Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Etta James – "All I Could Do Was Cry" (1960)

I heard church bells ringing 
I heard a choir singing

Earlier this year, the West Parish Meetinghouse's 607-pound Paul Revere bell was sent off to Cincinnati to be restored.  It was returned to the church's bell tower on June 30:

The West Parish Meetinghouse, which is the second-oldest public building in New England, is located less than a mile from the West Barnstable Conservation Area, my favorite mountain-biking destination on Cape Cod.

The story of the West Parish Meetinghouse begins in London in 1616, when the Rev. Henry Jacob and several of his friends founded England's first congregational church.  (Congregational churches are so named because they believed that each congregation should be self-governing, and rejected the authority of the state-sponsored Church of England.)

Jacob was succeeded by John Lothrop, a Cambridge graduate and Church of England clergyman who renounced holy orders in 1623 because he believed in the separation of church and state.

Rev. John Lothrop
In 1632, Lothrop and 42 others were discovered worshipping together and imprisoned because they refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Church of England.  Two years later, Lothrop was released on the condition that he leave England and never come back. 

Lothrop and 30 of his loyal followers promptly sailed for Massachusetts, and eventually settled in Barnstable, the second-oldest town on Cape Cod.

When the congregation eventually outgrew its original meetinghouse, and ground was broken for the West Parish Meetinghouse in 1717.

There are marble plaques in the church that list the congregation's pastors from 1616 to the current day:

One of the most prominent members of the West Parish congregation was Patriot leader James Otis, Jr., a Harvard-educated lawyer who challenged the authority of the British government in the colonial courts, and who said "Taxation without representation is tyranny."  Otis's family later gave the church a bell made in Paul Revere's foundry.

James Otis, Jr.
Another famous member of the church was Commodore "Mad Jack" Percival, who fought in the War of 1812 and who commanded the U.S.S. Constitution ("Old Ironsides") when it sailed around the world in 1844-46.

The West Parish Meetinghouse was remodeled in 1852.  In 1930, Miss Elizabeth Jenkins, a member of the church, proposed that it be restored to its colonial appearance.  But there was little money available for such a project during the Great Depression.  

Twenty years later, a foundation was formed to finance the restoration.  The rebuilding took several years to complete because the rebuilders did the work the way it would have been done in the 18th century.

The exterior of the church is austere yet beautiful:

Here's another view of the church:

The interior woodwork is made of entirely unfinished wood -- there is no paint, no stain.  It features "sheep-pen" pews – square enclosures entered through a gate:

Many of those pews were given as memorials.  Those so honored include James Otis, Lemuel Shaw (the son of a West Parish minister who served as the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for 30 years), Harvard professor George Lyman Kittredge (a great Shakespeare scholar and folklorist), Gustavus Swift (a Cape Cod native who founded the Swift & Co. meatpacking company), and Evelyn Beatrice Longman.

Evelyn Beatrice Longman
Evelyn Longman was the first great female American sculptor.  Her most famous work, the 24-foot-high "Spirit of Communication," was commissioned to crown AT&T's headquarters building in lower Manhattan.

Today, that gilded bronze statue – nicknamed "Golden Boy" – dominates the lobby of AT&T's corporate headquarters in downtown Dallas:

When you enter the West Parish Meetinghouse, the first pew to the right is reserved for the ushers.  That pew is well-stocked with tissues and throat lozenges for parishioners who are afflicted with colds or coughs:

The raised pulpit has a sounding board, which amplifies the preacher's voice so that it can be heard throughout the church.

The church has a four-foot-long gilded weathercock, which was obtained from England in 1723:

"All I Could Do Was Cry" was recorded by the inimitable Etta James in 1960.  

The song is sung by a woman who is attending the wedding of her former lover to another woman.  (Who invites his ex-girlfriend to a wedding?  Not cool, boys and girls – not cool at all.)

"All I Could Do Was Cry" was co-written by Billy Davis, Berry Gordy (who would later found Motown Records), and Gordy's sister, Gwen, and was supposedly inspired by Etta's former boyfriend dating Gwen Gordy, who was Billy Davis's former girlfriend. 

Here's "All I Could Do Was Cry":

Click below to order the song from Amazon: