Hymn #553: There is a Balm in Gilead

This spiritual is based on the writing of the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah.  The text provides an answer to Jeremiah’s question, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (Jer. 8:22).  The balm referred to was resin from the styrax tree, which was used in Gilead for healing purposes.  This song interprets the question figuratively.

In a commentary on this spiritual, Melva W. Costen speculates that since it is based on a specific biblical text, it may have been sung originally in response to a sermon on that passage from Jeremiah.
 
This melody, BALM IN GILEAD, was derived in conjunction with these words.  The refrain is best sung at a comfortable (not dragging) tempo, and the stanzas are best performed a little faster to maintain the hopeful tone of the text.
 
Frederick J. Work Jr. included this spiritual in his Folk Songs of the American Negro (1907).  A later choral arrangement by William L. Dawson in 1939 made the song more accessible to worshiping congregations and helped to increase its popularity.