Origins. This gospel hymn is by Lucie Campbell (1885–1963), who for many years was the music director of the National Baptist Convention and their publishing arm, the National Sunday School and Baptist Young People’s Union Congress (also known as the Baptist Training Union, or the Sunday School Publishing Board). One of her best known songs, “Something within,” was written in 1919. The story behind the song was told by Rev. Charles Walker in “Lucie E. Campbell Williams: A Cultural Biography” (1992):
The song was dedicated to a blind gospel singer named Connie Rosemond, who inspired it. Mr. Rosemond customarily played his guitar on Beale Street [Memphis, TN], and people put coins in his little cup and wished him well. Miss Lucie had come to the fish market to purchase fish. There sat Connie Rosemond, playing hymns and spirituals, as was his custom. It was winter—cold, damp, rainy. Mr. Rosemond’s feet were wrapped in burlap bags as he sat and played. Some of the neighborhood men came out of the bar and listened to the musician play and sing. One of them called to Mr. Rosemond after a while and said, “Hey Connie! I’ll give you five dollars to play ‘Caledonia,’ or some other blues,” and Mr. Rosemond replied, “Oh no, I can’t do that.” The man’s partner taunted him.
Connie Rosemond stood his ground and responded again, “I can’t do that; all that I know is that there is something within.” Campbell, witnessing this scene, was taken by Rosemond’s conviction and the image of having “something within.” It moved her to write the hymn that brought her to national attention as a gospel hymnodist. In 1919, at the National Baptist Convention, she introduced a promising young contralto named Marian Anderson. She also presented Connie Rosemond, the blind street singer, who performed her composition, “Something within.”
Indeed, Miss Lucie had “something within.” A fire of genius, a fire of spirituality that revealed itself not only in her life but in the gospel hymns that came from her pen.
The song was first published as sheet music, such as this undated broadsheet held at Emory University (Fig. 1). This copy has two stanzas and a refrain, printed in shape notes. A dedication to Connie Rosemond is under the title.
Curiously, “Something within” was not included in the next several National Baptist songbooks, such as Gospel Pearls (1921), the Baptist Standard Hymnal (1924), Inspirational Melodies (1925), or Spirituals Triumphant Old and New (1926). Its first appearance in a songbook seems to have been the revised and enlarged edition of Spirituals Triumphant Old and New (1927 | Fig. 2), condensed into a half page, since the melody is identical for the stanzas and the refrain. This collection was available in both round and shaped notes.
“Something within” was also published in Inspirational Melodies No. 2 (Nashville: National Baptist Young People’s Union Board, 1929 | Fig. 3) in shape notes. This printing is notable because it seems to have been made from the same plates as the broadsheet in Figure 1, including the dedication to Rosemond and the “copyright pending” note at the top. The only differences are the hymn number and the note at the bottom. “Isaac Jr.” refers to E.W.D. Isaac Jr., one of Campbell’s National Baptist colleagues.
Analysis. Regarding the content of the hymn, Campbell scholar Luvenia George offered these insights:
The opening verse begins by citing two of the most highly respected members of the African American community in 1919, “Preachers and teachers.” “Fighting as soldiers” would remind listeners of the first World War, which had ended two years before. “Something within … holdeth the reins … banishes pain … I cannot explain”— this poem speaks to every African American: Life is a struggle, but we have something within us that tells us we are more than what is seen on the outside.
Connie Rosemond, the man who inspired the song and first performed it, recorded “Something within” for Victor in 1927. This has been preserved by the Document Records company on the album Gospel Classics, Vol. 2 (1927–1935 | WorldCat).
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
5 March 2019
Rev. Charles Walker, “Lucie E. Campbell Williams: A Cultural Biography,” We’ll Understand It Better By and By (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1992), pp. 137-138; see also Luvenia A. George, “Lucie E. Campbell,” We’ll Understand (1992), p. 115, quoting Ada Gilkey, “Music just came naturally,” Memphis Press-Scimitar (5 Mar. 1947), p. 5, and The Golden Hour Digest, vol. 1 (Apr. 1940).
Luvenia A. George, “Lucie E. Campbell: Her nurturing and expansion of gospel music in the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.” We’ll Understand It Better By and By (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1992), p. 115.