God Bless the Child (That’s Got His Own)

French Quarter Festival was completely cancelled today.  A wise call on the part of the Powers That Be, as it turned out, since it rained unrelentingly all afternoon.

Yesterday, however, was lovely, and the two acts I caught – Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble and Leroy Jones & New Orleans Finest – were just great.  An iced cafe au lait from Cafe Beignet’s new-ish location on Decatur was the perfect compliment to a lovely afternoon.

Later, I sat in the lush courtyard of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, listening to Luther Kent and the Trick Bag Trio perform at the Jazz Playhouse.  As usual, his rendition of “God Bless the Child,” written by Arthur Herzog and Billie Holiday, was well-received by the crowd.   Luther’s powerful voice and ability to connect with an audience continue to amaze me.  But the lyrics to that tune?  They are a puzzle.

Them that’s got shall get
Them that’s not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own
That’s got his ownYes, the strong gets more
While the weak ones fade
Empty pockets don’t ever make the grade
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own
That’s got his own

Money, you’ve got lots of friends
Crowding round the door
When you’re gone, spending ends
They don’t come no more
Rich relations give
Crust of bread and such
You can help yourself
But don’t take too much
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own
That’s got his own

Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own
That’s got his own
He just worry ’bout nothin’
Cause he’s got his own

(God Bless The Child lyrics © CARLIN AMERICA INC)

Maybe if I could hear it as a commentary on how life is easier for folks with money, that would work.  But “God bless” evokes the Sermon on the  Mount for me, which is an upside-down, tables-turned mess if ever there was one:  blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers.   It’s not exactly an endorsement of the current status quo.

It seems the title comes from a fight Billie had with her mother about money.

The Bible reference is possibly an amalgam of several verses, all understood to refer more to one’s ability to listen well and gain wisdom than to actual earthly wealth.

Is this song aspirational, envisioning a better world?  Is it a triumphant anthem, announcing that the tables have already been turned?  A condemnation of society’s inhumanity to those least advantaged?  An endorsement of the old bootstraps mentality?  A cold hard look at reality?

As I listened to Luther sing, my phone buzzed.  I don’t want to receive “alerts,” but every now and again, it feels compelled to give me a piece of information, and this time, it told me “Donald Trump Announces Air Strikes on Syria.”

I took a deep breath.  Well … God bless those who mourn.  And also … God bless the child.

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