Message Tab

Hymnist Sydney Carter dead at 88


(RNS) — Sydney Carter, who wrote one of the 20th century’s best known and loved hymns, died March 13. He was 88.

In 1963 Carter penned the words for Lord of the Dance, adapting for the melody the Shaker tune Simple Gifts that Aaron Copland had already used to great effect in his ballet Appalachian Spring.

Carter’s lyrics began:
“I danced in the morning when the world was begun
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
And I came down from heaven and I
danced on the Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth.”

He describes the Crucifixion with this verse:
“I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone
But I am the dance and I still live on.”

Carter worked as a teacher before serving with the Friends Ambulance Unit during World War II. That brought him into contact with Greek folk music, which exerted a lasting influence on his work.