(To learn how to play This Little Light on Piano, watch video at bottom of page. For the free sheet music, just click the menu tab above.)
Harry Dixon Loes wrote “This Little Light of Mine” circa 1920. He was born Harold Loes, but later added ‘Dixon’ from his pastor’s name at Moody Church. Harry had an educational background that blended Biblical studies along with musical composition. This prepared him rather well to be a gospel hymn-writer. As evidenced by “This Little Light”, he excelled at creating songs that became part of the public consciousness. All it takes is humming just a phrase or two, and it’s stuck in my head all day long. :^)
Considered a folk song, it’s been in folk music collections since at least 1939. The tune has been used by Ray Charles and the Everly Brothers for secular music. It was incorporated as an anthem in the civil rights movement. With it’s catchy melody and simple verses, it eventually became an immensely popular children’s song. Some churches have a children’s special before the sermon starts. At our family church, children who go up front and sing would get a stick of gum. In my day that was a pretty good incentive. Not sure if gum still works or if the kids are geared toward different interests now. All I know is, my own gum-chewing days are far behind me.
Though Harry wrote many many hymns, as evidenced at Hymnary.org, ‘This Little Light’ is far and away his most popular hymn. Some of the others are passingly familiar to me, but none of them bring the same level of instant recognition. When making the video, my personal limitations can be an issue. The tune doesn’t change much from verse to verse, and without singing the words, there’s not much to separate one verse from the other. In trying to give a little variety, it wound up with kind of a jazz rhythm, but hopefully the southern gospel origins come through clearly.
Only one problem with spending so much time on This Little Light… now I’m going to be humming Harry’s song the rest of the evening. Good thing I like it so much. :^)