"Mother Has Come With Her Beautiful Song"
In Memory of Sister R. Mildred Barker
Sister R. Mildred Barker
Sabbathday Lake, Maine
© Photograph by Gail Hall, 1983
I had the great pleasure and honor of knowing Sister Ruth Mildred Barker for over 15 years. We both shared a deep love of Shaker music,
and she was always happy to sing for me.
I believe she was the greatest Shaker singer of the 20th century.
She also wrote meaningful poems.
Sister Mildred helped to popularize many Shaker songs and hymns over the years, including:
"Blended Together" (Elder Joseph Holden)
"Mother" ( aka "At Manchester in England)" (Elder Richard McNemar)
"The Shakers" (Elder Richard McNemar)
"We Must Be Meek"
"Mother Has Come With Her Beautiful Song" (Sister Paulina Springer) -- Sister Mildred's favorite Shaker song.
She had a special fondness for Maine Shaker music and such Shaker authors as: Eldress Mary Ann Gillespie ("Redeeming Love")
Elder Otis Sawyer ("Lead Me On To Greater Victory").
I interviewed Sister Mildred in 1980. A portion of that interview and another interview with Sister Mildred made by Bill Randle (the Cleveland disc jockey who introduced Elvis Presley on national television in 1956) are included on this 2 CD set:
Let Zion Move: Music of the Shakers
Sister Mildred was born in Providence, Rhode Island on February 3,1897. She entered the Shaker life on July 7, 1903 (known as her "Shaker birthday"). She became a covenant member in 1918. She lived first at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine, then moved to Sabbathday Lake after Alfred closed in 1931.
Her interest in Shaker music continued as she taught other Believers the songs and hymns she had learned as a young girl at Alfred. She had an incredible memory for remembering Shaker tunes from her youth.
In 1974, I arranged for Sister Mildred to meet the distinguished composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990) in 1974. It was the first and only time they met
-- see Aaron Copland Meets The Shakers.
In 1983, Sister Mildred received a Heritage Fellowship Award
from the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, DC.
I knew she had been ill so I wasn't entirely surprised when Sister Mildred passed on. She died on January 25, 1990. At her funeral service, I remember the complete loss felt by so many of her friends and especially
her Family of Believers at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
For that sad ocassion, I composed a memorial hymn based on one of Sister Mildred's most moving poems titled "A Prayer" (reprinted in the Love is Little songbook).
The final stanza of her poem reads:
I am so small alone, and weak,
Defeat I often see;
But by the strength of Thy right hand,
A conqueror I'll be.
She was as close to a saint as I have ever met.
I feel blessed to have known her.
--Roger Lee Hall,
January 25, 2000 (10th anniversary of Sister Mildred's passing)
Sister Mildred Barker may be also heard singing and speaking on this CD:
Early Shaker Spirituals
As a young girl, Sister Mildred lived at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine, where Elder Joseph Brackett had earlier written the best known Shaker song, "Simple Gifts." She mentioned that Shaker Elder and his song in an article in The Shaker Quarterly, published at Sabbathday Lake, Maine in 1967. That same year she was captured in this widely admired photo from a national magazine:
Sister Mildred Barker
[picture by John Loengard, LIFE Magazine, 1967]
Roger Lee Hall introduced Sister Mildred to the distinguished composer, Aaron Copland, for the first and only time in 1974.
Read about it at
Aaron Copland Meets The Shakers
See Roger's composition, "Two Shaker Prayer Hymns" (Op. 38),
Sister Mildred's poems from 1921 and 1922 at this link:
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