On Tuesday night’s (Nov. 26) “The Voice” live show, the Top 8 contestants performed “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?,” backed by Seattle’s Starbucks Chorus, a vocal group that raises money for local charities. But after the performance, the Twitterverse erupted with complaints that the word “Lord” was dropped from the lyrics.
Backstage, “Voice” coach Blake Shelton
was still trying to get to the bottom of why it happened.
“I don’t know what, uh — how it happened, or — I’m learning about it just like you guys are,” Shelton tells Zap2it
. “I was sitting in my chair singing that song how I grew up on it, with ‘in the sky, Lord, in the sky.’ I sang it as loud as I could. And that might be why I didn’t realize until after the fact that ‘Lord’ was either taken out, or it was just performed some other way.”
As for why the lyric was dropped, it’s a mystery to Shelton. “I’ve heard — you know, in the twenty minutes I’ve had since the show ended to come in here — a lot of different reasons why it was that way,” he says. “I know it was performed — and it’s meant for a good cause, and they’re trying to raise some money. And that’s a good thing. But I will say, that’s not the version I grew up on. And that’s not the version I was singing sitting in my chair, if that clears up anything [about] where I stand on this thing.”
“Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” was written by Ada R. Habershon as a Christian hymn, and it should be noted a hymnal page from 1908 (seen below) does not actually mention the word “Lord.” But it also doesn’t use the word “oh,” which replaces “Lord” in “The Voice” performance. “The Voice” version also skips the verses that mention “Saviour” and “Heaven.”
Though the hymn chorus does not, the modernized version of the song lyrics most often dp include “Lord.” A 1935 country music version of the original hymn with “Lord” added was made famous by The Carter Family, and later performed by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, among others. Johnny Cash sang the chorus with “Lord” intact in 1968’s “Daddy Sang Bass.” He can be seen performing his version in the video below.
“The Voice” contestants would presumably be covering the published, modern country western song, and not a century-old hymn, right? So, why the change from “Lord” to “oh?” Executive producer Mark Burnett had the same question.
“Especially for those of us who know this song from church so well … I realized immediately what had happened,” Burnett tells Zap2it
. “I thought I’d misheard on the sound. Then came the next chorus, and I’m like, ‘OK, it’s live TV, so I’ve got to wait until the next commercial break. I’m running over there and asking the question.'”
As it turns out, Burnett says for the song to be provided to fans free on iTunes, “The Voice” had to use the public domain version (which would be the hymn). Though it’s still unclear why the word “oh” was added.
“My mistake was I assumed that the public domain version has the word ‘Lord’ in it,” Burnett says.
According to Burnett, Starbucks also was unaware of the lyric discrepancy.
Later in the evening, Shelton continued to field angry tweets about the dropped lyric. “Be our voice Blake and let the bosses know how disappointed we are,” one fan writes. Shelton’s response? “Will do.”