Shaker music history
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Song Comparison:

Issachar Bates
"Come Life, Shaker Life"


Richie Havens
"Run, Shaker Life"



 "Come Life, Shaker Life"

The above illustration shows the Shaker song written in a music notation using letters of the alphabet,
which the Shakers called "the letteral system."

This was classified as a "Quick Dance" song and was composed by one of the most active Shaker tunesmiths, Elder Issachar Bates (1758-1837), who was born in Hingham (later part of Cohasset) in Massachusetts.

He served as a young fifer in the American Revolution before he joined the Shakers in 1801.

One of his best known early hymns was "Rights of Conscience," based on a patriotic tune written for George Washington titled, "The President's March."

Elder Issachar wrote "Come Life, Shaker Life" while at the Shaker community in New Lebanon, New York around 1835. Since Shaker music is from folk music it is not always possible to date Shaker songs with exactness. What is more important than date of origin is the song itself and its message of communal faith through individual sacrifice expressed in such lines as: "Shake, shake out of me, All that is carnal."

"Come Life, Shaker Life" is one of the most-often recorded Shaker tunes.


 "Run, Shaker Life"


This song was adapted in 1967 and released the following year on the LP album, Something Else Again (Verve/ Forecast FTS-3034), in a highly rhythmic arrangement by popular folksinger and songwriter, Richie Havens. However, no mention was made of the original Shaker dance song by Issachar Bates.

It has been an unfortunate assumption among many folk musicians that Shaker songs and hymns are often thought to be by unknown composers and therefore are classified as "Traditional." But that was not the case with "Come Life, Shaker Life" and many other Shaker songs, such as "Simple Gifts."

"Run, Shaker Life had these musicians listed on the LP:

Richie Havens, Guitar and Electric Sitar
Paul Williams, Guitar and Chant
Daniel Ben Zebulon, Congo Drums and Chant
Denny Gerrrard, Electric Bass
Skip Prokop, Drums

"Run, Shaker Life" was re-issued on the Polydor CD:
 The Best of Richie Havens - The Millennium Collection (2000).


There were also several other recordings of "Run, Shaker Life" including the best-selling LP album, Soul to Soul (recorded in Ghana, West Africa in 1971), sung by an energetic young group of singers known as: The Voices of East Harlem.

In none of these recordings is there any mention of Issachar Bates as the composer of the original Shaker dance song.

"Come Life, Shaker Life" has lyrics nearly identicial to "Run, Shaker Life" by Richie Havens.

Just look at the lyrics for both songs...


Richie Havens version (1967)

Issachar Bates version (1835) 

Run, Shaker life,

Shake life eternal;

Shake it out of me,

All that is carnal.

I'll be your Moses,

I'll be your David,

I'll show Michael twice,    

How he behaved.

Come life, Shaker life,

Come life Eternal,

Shake, shake out of me,

All that is carnal.

I'll play a nimble step,

I'll be a David,

I'll show Michael twice,

How he behaved.


The references to " David" and " Michael" [Michal] are from the Old Testament (II. SAMUEL. 6:16):

And as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal Saul's daughter looked through a window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

This Old Testament passage was used as a defense for dancing in Shaker worship.



The above information compiled from this book --


"Come Life, Shaker Life" -
The Life and Music of Elder Issachar Bates
by Roger L. Hall

For more about the Richie Havens recording, see

Run, Shaker Life


Read a review of a book about the life of Issachar Bates at

Issachar Bates: A Shaker's Journey




Here are two of the CDs which include "Come Life, Shaker Life":


Sung by the Sabbathday Lake Shakers


Gentle Words -
A Shaker Music Sampler




Related Links



Shaker and Non-Shaker Tunes -- comparison of folk tunes.

Shaker Books and Articles -- books and articles about Shaker music.

Shaker CD and DVD Releases -- original versions and arrangements.

Shaker Music Arrangements -- music for soloists and chorus.

Shaker Music History -- highlights from 18th, 19th, 20th centuries.

Shaker Music Lectures and Workshops -- programs available for any audience.




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