A Change Is Gonna Come

Sunset after a storm in the Sandwich Ridge mountains, New Hampshire
Sunset after a storm in the Sandwich Ridge Mountains, New Hampshire

I took this photo last year during a family vacation in Center Sandwich, New Hampshire.  A thunderstorm raged all afternoon, but just as we were finishing dinner the storm suddenly ended.  Three generations of extended family went out into the still-damp field to watch the sunset reflected on the lifting storm clouds.  As often happens in the mountains, it was a dramatic change.  At the time, and ever since, the play of setting sun on passing thunderheads makes me think of Sam Cooke and “A Change is Gonna Come“.  Recorded in January 1964, the song became one of the greatest anthems of the Civil Rights Movement.

A Change is Gonna Come

I was born by the river in a little tent.
Ohh and just like the river,
I’ve been running ev’r since.
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.
I go to the movie and I go downtown.
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around.
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.
Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please.
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees, ohh
There have been times that I thought
I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.

A singer who blurred the lines between gospel, R&B and pop, Cooke was reportedly inspired to write “A Change is Gonna Come” by Bob Dylan and “Blowin’ In The Wind”.  While on tour in October 1963, Cooke and his band were turned away from a “whites only” motel in Shreveport, Louisiana where they had a reservation. When they protested,  they were arrested and thrown in jail for disturbing the peace.   Not long after, Sam Cooke wrote “A Change is Gonna Come”
“Sam as a writer saw himself almost as a reporter,” said biographer Peter Guralnick said in one interview.  “He took all of those experiences[of racism],” Guralnick says, “but he enlarged upon them and he broadened them to the point that the song… becomes a statement of what a generation had had to endure.”
The song was only a modest commercial success and Sam Cooke only performed it live once.   Yet “A Change Is Gonna Come” has become an iconic symbol of triumph over adversity.  It has been called Sam Cooke’s legacy and “heralded as his magnus opum”.  In 2005, it was voted number 12 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  It has also been selected National Public Radio (NPR) as one of the 300 most important songs.  In 2007, it was added by the Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry.  Bettye LaVette performed “A Change Is Gonna Come” with Jon Bon Jovi, at the Lincoln Memorial during the first inaugural concert for President Obama, introducing a new generation to Sam Cooke.   (Watch the video here .)
Sam Cooke died on December 11, 1964 in a shooting at a Los Angeles motel. He was 33 years old.
Today is a gray and cold day where I live – a day on the tipping point between winter and spring.   To fight the doldrums, I took my two youngest children swimming at the our local YMCA pool.  As I looked at all the kids laughing and playing in the pool, the splashing water sparkling on skin that was black and white and every shade in between, I realized that this was a scene that wasn’t even possible in most of the United States when Sam Cooke wrote “A Change Is Gonna Come” in 1964.  And while we still have a ways to go, Sam Cooke was correct.  The storm clouds will pass and the sun will come out.
“But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.”
This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Change.  You can see more responses here.

A Photo Tribute to George Winston’s December

This time of year always reminds me of George Winston’s December.  I used to listen to it in college, when I was studying for finals.  I’d play it on my cassette deck, rewind, then press play again.  But the music often made me visualize things that weren’t on the pages I was supposed to be reading.

George Winston’s December set the perfect tone for studying.  Calm and clear, but with the slight urgency of Night: Part II Midnight.  It also carried a hopeful hint of the excitement of the holidays to come.  The album actually came out several years before I went to college, but I discovered it my freshman year.  Snow was new to me, too.  I grew up in Louisiana, where once or twice I remember them calling off school because the temperature was below freezing.

The first time I really experienced snow was in December of 1985.  It started snowing late one night during Reading Period and Yale’s entire freshman class seemed to erupt onto Old Campus.  Huge, wet snowflakes drifted down and coated the lawn or swirled sideways and up, as if in a snowglobe.  Someone put their speakers in an open common room window, Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons blasting from the stereo. I still think of that night and the laughing, shadowy figures dancing  in the softly falling snow. It was magical – the kind of night where you would kiss a stranger out of sheer joy and beauty.

A massive snowball fight erupted before long.  Having never made a snowball before, I was at a distinct disadvantage.  I took a direct hit eventually and had to go inside to melt the packed snow from my ear canal.  “Probably for the best,” I thought. “Finals are starting soon.”

So, as musical commentary on the seasons, I think George Winston wins hands down over Vivaldi.  When I listen to George Winston’s December, I’ve always pictured scenes from nature and – oddly enough – happy children. This year, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the release of George Winston’s December, I decided to document the waning of autumn and waxing of winter with photographs.  In some ways, George Winston’s December is also a theme for me in doing human rights work.  We are moving forward, calm and clear, with a slight sense of urgency but with hopeful hints of the future.


Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head



Carol of the Bells

Part I. Snow

Part II.  Midnight

Part III. Minstrels

Variations on the Kanon by Pachebel

The Holly & The Ivy

Some Children See Him


A Christmas Song

Sleep Baby Mine