Listen: I Know I’ve Been Changed
Listening to “I Know I’ve Been Changed” by The Branchettes brings to mind a rolling wave, beginning with gentle, slight movements until it rises in intensity and comes crashing down. This process doesn’t take place over the course of the song, however; it happens during each line that Ethel Eliot and Lena Mae Perry sing. The women will start the first line “I know I’ve been changed” languidly and quietly. They gradually let their voices get louder, highlighting the contrast between each section in the line. They draw out words to almost painful lengths, communicating a tension and sense of strong faith.
The gospel group, which originally included Eliot, Perry and Perry’s aunt, hailed from Newton Grove, North Carolina. The story goes that the women were scheduled to sing at a church program in a nearby town as part of the Long Branch Disciple Church’s Senior Choir. However, they were the only three to show up. Despite the women’s initial nervousness and embarrassment, they sang and received a positive response from the audience. The trio, which derives its name from the name of its church, soon began to perform and serve its congregation in addition to performing across North Carolina. Perry’s aunt and then Eliot have since passed away, so the current incarnation of the Branchettes consists of Perry and pianist Wilbur Tharpe, who has accompanied the group throughout the years.
The Branchettes was recognized for its contributions to North Carolina’s music culture with the North Carolina Heritage Award in 1995. The Branchettes’ version of “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” a traditional gospel hymn, has continued to influence artists today. Carolina Chocolate Drops member Rhiannon Giddens and her sister Lelenja were inspired by the Branchettes’ rendition, and it serves as the title track and name of the sisters’ forthcoming album with Music Maker.
You can catch Perry and Tharpe performing at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest (April 26-May 5).
Love this track from The Branchettes? It’s located on our Sisters of the South album in our store, here.