MCOTD’s alter ego has a letter in today’s New York Times Book Review.
To the Editor:
In connection with his review of Stephen Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat” (“Isn’t It Rich?” Oct. 31), Paul Simon, in the Up Front, says that when he wrote the refrain to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” — “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down” — he had “no idea where those words and melody came from.” It takes nothing away from Mr. Simon to note that one apparent source of inspiration for this line was the Swan Silvertones’ gospel song “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” which was released in 1959. That recording, which features the wonderful Claude Jeter on lead vocals, includes the ad-libbed line “I’ll be a bridge over deep water if you trust in my name.” Mr. Simon has previously acknowledged this link.
Oak Park, Ill.
The Swan Silvertones, “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” (1959): MP3
replay: a clip too good for just one day
If influence were compensable, Claude Jeter of the Swan Silvertones—a huge influence on Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Eddie Kendricks (Temptations), Al Green, even Paul Simon (who took inspiration from a line in the Swans’ “hit” “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” [“I’ll be a bridge over deep water if you trust in my name”] when he wrote “Bridge Over Troubled Water”)—would have, when he passed earlier this year at the age of 94, died a wealthy man.
Swan Silvertones, “Only Believe,” live
When he leaves the house [in NYC], he whistles his favorite tune, ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus,’ while greeting the assorted neighborhood junkies and prostitutes who knew him mainly as sometime manager of the [Hotel] Cecil. ‘What’s new, Jeter,’ they ask. ‘Nothing new, nothing good, just thank God for life up here with these heathens and muggers.’
—Anthony Heilbut, The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times (1971)
(Originally posted on 9/13/09.)