Rev. William Herbert Brewster originally wrote the song “Move On Up A Little Higher” for one of his religious parades or passion plays. However, it became a profound spiritual anthem for the Black church as it reflects the postwar Afro-modernist sentiments. Brewster has observed the fierce fight that the Black people in Memphis had to go through all for their rights. His sincere desire to help and inspire this group of people drove him to write the uplifting tune.
Brewster, who was a pastor of East Trigg Avenue Baptist Church, composed the song through the metaphors of a “Christian climbing the ladder to heaven.” Such imagery exactly mirrors his yearning to inspire the Black people to elevate themselves and go beyond what others think of them.
“We’ll have to move in the field of education. Move into the professions and move into politics. Move in anything that any other race has to have to survive,” Brewster stated.
To do so, the clergyman had to conduct a series of protest meetings just to bring his message to the people. Even if such would cause danger to many lives, Brewster considered his aspiration more important.
“I was trying to inspire Black people to move up higher. Don’t be satisfied with the mediocre…Before the freedom fights started, before the Martin Luther King days, I had to lead a lot of protest meetings. In order to get my message over, there were things that were almost dangerous to say, but you could sing it.”
“Move On Up A Little Higher” and Its Notable Covers
According to Brewster, the composition of the entire piece came easily for him. He first tried teaching the song to his principal vocal soloist Queen C. Anderson. Despite producer Art Freeman’s insisting on Anderson recording the song, it was the Queen of Gospel Mahalia Jackson who did it. As soon as her record was out in 1948, “Move On Up A Little Higher” went on to become one of the greatest records of all time. Furthermore, it helped launch Jackson’s musical career and earned her a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.
Listen to Mahalia Jackson’ rendition of the song below.
Although the Queen of Gospel was the first who made the song famous, several artists made their versions of the tune. These include a prominent singer in the 1930s named Marian Anderson. The celebrated contralto singer who hailed from Philadelphia had a deep, rich voice which brought her to fame in the recording industry.