Many of us know the general story of Marian Anderson’s famous concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. The Daughters of the American Revolution denied her the opportunity to sing inside Constitution Hall because she was black. But many may not know the meaning of the last song she sang, the witty “My Soul’s Been Anchored In The Lord”. To grasp this meaning, it is important to understand how the Negro Spirituals “evolved”.
The songs of the Enslaved Community are rooted in oral tradition, so it is not surprising that there are different melodies, different lyrics and different intentions in many versions, reflecting the various needs or circumstances of the community. A song can be created by an individual commenting on events, emotions, or thoughts at that time. Anyone present can add to this song. As the slaves moved from plantation to plantation, the songs could change, depending on the singer’s memory or the needs of the current circumstances.
This version of the song focuses on the singer’s commitment to the Christian life. Here the singer says “My soul is anchored in the Lord” which means that I have made a commitment to the Lord and that I will not walk away from it. Hence the anchor, so that the individual is planted, rooted, stable and motionless.
The first verse finds the singer’s Christian faith questioned by a member of the community:
Where have you been, poor sinner?
Where have you been so long?
I worked out of sight of man.