Next in our series honoring the origins of the music we play is Charles Albert Tindley.
Born in Maryland in 1851 as a son to a slave and a freewoman, Tindley
taught himself to read and write and worked jobs here and there before
eventually enrolling in correspondence courses from the Boston School of
Theology. After becoming ordained in the Methodist ministry, he served
at a few different appointments before, in 1902, he became the minister
at the Calvary Methodist Church (where he had been employed as a janitor
25 years prior!) With him as minister, the congregation experienced a
great deal of growth, leading to the church being renamed Tindley Temple
Methodist Church (despite Tindley’s protests) upon construction of a
Gospel music historian and professor of music Horace Clarence Boyer referred to him as “The progenitor of African American gospel music.” According to him, Tindley wrote music with “the language that you would find on the street corner, the language that you would find in the home, the language that you would find in the church,” making his songs more accessible. Tindely’s music took influence from elements of white gospel music, but also largely drew from the blues, forming the basis of the Black gospel hymn style for all who came after.
“We’ll Understand it Better By and By” (or, as it is often simply referred to, “By and By”) was one of the many songs written by Tindley. Another song by Tindley, “I’ll Overcome Some Day,” written in 1901, would become the basis for “We Shall Overcome,” an
anthem of the civil rights movement.
Tindley was a captivating speaker and his sermons were attended by worshippers of all races. By the time Tindley died in 1933 at the age of 82, the congregation numbered well into the thousands. Despite the decades that have passed since, many of his enduring songs, like “We’ll Understand it Better By and By,'' continue to be printed in hymnals and live in the hearts of congregations.
By and by when the morning comes
All the saints of God are gathered home
We’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome
For we’ll understand it better by and by