Meet Father Rivers: New Podcast Release Coinciding with Black History Month

A recently published podcast series, Meet Father Rivers, explores the life and impact of Fr. Clarence Rivers – a Black priest whose compositions and work in liturgy had a deep and lasting impact on North American Catholic worship.

You can listen to the first three episodes of the podcast here. You can also read the full press release below.

Download (PDF, 64KB)

Featured Image Source: Father Clarence Rufus Joseph Rivers, Jr. Facebook Page


  1. I sang along with others the catchy scripture-inspired songs that our brother Clarence wrote and made popular during the mid-sixties. He gave a spirit-filled workshop that I attended in 1966. I find it superficial to categorize his work and influence as Black Catholic liturgy. He sought a way to integrate blues melodies into the general repertory of American worshipers. That project only partly succeeded, for reasons others more connected to music publishing can tell us.

    1. Paul, thank you for commenting. I couldn’t agree with you more about the superficiality of categorizing his work (only) as “Black Catholic liturgy”. It’s part of why we’re doing the podcast – to try to make the point about the applicability of his legacy to all Catholics. Please contact the podcast (meetfatherrivers at gmail dot com) if you’d like to share your first-hand experiences of Fr. Rivers.

    2. That’s a good point, Paul. We didn’t mean to pigeonhole his work at all, but include it in our postings and conversations about Black Catholic Liturgy. That being said, this comment made me realize that we did forget to put it under the general music category as well. So thank you!

  2. In 1964, the National Liturgical Conference was held in Houston. Workshops and General Sessions offered presentations that opened the theology of the Document on the Sacred Liturgy to us. Several Liturgies were celebrated by different celebrants during the days of the Conference. They ranged from the less formal to the highly formal, showing that congregations could vary according to age, levels of education, music styles that a congregation could identify with to make it their own in worship and cultural setting. One of these Liturgies was celebrated by Fr. Clarence Rivers. It was held in a local Catholic High School gym. There were no chairs. But 800 Catholics filled the bleachers and sat on the floor. A young composer named Joe Wise was introduced as the lead musician. Since none of his music had been published, yet, he spent about 20 minutes teaching us refrains of his music for the Mass. For the first time, we sang “Take Our Bread, we ask you,take our lives. . .O Father we are yours.” Not being from Houston, Joe had met with some local musicians the night before at the Coffee House called “The Keyhole”, in the basememt of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, a once dying parish in a neighborhood that had undergone demographic transformation from a middle class white neighborhood to a poor black neighborhood. But the charismatic renewal had brought the parish to a fully vibrant, integrated worshipping, serving community. (Bear in mind, this was at the peak of the Civil Rights struggle in the country.) That night, Joe Wise taught the Keyhole musicians all the music necessary for the Liturgy the next day. The fact that none of us had any copies in hand actually freed us to sing out in full voice, led by Joe Wise. But it was the joyous, uninhibited and gifted leadership of Fr. Clarence Rivers who formed us all into becoming a true community at worship, united in Faith, Hope and Love. It was truly the work of the Spirit and start of a new day for us all. Unforgettable. I am forever grateful.

  3. One more point: Fr. Rivers’ own music was truly born of his Black Catholic cultural heritage which includes the Blues Tradition. But those same Spirituals and Blues traditions were the source for George Gerschwin and others in the development of American Jazz. Jazz is loved by most Americans as our own unique contribution to world music literature. Fr. Rivers, therefore, was a powerful, effective Celebrant as he led us to embrace our American Cultural heritage.

    1. Sr. Elizabeth, thank you for those comments. I hope you’ll consider being in touch with the podcast (meetfatherrivers [at] gmail [dot] com) to share your insights. Your second comment really cuts to the heart of our underlying premise.

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