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This Is the Day: Music and Track Notes from Community Contributors

Screenshot of Spotify playlist for This is the Day exhibition

This Is the Day, our newest focus exhibition, takes its name from a longstanding and likely familiar hymn sung on Sunday mornings in churches all across America. 

For those unfamiliar, the hymn speaks to the joy found in a new day and its accompanying potential. 

This is the day, this is the day.
That the Lord has made, that the Lord has made.
We will rejoice, we will rejoice,
And be glad in it, and be glad in it.

The intertwining of the exhibition title and this important song is no mere coincidence. This Is the Day―the exhibition―shines a light on the resilience of the Black church and the community it serves. Throughout American history, the Black church has adapted to serve its parishioners needs: it has been a refuge, a community center, a site for political organizing and, of course, a place for worship. 

And music is essential to the worship experience. 

In the development of This Is the Day, we asked the leaders of Black churches in our region to think about the religious music they turn to regularly. The result is this Spotify playlist:

While listening to the playlist, learn about the songs selected and the Northwest Arkansans who chose them. 

Maranda Seawood, Director of Music and Arts
St. James Missionary Baptist Church  

Lift Every Voice and Sing
James Weldon Johnson

A Change is Gonna Come
Sam Cook

John Legend

How I Got Over
Mahalia Jackson

The Selma March
Grant Green

Strange Fruit
Billie Holiday 

Throughout history, Black churches have played a crucial role in their congregants’ struggle for freedom, including the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. 

Freedom songs, also known as civil rights anthems, were taken from gospel, congregational hymns. “Only thing we had to do was change the lyrics to fit the occasion,” said SNCC Freedom singer Rutha Mae Harris. Songs provided a sense of safety and security even in the midst of quite dangerous moments.

How I Got Over by Mahalia Jackson is one of six songs selected by Maranda Seawood, Director of Music and Arts at St. James Missionary Baptist Church that demonstrates the strength of this relationship. 

Tell me how we got over Lord
Had a mighty hard time coming on over
You know my soul look back and wonder
How did we make it over
Tell me how we got over Lord
I’ve been falling and rising all these years
But you know my soul look back and wonder
How did I make it over

Jackson performed How I Got Over at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

“You know my soul looks back in wonder, how I got over,” she sang, praising the heavens for allowing her people to make it this far, despite the struggle being far from over.

Pastor Kristen Valley
Fellowship of Champions Church

Total Praise                                   Every Praise                              Something About The Name Jesus                
Richard Smallwood                 Hezekiah Walker                   Kirk Franklin   

The Anthem                                 This Is The Day                        Break Every Chain
Todd Dulaney                           Fred Hammond                    Tasha Cobbs

Alpha and Omega                      Balm in Gilead                        Let There Be Peace On Earth     
Israel & New Breed                  Karen Clark Sheard            Ricky Dillard 

You Deserve It                             Your Great Name                  Great Are You Lord
J.J. Hairston                              Todd Dulaney                      Todd Galberth

I’m Good                                         Alabaster Box                        It Keeps Happening
Tim Bowman Jr.                        CeCe Winans                      Kiera Sheard-Kelly

Let Us Worship Him                  Won’t He Do It                        Love Theory
Yolanda Adams                        Koryn Hawthorne               Kirk Franklin

Nobody Like You Lord              I Do
Maranda Curtis                        John P. Kee

Few hymns have assumed such an iconic status in the hearts of the Black church community in such a brief time as Richard Smallwood’s 1996 classic Total Praise

Lord, I will lift my eyes to the hills
Knowing my help is coming from You
Your peace You give me in time of the storm

You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to You

Despite, or perhaps because it was written during a low point in Smallwood’s life: “I felt left by God. I was trying to write a pity-party song, but God said, ‘I want your praise no matter what the situation you are in, good or bad.’” The song has provided comfort for millions.

In the 25 years since its release, Total Praise has been performed for Pope Francis; the song was used by the choir of Emanuel A.M.E. Church to begin its first service after the Charleston shooting that took the lives of nine church members and was also requested for the funeral of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, in addition to being sung by countless church choirs across the country during normal Sunday worship services.

Smallwood’s successful blending of gospel and classical music exemplifies another tenant of Black sacred music: captivation of a broad audience and influence for almost every genre of music. His songs have been recorded by non-gospel artists, including Destiny’s Child and Whitney Houston, and have been translated into numerous other languages, including Hebrew, Korean, and German. 

David and Aleachia Gunn, Pastors
Zion Church of Northwest Arkansas

You Know My Name
Fill Me Up
Break Every Chain
Gracefully Broken
You’re Bigger than the Universe

All songs by Tasha Cobbs Leonard

When asked about the songs they turn to time and again, David and Aleachia Gunn, pastors of Zion Church of Northwest Arkansas, included only one artist, Tasha Cobbs Leonard. Named Billboard’s artist of the decade (2010 – 2020), the Grammy award-winning artist is known as one of the best gospel singers recording today. 

Leonard considers herself a communicator above all. In addition to a successful recording career, she has spent the last year trying to grow a church of her own, virtually of course. She and the Gunn family share this unique obstacle. Zion Church of Northwest Arkansas, which opened its doors relatively recently, has been trying to grow its presence almost exclusively online for over a year. 

Perhaps fittingly, the Gunns chose You Know My Name, a song that according to Leonard talks about how God knows the plans He has for you.

No fire can burn me
No battle can turn me
No mountain can stop me
All because (you hold my hand)

Oh and I’m walking, yeah, in your victory
Cause your power, it lives within me
No giant can defeat me
You hold my hand

“Sometimes people will try and speak things over you that God did not design for your life; and no matter what they’ve said about you, He knows who He called you to be and what your purpose is on Earth,” she said.


Written by Brittany Johnson, interpretation specialist, Crystal Bridges.