of them speak volumes about the Underground Railroad—and keeping your lamps trimmed and burning, as the time to leave is drawing nigh—my favorite will always be the version we sang in choir back in junior high. I don’t have a video of it, but this one is pretty darn close to the acapella version we sang, complete with the ending crescendo.

The song also has a biblical history, about ten young maidens who tried to keep their lamps burning but did not have enough oil to do so. I’m not really sure about the rest of the history there—probably because, to me, the power of Gospel lies not so much in the religious nature of the music, but in the spirit and inspiration the songs provided to enslaved people who wished to escape they lives they were literally chained to. Many Gospel songs could still be used today—such as that lovely classic “I Shall Not Be Moved”—in the current struggles against power and corporate greed.