I'll Overcome Some Day

Charles Tindley, 1901

Compare and contrast "I'll Overcome Some Day" to the spirituals "Follow the Drinking Gourd" and "Roll, Jordan, Roll." What are some of the similarities in the images and messages of the lyrics?

When “I’ll Overcome Some Day” was written, how was the African American experience similar to and different from the African American experience prior to emancipation, when the spirituals “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “Roll, Jordan, Roll” were first sung?

When "I'll Overcome Some Day" was written, how was the African American experience similar to and different from the African American experience under slavery, when the spirituals "Follow the Drinking Gourd" and “Roll, Jordan, Roll” were first sung?

What features of the composition make it relatively easy to sing?

How does this make the song appropriate for informal performances by non-professionals? How does the structure of the melody encourage singers to add their own embellishments?

"I'll Overcome Some Day" was influential on "We Shall Overcome," an anthem of the 1960s. Compare and contrast the two songs. How were the social contexts in which these songs were first written and performed similar and different?

“I’ll Overcome Some Day,” arranged by Annastasia Victory. Vocals by Caroline Disnew. Available via YouTube.

View the words and music for "I'll Overcome Some Day"

Charles Tindley (1851–1933) was born free in Berlin, Maryland. He descended from enslaved people and was often “hired out” by his father to work in other people’s homes alongside enslaved people. With great perseverance and intelligence, Tindley taught himself to read and write.  

In 1875 he moved with his wife to Philadelphia, where they first lived with his aunt. While working odd jobs, Tindley studied for the examinations for the Methodist ministry and eventually passed. He proceeded to serve several different churches in New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland before moving back to Philadelphia to serve as pastor of the Bainbridge Street Methodist Episcopal Church. Beginning with only 130 members, Tindley grew the congregation to over 10,000 members during his tenure of 31 years.

Tindley's New Songs of Paradise
Tindley's 1916 song collection, New Songs of Paradise.

Music was an important part of Tindley's ministry. Starting in 1901 his church hosted concerts that included some of the music he wrote. In 1916 he published a collection of his songs, called New Songs of Paradise, which became very popular and influential on subsequent gospel songwriters and artists. Among the collection's thirty-seven works is "I'll Overcome Some Day."

Tindley composed "I'll Overcome Some Day" just before he returned to Philadelphia to work at Bainbridge. The lyrics and music are relatively simple. The melody lies within a narrow vocal range, and the song consists of four short phrases. A musical phrase with an open ending ("This world is one great battlefield with forces all arrayed") repeats, but with a closed ending ("if in my heart I do not yield I'll overcome some day"). This is followed by a new musical idea with an open ending ("I'll overcome some day, I'll overcome some day"), which then returns to the first musical idea with a closed ending ("If in my heart I do not yield, I'll overcome some day").

Tindley wrote his music not for professional musicians to perform in church services but for informal music making in Sunday School, prayer meetings, and other social gatherings. The simplicity of the music made it easy for everybody present at such events to sing, regardless of an individual's level of musical education. Tindley also knew that gospel singers appreciated the flexibility to make each song their own, so he composed his songs in a simple manner that allowed vocalists to freely embellish the music, which would become a characteristic feature of gospel.

"I'll Overcome Some Day" is also notable as one of the songs that inspired "We Shall Overcome," which became one of the most prominent anthems of the Civil Rights Movement (see VAT, Unit 8).



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