"Simple Gifts" has become one of the most popular American folk spirituals.
It has been performed in public schools, colleges, folk clubs, churches, concert halls and other locations all across the USA and in other countries as well.
Yet, unfortunately there have been so many errors associated with "Simple Gifts" that it is time, as the song says, "we come round right."
Back in 1980 I wrote the first article that gave the correct information about the song. Unfortunately, the errors still keep spreading, especially on the Internet.
These are the complete original words:
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight
'Till by turning, turning we come round right.
It is not accurate to call "Simple Gifts" a Traditional Shaker hymn, as in the songbook, Get America Singing ...Again, produced by the Music Educators National Conference (Hal Leonard, 1996).
It was originally written as a religious dance song for use in their worship. The words --"To turn, turn will be our delight" and "Till by turning, turning" -- are dance instructions.
Also, the song has been incorrectly titled: "The Gift to be Simple" or "Tis a gift to be simple."
The song was originally titled: "Simple Gifts," or "Dancing Song", or by its first line: "Tis the gift to be simple."
More incorrect information...
It is claimed that Elder Joseph Brackett wrote the song in 1875 in the bookEminent Mainers by Arthur Douglas Stover. That date of 1875 is incorrect and not even close to the actual date.
What is the correct information?
Both the words and melody of "Simple Gifts"were composed by Elder Joseph Brackett Jr. in Alfred, Maine in 1848.
Any additional verses that appear online or in books are not original Shaker words and not by Elder Joseph Brackett.
Please spread the word with the correct information for this Shaker song, and by so doing,
A book is now available with the full story about the origin and evolution of this popular Shaker song from the 19th century onward into the 20th century. The complete book is available as a PDF on a multimedia DVD with bonus audio and video and is titled,
An attractive broadside (8 1/2 X 11) by GMH Design,
edited by Roger Lee Hall,
with the words and music to the Shaker song
on heavy cover stock,
is available for display or gift-giving. To order this colorful broadside, go to the
This specially produced non-commercial CD, SIMPLE GIFTS OF SHAKER MUSIC, with over one hour of music contains 30 tracks of Shaker music recorded in live concerts and from Public Radio programs between 1976 and 2002.
It includes six different versions of the best known Shaker song, "Simple Gifts" (aka: 'Tis the gift to be simple). Also there are many other beautiful Shaker spirituals.
To receive a copy, make a donation of $25 or more to help support this American Music Preservation website.
Make your donation by credit card payable to PineTree Productions, through safe and secure PayPal.
Click on this button to
After you have made your donation,
please send your mailing address to: Simple Gifts CD
Description from the popular annual director, Chase's Calendar of Events:
"JOSEPH BRACKETT DAY. May 6. Day honoring the Shaker religious leader, born May 6, 1797, at Cumberland, ME. In 1848 he composed the popular Shaker song "Simple Gifts" (also known as "Tis the gift to be simple) while at the Shaker community in Alfred, ME. This Shaker song became known worldwide after Aaron Copland used it in his score for the ballet Appalachian Spring in 1944. Elder Joseph Brackett died at New Gloucester, ME, July 4, 1882."
This DVD was recorded at the beautiful Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky
with an outstanding program of American chamber music, except for the Czech composer, Dvorak,
by the Live from Lincoln Center ensemble of musicians.
Note: The Shaker song is repeatedly incorrectly titled. It is NOT
"It'a a Gift to be Simple" nor is it "Tis A Gift to be Simple."
The correct titles are "Simple Gifts" or "Tis THE Gift Gift to be Simple."
It would have been helpful to mention in the DVD program,
that "Simple Gifts" was composed
by Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848, and
that there are still a few Shakers living at Sabbathday Lake, Maine,
where Elder Joseph's portrait hangs in their Music Room.
Did you know the "Simple Gifts" melody was used
in several motion pictures?
For example, these films:
A British comedy
starring Peter Sellers?
The Shaker melody was arranged
by film composer Richard Rodney Bennett and is available from Amazon.com...
Also this film directed by Spike Lee, who said that when he heard Aaron Copland's music
(including his arrangement of "Simple Gifts"), he thought of America, and his film is about basketball
which is American in origin so it was a natural connection with Copland's music...
Wikipedia -- article about "Simple Gifts." Note: Some of the information in this article is incorrect. The information under "Tune," has a music example and text underneath and both are incorrect and not based on Shaker sources.