On Giving Proper Credit

On Giving Proper Credit

“A sin takes on a new and real terror when there seems a chance that it is going to be found out.”

If I told you I originated the quote above, I’d be rightfully and quickly labeled as a plagiarist. I didn’t say or write that first. I am merely repeating a Mark Twain quote. It’s in the public domain, of course. Mark Twain died in 1910, but that doesn’t make it morally acceptable for me to now claim it belongs to me.

This being the case, I would like for someone to explain why it’s apparently just fine for modern songwriters to write new melodies for existing public domain lyrics, then slap only their own name on them as if they came up with the whole thing.

I could post a number of examples, but I’ll just post one for illustrative purposes. We tend to focus on Southern Gospel here, but I’m confident most of you are familiar with “Glorious Day” as performed by Casting Crowns.

So, who wrote it? According to BMI, the writers are John Mark Hall and Michael Bleeker.
glorious day

No credit is given to J. Wilbur Chapman who wrote the lyric used by Bleecker and Hall. No, if you’re thinking maybe they just started with his basic idea and added something new to it, that isn’t the case. They didn’t re-write the words at all.

In addition to the four verses used in the Bleeker/Hall arrangement, Chapman also wrote at least one more. His lyric was first set to a tune written by Charles H. Marsh and published in 1910 under the title “One Day!” Around 1915, the opening line of Chapman’s original fourth verse was modified from “One day when fullness of time was fast dawning” to “One day the grave could conceal Him no longer” and the opening line of the fifth verse was changed from “One day He’s coming, for Him I am longing” to “One day the trumpet will sound for His coming.” A few more phrases and words were tweaked as well. The stone “rolled” rather than “moved,” for example.

The Bleeker/Hall arrangement employs the lyrics from verses 1, 2, 4, & 5 as they appear in this scanned image from a hymnal published in 1915 (and virtually all publications since):

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The first page of “One Day” from Alexander’s Hymns No. 3 – The final words of the chorus, “freely forever. One day He’s coming, O glorious day,” are not included on this image, but would have appeared on the following page.

I admire Clydesdale Music. They did the right thing by including Chapman’s name on the cover of their choral arrangement in 2008. (I’m not sure why they left off Hall’s name.)

Clydesdale

Clydesdale Music is the exception, however. Every other printed copy I’ve seen only gives credit to Bleeker and Hall.

I’m all in favor of songs entering the public domain after a reasonable amount of time, so derivative works can be created without fear of infringing a copyright. However, it is a morally dishonorable practice for a songwriter to claim to be the sole creator of a song they did not completely write.

If it’s wrong to plagiarize Mark Twain, why should it be any different for a song lyric?

ehss - glorious day_0_1On a related note, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound recorded the same lyric with a different melody on their CD by the same title, Glorious Day. I could not put my hands on a copy of the CD to check credits, but on their website under the lyric link, the song credits are presented as being “arranged by Wayne Haun.” While it would have even been better if they’d credited Chapman for the lyric, at least “arranged by” makes it quite clear that no one else is claiming to have had a hand in writing the lyric.

Finally, there’s the 1960s version by the Statesmen from their Happy Sounds LP with an entirely different melody and a rather creative arrangement. They simply credited the song as “traditional” and listed the song title as “Lived And He Loved Me.” They set it up with a new intro that isn’t found in the original lyric. (Thanks for looking it up, JC!)

David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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12 Comments

  1. Kyle Boreing
    Reply July 01, 23:54 #1 Kyle Boreing

    What about when artists take public domain melodies and write new lyrics (such as “He Looked Beyond My Fault”)?

    Personally, I have a bigger problem when artists take existing hymns and write “new” bridges or choruses. Tomlin does that a lot (“Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” being his biggest, but more recently by writing a new chorus AND bridge for “Crown Him With Many Crowns”). What was wrong with them to begin with?

    Although to Tomlin’s credit (no pun intended), he DOES credit the original writers along with himself and his co-writing team.




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    • David Bruce Murray
      Reply July 02, 01:11 David Bruce Murray Author

      If it’s a public domain melody, and the composer is known, they should be credited as well.

      On the GVB/Signature Sound _Together_ CD, for example, the writers of “I Then Shall Live” are listed as Gloria Gaither and Jean Sibelius. Sibelius’ “Finlandia” melody was written in 1899, so his heirs get no royalties, but he is still properly credited.

      In the particular case of “He Looked Beyond My Fault,” the writer is unknown, but the origin and/or traditional tune name (“Londonderry Aire” or some variation on that), are often listed.




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      • Jerry Boor
        Reply July 02, 12:53 Jerry Boor

        In every songbook, without exception as far as I can determine, He Looked Beyond My Fault is listed as Lyric by DOTTIE RAMBO, Music adapted from LONDONDERRY AIRE. Another interesting thing is that songwriter Frederic Weatherly used the LONDONDERRY AIRE melody with his lyrics for DANNY BOY. There was actually a complaint made about He Looked Beyond My Fault, but it was dismissed because the song’s melody was indeed taken from LONDONDERRY AIRE, already in the public domain. DANNY BOY was considered as of no relevance, if I remember that correctly. Several singers have added verses to He Looked Beyond My Fault, but Dottie Rambo never gave her approval to that because she always felt that God gave her the only verse that was necessary for that song. But there is nothing to prevent a songwriter from adding their own verses to a melody already in the public domain. Of course, I am with you 100%, proper credit should always be given.




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  2. quartet-man
    Reply July 02, 01:28 #2 quartet-man

    I seem to recall at one point hearing that only Laverne Tripp was credited for writing “I Know”, when he simply wrote new lyrics for an existing Melody. I’m not sure who did not credit it properly. But any version I remember seeing has everybody credited.




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  3. GLENN ROSE
    Reply July 02, 05:26 #3 GLENN ROSE

    David Bruce, I couldn’t agree with you more! I think that they must be bereft of ideas to have to steal a perfectly good hymn and add a few new words to them without acknowledging the original authors. I don’t call Tomlin’s song as “Amazing Grace”, only as “My Chains Are Gone”. I don’t mind them using existing melodies, as long as the original author is again noted. I also don’t like them putting new, inferior tunes to great old hymns such as “On Christ The Solid Rock I Stand” and “Rock of Ages”.
    I’ve only got Walt Mills singing “One Day”, but it is not to the tune that we grew up singing it to down here in “the deep south” of Australia.
    I do love it when they add a line or two from a well known hymn, with it’s melody, into a modern song.




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  4. Daniel J. Mount
    Reply July 02, 06:25 #4 Daniel J. Mount

    Although Richard Smallwood is generally credited as the sole writer of “I Love the Lord / Total Praise,” the lyrics for the first part come straight from Isaac Watts: http://www.hymnary.org/text/i_love_the_lord_he_heard_my_cries_and_pi




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    • David Bruce Murray
      Reply July 02, 10:22 David Bruce Murray Author

      That’s true. At least in Smallwood’s case, he wrote some original lyrics expanding on the “hasten” concept.

      That issue is just with Smallwood’s “I Love The Lord,” by the way. “Total Priase” is a separate song. The two are sometimes (Talleys) combined into a medley.




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  5. David Bruce Murray
    Reply July 02, 10:51 #5 David Bruce Murray Author

    Here’s an interesting one. In 1989, Gloria Gaither and Michael W. Smith wrote two sets of lyrics for the same melody. (Actually, it’s more likely that Smith wrote the melody and Gaither wrote both sets of lyrics.) That same year, “Anthem” was recorded by Glad on their _Romans_ CD. “Anthem For Christmas” was recorded by Smith for his _Christmas_ CD.

    Marty Funderburk later wrote “Love Came Gently.” Kim Hopper recorded it in 2003 on her solo _Imagine_ CD. The melody is similar enough that it is safe to say it was inspired by “Anthem/Anthem For Christmas,” but the line changes in just enough spots that it can’t really be said to be the same song. You could easily sing the lyrics of either song with either melody, though.




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  6. nber
    Reply July 02, 23:20 #6 nber

    I’m with Kyle on the new bridges etc. to existing hymns. Indeed! What is wrong with them the way they are. I think it is very disrespectful to the original composer.




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  7. Lee Black
    Reply July 02, 23:52 #7 Lee Black

    Re: the Clydesdale arrangement… Michael Bleecker originally wrote a new melody to the Chapman lyric for his church. It was always credited as “words by J. Wilbur Chapman, music by Michael Bleecker.” When Casting Crowns recorded it, they used the Bleecker melody for verses and chorus, but Mark Hall wrote a new melody for verse four to make it a bridge. Not familiar with the Clydesdale arrangement, but perhaps it is pre-Casting Crowns???




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