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Rhythm & Blues


The Story Behind The Rhythm & Blues Service

Beginning with the early years of the Church and the Reformation, there has been an outpouring of composers and hymnists channeling the people’s thanks and praise of the Gospel through music. The merging of common tunes and gospel text has resulted in an ever growing choral and instruments variety of music for the Church.

Martin Luther was inspired to compose the hymn “A Mighty Fortress” using a familiar tavern song of the day as a setting for spiritual words written in common German language rather than Latin. Luther used popular music from everyday life and adapted it for sacred use to draw people closer to Jesus.

Similarly the Blues Service presented here uses the words of the Lutheran liturgy set to different music styles of blues and jazz. Some of the arrangements use a slow gospel type blues. While other songs use slide notes in the right hand to add a jazz flavor to the melody.

The Kyrie and Amen segments use a boogie-woogie piano blues made popular in the 1920’s. The Hymn of Praise is written in triplets in the right hand, a technique used in the 1940’s to allow the pianist to be heard above the din of new amplification and electric guitars.

The Alleluia response has a straight four beat called the barrelhouse beat. Barrelhouses were the run down shakes were blues was played in the 1930’s. Walking bass lines and offbeat syncopation were developed to make the piano sound larger when economic conditions forced clubs to hire fewer musicians.

I was encouraged to write the Blues Service by my pastor Bill Lucht in 1997. With the Lord’s inspiration I arranged and composed the Blues Service over a long weekend and the rest is history. We have worshiped with this music style ever since and so have many other churches. I hope you enjoy our alternate blues/jazz service today.

John Burke, Composer  

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