Surely God Is Able by Marion Williams and The Ward Singers

Sample Lyrics

Don’t you know God is able (he’s able)

He’s able (he’s able)

He’s able (he’s able)

He’s able

God is able

He’ll be your friend

When you are friendless

He’s a mother

For all the motherless

He’s a father

For all the fatherless

Origin and Influences of Artist and Song

At the time of this recording, Marion Williams was the lead in a group called The Ward Singers or The Clara Ward Singers. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on Marion Williams herself. She was born on August 29, 1927, in Miami, Florida. And although she was one of 11 siblings, only two others survived past the first year. She was musically gifted from a young age and while working many jobs, sang on street corners and at churches. The main influences to her musical style were Sister Rosetta Sharp and the Smith Jubilee singers although there were many, many more. She also was influenced by the other styles of music she practiced such as blues, jazz, and Caribbean Calypso (inspired by her Bahamas born father). She was very well educated in the musical realm.

Elements of the Song

This song, Surely God is Able, is a perfect representation of African American gospel music. Made in 1948, this song reflects the elements popular in the genre at the time including call-and-response, shout like celebratory notes, and the presence of strong organ notes. We can’t forget the repetition indicative of African American gospel music.

Commodification

This song is one of three that shot the Ward Singers and Marion Williams to stardom. Over a million copies of the song were sold. The song was recorded by Gotham Records, a short-lived record label that would only see The Ward Singers and Marion Williams’ music until around 1950. Marion Williams was able to profit greatly of the song, as they had concerts sold out with crazed fans. Someone is in fact still profiting from the voice of the late great Marion Williams. In 2005, an album was released called “My Soul Looks Back: The Genius of Marion Williams”. This album and many many others are available on not only Apple Music but other platforms like Shazam.

Influence on other gospel songs

This song and Marion Williams would go on not to just influence the rest of the gospel genre but to directly influence the sounds of some of the greatest entertainers of our generation such as Aretha Franklin! Matter of fact, the reach of Marion Williams went even further than gospel, remember when I mentioned that someone was still profiting off of her music as it was released on Apple Music and other music streaming platforms not too long ago? It is categorized under rock music! Some people consider this type of gospel music to be the foundation for rock music.

The Gift by Donald Lawrence

Sample Lyrics

The gift it looks good on you

The gift it looks good on you

The gift it looks good on you

The gift it looks good on you

The systems of the world

Try to take your confidence

But these systems were designed to make you doubt what heaven sent

The systems of the world

Will try to take your confidence

But these systems were designed to make you sit down on your gift

But the gift God gave to you, give it back to Him

When He sees it operating, it’s a compliment to Him

But the gift God gave to you, give it back to Him

For the gift it will make room, position, for great men to see you

Origin and Influences of Artists and Song

Donald Lawrence was born on May 4, 1961, in the southern state of North Carolina. His main influences for his sound came from the church environment that he grew up in, in addition to artists like Andrae Crouch. He began tapping into his musical ability at age 15 when he learned to play the piano and continued developing his talents at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. His music is influenced by traditional gospel singers before him and that influence is clear as he leads over traditional choirs.

Elements of the Song

This song, The Gift, is a song that includes most of the elements of traditional African American gospel including a more upbeat tempo and call-and-response. However, unlike traditional African American gospel, there are a lot of musical instruments. These instruments range from drums to trumpets to guitar. And what would the song be without repetition?!

Commodification

Unlike black talent of earlier years, Donald Lawrence profit’s are large. This song, along with the rest of his discography is largely popular, greatly increasing his gains.

Influence on Other Gospel Songs

Donald Lawrence has a major influence on the gospel genre. He not only has had a long prosperous career indicative of the love he receives from the black community and his musical colleagues. Another indication of his influence is his library of work, He has written for many major gospel artists including the likes of the Clark Sisters.

Compare and Contrast

Difference in Lyrics

The lyrics of these songs are more similar than they are different. The chorus consists of a clear and concise statement that is repeated throughout the entirety of the song. The lyric content is not that different either except on the small difference in the subject. “Surely God is Able”, like most gospel of the time focuses purely on God and his role in the world. “The Gift”, similarly to gospel in the 2000’s and forward, possess more complex lyrics talking about the human’s role in the divine relationship.

Difference in Ad-Libs

There is an extreme difference in ad-libs as the roles almost switch during the development of African American gospel music. In “Surely God is Able”, Marion Williams is responsible for the leading voice and lyrics, letting the rest of her group sing the adlibs and supporting lines. In “The Gift”, the choir sings the leading lines and Donald Lawrence seems to respond and be responsible for ad-libs. He is, in the words of my Spelman sister “a spiritual hypeman”, responsible for composing and directing.

Difference in performance style

There is no difference in performance style, both songs were performed on stages, recorder for large audiences, and are now being streamed on music streaming platforms. Both artists have large audiences and fan bases as well. Besides the slight differences accounted for by the time difference, the performance style was the same.

Summary Opinion / Statement

I appreciate the way that gospel has developed, I feel as if the genre changed with its people. As far as these two songs, the differences are slight. Although the past five years have produced “gospel” songs that do not resemble the gospel that began the genre, “The Gift” is not one of those songs.