The Peoples Temple Songbook

A major part of Temple services was the music performed by the choir and joined in by the congregation. While much of the music came from hymnals, the Temple also used popular songs and standards which were familiar to most people in attendance.

This songbook of music sung during Peoples Temple services in Redwood Valley was probably printed in this form – with only the lyrics and without music – for the benefit of the choir. While undated, it was likely from the early 1970s. One song, for example – Richie Havens’ “Freedom” – was recorded in August 1969 at Woodstock, but did not become well-known until release of the movie soundtrack the following year. Similarly, “Joe Hill” – while composed in the 1930s and covered by Joan Baez in the 1960s – did not come to wider attention (likely including members of Peoples Temple) until the 1971 release of the movie by the same name.

There are a number of traditional hymns in this collection (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” “The Church’s One Foundation”), and “Deep River,” an African-American spiritual, can be found in several hymnals of the period. In addition, these sheets include songs born in or resurrected by the Civil Rights era (“Lift every voice and sing,” which became known at “The Civil Rights National Anthem”, “I Shall Not Be Moved,” and “We Shall Overcome”), as well as songs written or revived the overlapping protest movements of the 1960s (“Joe Hill,” and “Blowin’ In the Wind”).

Other songs which reflect the roots and aspirations of the Temple include:

    A Nation Is Rising, based upon a message given by Father Divine at the communion table of the Circle Mission Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 16, 1949; another Peace Mission song is We Shall Have the Same Rights. “New Birth of Freedom” may also be a composition written or inspired by the Father Divine Peace Mission movement.
    • Show tunes (“You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel and “Getting to know you” from The King and I), songs from movies (“Born Free”) and pop standards (“Sixteen Tons,” “Stout-Hearted Men,” “Glory of Love,” “I Believe,” and “Accentuate the Positive”).

A couple of songs may be original compositions. “Brotherhood is our religion” (#8) is a phrase which was the unofficial motto of the Temple during its Indianapolis days. “When I stand for truth” (#25) describe several characteristics of the Temple – marching for peace, feeding hungry children – and these lyrics cannot be found as a separate song elsewhere.

As the Temple grew more political – and simultaneously less overtly religious – its members began to change the lyrics, especially of hymns, to reflect new fealty to their leader, Jim Jones. For the most part, however, this songbook appears to retain the original lyrics, with at least one notable exception. The song “The Church’s One Foundation,” written in the 1860s, opens with the lines, “The Church’s One Foundation/is Jesus Christ our Lord.” In this songbook, the second line has been changed to “is the Father, our God.” The lyric could refer to the Christian God; it could also reflect a transition to the Temple’s Father and eventual god, Jim Jones.

This songbook was provided by Don Beck, and the managers of this website are grateful to him for his contribution.

The Peoples Temple Songbook (Lyrics)
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Last modified on October 21st, 2013.
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