Cotton Patch Gospel

Cotton Patch Gospel
Cotton Patch Gospel
Music Harry Chapin
Lyrics Harry Chapin
Book Tom Key
Russell Treyz
Basis Clarence Jordan's translation of the gospels of Matthew and John,The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John

Cotton Patch Gospel is a musical by Tom Key and Russell Treyz with music and lyrics written by Harry Chapin just before his death in 1981. Based on the book The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John by Clarence Jordan, the story retells the life of Jesus as if in modern day, rural Georgia.

Using a southern reinterpretation of the gospel story, the musical is often performed in a one-man show format with an accompanying quartet of bluegrass musicians, although a larger cast can also be used. A video recording of the play was released in 1988 with Tom Key as the leading actor.



The original was a one man show, with four band members. The star would play Jesus, Matthew and several minor characters. The band members played characters that required minimal acting. The show is also commonly done with a full cast where the characters are played by different people.

  • Matthew
Also plays: Messenger, Joe, Cattle Farmer, Herod, Politician, Jesus, John the Baptizer, Satan I, Satan II, Satan III, Rock, Tourist, Reverend Boyd Bissel, Businessman, President, Senator, Television Preacher, Jud, Pilate, Angel.
  • Band/Disciples
Also plays: Heavenly Host, Herod's Men, Neighbors, Wedding Reception Guests, John's Choir, God, Heavenly Choir, Gospel Quartet.

The four band members are also:

  • Jim (plays Neighbor I, Joe in "You Are Still My Boy", Gossip II)
  • Jack (plays Woman in "Mama Is Here", Senator's Daughter, Timmy, Mary, Gossip IV)
  • Andy (plays Gossip I)
  • Tom (Plays Tanya, Gossip III)


Act I

Matthew and some of Jesus' followers have come to this auditorium and set up their stage to present a play about Jesus, who lived not so long ago. The stage is set up simply, as they have no funds, but simply travel the country spreading the good news.

The show opens with the band singing "Something's Brewin' In Gainesville" to set the scene. Matthew, a disciple of Jesus and the narrator, introduces Mary and Joe who have Jesus in an abandoned trailer behind a motel. Jesus was "wrapped in a comforter and laid in an apple crate".

When Jesus was born, Herod was Governor of Georgia. The three wise men, some scholars from the Orient, followed a star to reach Jesus bearing gifts of a gold American Express card,some candles that smelled like peaches, and a bottle of Jade East. Joe has a vision where he is told by a messenger to get to Mexico because Herod will try to kill Jesus.

Herod calls a meeting of his closest advisers. He is worried as the National Enquirer claims that Jesus is supposed to be the future governor. Herod asks Mabry to 'take care' of the baby Jesus ("I Did It"). Mabry plants a bomb in the nursery where Jesus was supposed to be. Thankfully, Joe has taken Jesus to Mexico, but the explosion does murder fourteen innocent toddlers. A mother is in disbelief that her baby is really dead ("Mama Is Here").

When Herod passed away, Joe moved the family to Valdosta, Georgia. Jesus had a difficult time growing up, being the messiah and all ("It Isn't Easy"). Joe and Mary take Jesus to a High Society event. During the event they run out of wine, so Jesus turns water into wine.

At this same time, a new preacher named John the Baptizer has shown up in Georgia ("Sho Nuff"). Jesus went to hear him preach. John baptizes Jesus. Shortly after, Jesus is tested by the devil.

One day, walking along the Ogeechee river, Jesus saw two brothers Simon, nicknamed Rock and his brother Andy fishing. He tells them to cast their line with their left hand. Miraculously, they start catching fish. From that day forward they follow Jesus. Jesus then got the Zebedee boys, and the Johnson brothers, Phil and Nat. Lastly, Jesus meets Mathew, the narrator at the I.R.S. office. Lastly, Jesus recruits Jud (Judas).

Jesus and his disciples travel all over North Georgia preaching. One day, he went up on Stone Mountain. There he is confronted by Reverend Boyd Bissel who asks what makes Jesus think he is different from what the churches have been preaching for decades ("Turn It Around"). Jesus continues to tell parables and preach. After one of his sermons, on the way out of the crowd, an old crippled woman touches his leg. He heals her so that she may walk again ("Miracle On Stone Mountain")

A few days later, Jesus is stopped by a United States senator whose four year old daughter just died. Jesus brings the girl back to life ("Love the Lord Your God"). After this incident, Jesus becomes increasingly popular, being on the cover of Time and getting investigated by the F.B.I.

Jesus kept on preaching and performing miracles, but it became too much. So, he decided to train some of his disciples. At this meeting, he reveals to them that he plans to go to Atlanta for the Bible Society Convention. Additionally, at this convention, the authorities plan to lynch Jesus. However, on Sunday he will rise again. The Act closes with "Goin' To Atlanta" where the disciples sing about their excitement and Jesus expresses his concerns about being lynched and what Atlanta really means.

Act II

The Act opens with the disciples asking themselves whether they are ready for the journey ahead ("Are We Ready?"). Jesus and the disciples temporally parted when Jesus went into the Smoky Mountains for a private prayer meeting. He returned to the disciples by walking out to the middle of the lake while they were fishing. Jesus urges Rock to try to walk on water too. At first Rock succeeds, but then goes under and starts drowning. Jesus felt defeated, and they traveled to Valdosta in silence. When they arrived, the town did not greet them well, but instead gossiped as to why Jesus was back. Jesus cut off communication. When Jesus' family comes to see him, Jesus refuses to see them. That night, after supper, Mary and Joe reflect upon their son. How even though he is now the messiah, he is still their little boy in their hearts ("You Are Still My Boy").

At this time, the governor of Georgia was Harvey, a nephew of Herod. When John the Baptizer spoke out against Harvey, he had him killed. Upon hearing about this, Jesus starts gearing up the public and becoming more popular through various miracles. For example, he fed five thousand people with two cans of sardines and five boxes of Nabiscos.

Jesus calls all of his disciples together again. During the meeting Jesus mentions the lynching again. Rock responds by saying that the lynching business in nonsense and that he and the other disciples have Jesus' take over of the governorship all figured out ("We Gotta Get Organized"). Jesus expresses that he did not come to star on some t.v. show or be a politician. He calls Rock Satan and tells him to leave. The very next day however, Jesus is happy and back to normal and tells the gang its time to move out to Atalanta. They slowly made their way there with Jesus driving in an old beat up V.W. convertible while people celebrated. Jesus interactes with the crowd while the disciples realize that their time with Jesus is coming to the end, but they will cherish every moment ("We're Gonna Love It While It Lasts"). The crowd, expected miracles or an announcement of Jesus' intention to take over office. Instead, he went to a local church and chastised them for making a house of god into a shopping mall/bankers club instead of a place known for its commitment to God. The blind and needy then gathered with him in the church and he made them well ("Jubilation").

Outside, the crowd felt cheated and began to riot against Jesus along with the board of politicians ("Dangerous Man"). Jud then meets secretly with Dr. Caiphas, a member of the board. Jud express his concern about Jesus' Psychological health as he keeps saying he will take over by being murdered and resurrected. Dr. Caiphas convinces Jud that his concern is just and to keep him informed on the situation ("Jud").

Jesus performs the last supper with his disciples, breaking the bread as body and drinking the wine as blood. The disciples are confused "Hey, What's Goin' On?"). Jesus then goes into the garden and prays to God to relieve him of this agony. Jud enters at the end of the prayer with some unknown men. Jud kisses Jesus good-bye. Jesus is taken away by the men ("Jud Reprise"). In the morning, Dr. Caiphas brought Jesus to the present governor, Pilate. Pilate lists Jesus' crimes: vagrancy, inciting a riot, running a fast food joint by serving five-thousand people in a day. He interrogates Jesus, but Jesus doesn't say a word. Frustrated by his silence, Pilate send him away, and calls Mabry to let him know the exact details of Jesus' travel arrangements to Lee Correctional Institute ("Thank God for Governor Pilate").

Mathew then informs the audience of the news: as Jesus was being taken to a prison in Leesburg, two Klansmen jumped out of the woods and shot out the tire of the patrol car. Soon there were hundreds against the two police officers. The mob dragged Jesus into the woods, stripped him naked, flogged him using a cat-of-nine tails with bits of rock and glass. They put spikes through his hands to see if it would make him cry. They then strung him up, choking him as slow as possible.

The disciples reminence of their time with Jesus and how quickly it went by "One More Tomorrow"). Later that afternoon a citizen came to Pilate to ask for the body. The man had the body locked in a family tomb under a huge slab. Pilate got the F.BI., the National Guard, and the Highway patrol to watch the grave. Mary from Mobile, the other Mary, and Joanna come to put flowers on the grave when an angel flew past the police helicopters and smashed the marble slab to bits and said that Jesus was back from the dead. They later met Jesus on the road telling them to meet him on the mountainside. Pilate formulated a story of how Jesus followers had stolen the body while the guards were all asleep. Later on the mountain side, Jesus addressed his disciples one last time to pass on all of his wisdom and power, and to tell them to spread the word to all nations and races. He finishes by saying that he will always be with them in their hearts until the last inning. The Act ends with the disciples wondering how amazing it is that one man can change the world ("Well I Wonder").

The Locations of Cotton Patch Gospel

Key Locations

  • Clayton: The hometown of Mary Hagler, mother of Jesus.
  • Gainesville: The birthplace of Jesus Davidson.
  • Valdosta: The town where Jesus grew up.
  • Chattahoochee River: Running from northeast Georgia to the Alabama border, where John the Baptizer baptized Jesus and many others
  • Ogeechee River: Where Jesus recruits his first disciples, the fishermen Rock and Andy.
  • Stone Mountain: The site of Jesus' sermon on the mount.
  • Unadilla: Home of the Unadilla Travel Lodge, where Jesus first informs his disciples that he is to be lynched after they go to Atlanta.
  • Atlanta: The capital of Georgia, and the site of several events in Jesus' life. It was the home of Governors Herod, Harvey, and Pilate. It was host to the annual Sunday School Teachers' Conference that Jesus visited when he was twelve. And it was where Jesus was arrested and convicted.
  • Leesburg: Where Jesus was lynched.

Referenced Locations

  • Opp: In Covington County, Alabama. One of the ancestral hometowns of the Hagler family.
  • Savannah: Where Jesus goes to preach the good news following his forty days in the wilderness. Also home to the Rev. Boyd Bissel, whose question at Stone *Mountain starts off "Turn It Around."
  • Brewton: Home of the Apostles Phil and Nat.
  • Sylvan Hills: An Atlanta community that was home to the man who provided the tomb for Jesus' body.
  • Opelika: In Lee County, Alabama. This, and the remaining towns, are listed as places where people came from to see John the Baptizer.
  • Oneonta: In Blount County, Alabama.
  • Two Egg: In Jackson County, Florida.
  • Cordele: In Crisp County, Georgia.
  • Ty Ty: In Tift County, Georgia.
  • Gluck: In Anderson County, South Carolina.


Between 1968 and 1973, Dr. Clarence Jordan, a Southern Baptist minister, published four books where he translated the New Testament into colloquial Southern language. These "Cotton Patch" versions were brought to the attention of Tom Key, an Atlanta actor and playwright, when he was contemplating a play that would transplant the story of Jesus into the mid-20th century American South. Jordan's versions already featured the Southern-ized Christ that Key was thinking of. Jesus Davidson was born in the town of Gainesville, Georgia, and was laid in an apple crate. He was baptized in the Chattahoochee River, he preached to a crowd of thousands on Stone Mountain, and he met his end in Atlanta. Key built upon Jordan's work, making additions and changes such as the decision to have Jesus lynched rather than crucified.

With Jordan's versions as his source material, Key, together with Russell Treyz, wrote the book for the stage play. The music for the production was written and composed by the legendary Harry Chapin, in what would eventually prove to be his final musical work. In all, Chapin produced 26 songs for the show, many of them in a bluegrass style befitting the play's setting.


Harry Chapin

Harry Chapin, composer and lyricist, died in an automobile accident on July 16, 1981. He was deeply committed to his music and to the many humanitarian causes he helped further, notably President Carter's Commission on World Hunger. He devoted fully half of his annual concerts to benefiting others.

Harry Chapin gained national attention with his recording of "Taxi," and continued to appear regularly on the charts with such subsequent hits as "Cat's in the Cradle, "WOLD," "I Wanna Learn a Love Story," and his last album called "Sequel."

Born into a family of musicians, he attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado and Cornell University before starting a career in filmmaking in 1965. He received an Academy Award nomination for his documentary "Legendary Champions," later using the same story-telling skills in his song writing.

In 1975, he wrote and starred on Broadway in his musical "The Night That Made America Famous" which received two Tony nominations. His many other achievements included composing songs for the Peabody Award-winning children's television series "Make a Wish" (hosted by his brother Tom), selling over 60,000 copies of his book of poetry entitled "Looking...Seeing," and recording and releasing eleven albums. He was working on his twelfth album to be titled "The Last Protest Singer" at the time of his death. Cotton Patch Gospel represents his last completed songs.

Tom Key

Tom Key has served since 1995 as The Executive Artistic Director of Theatrical Outfit with the purpose to give dramatic voice to the spiritual themes of the American South. Over two decades, Key has become one of Atlanta's most prominent actors, especially noted for his appearances in Theatrical Outfits Bloodknot, Hard Times, Summer and Smoke and Our Town and The Alliance Theater's Art, Woody Guthrie's American Song and Candide. He has been a solo performer in demand across North America for more than two decades, including appearances of his C.S. Lewis On Stage and The Revelation of John at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lambs Theater off Broadway, The Westwood Playhouse of Los Angeles, The Alliance Theater, Dallas Theater Center, Oxford University, England, Harvard and Yale Universities; as Narrator for Beethoven's Egmont with The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, for Peter and the Wolf at The Atlanta Ballet and as the artist Whistler at The Atlanta High Museum of Art.

He conceived and co-authored the off-Broadway hit, Cotton Patch Gospel with the late singer-songwriter, Harry Chapin. It was published by Dramatic Publishing Company, earned two Dramalogue Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Theater, a nomination for Key as Best Actor by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, and, after two decades, it has received thousands of productions across North America.

His adaptations of Walker Percy's novels: Lost in the Cosmos - The Last Self Help Seminar and The Moviegoer premiered at Theatrical Outfit. He has had featured appearances on numerous television films with Ann Margaret, Karl Malden, Lee Grant and George Segal, the award winning television series In the Heat of the Night and I'll Fly Away and the feature films Gordy and The Adventures of Ociee Nash. He has received critical praise for his performances, direction, or scripts from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Chicago Tribune, The Seattle Times, The Dallas Morning News, and The Boston Herald.

A 1977 honors MA graduate in Theater Arts from The University of Tennessee, Mr. Key served as Artist in Residence and Guest Lecturer from 1991 to 1997 at Emory University and resides in Atlanta with his wife Beverly Key, visual artist and mother to their three children, Simon, Stephen and Charlie.

Russell Treyz

Russell Treyz won a Drama Desk Award for directing his first off-Broadway play, Whitsunitide. Also in New York, Mr. Treyz has directed for American Place Theater, Playwrights Horizons, the New Dramatists, Judson Poet's Theatre, La Mama, etc. His extensive regional credits include the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Godspeed Opera, the Royal Poinciana Playhouse, the North Shore Music Theatre, the Pacific Conservatory, the McCarter Repertory Theatre, and Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Mr. Treyz is a graduate of Princeton University and the Yale School of Drama.

Clarence Jordan

Clarence Jordan (Author of The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John) is famed for having founded Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, a pioneering interracial farming community in the heart of the Deep South. He received his B.S. in agriculture from the University of Georgia , and Th.M. and Ph.D. in New Testament Greek from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Sermon on the Mount and has recordings of his original translations of the scriptures called "The Rich Man and Lazarus" and "The Great Banquet."

Dr. Jordan has written several versions of the Gospel including The Cotton Patch Version of Paul's Epistles, The Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts, The Cotton Patch Version of Hebrews and General Epistles, and The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John, upon which Cotton Patch Gospel is based. The Biblical vitality of these translations makes clear their startling relevance for today. It was said that his books "explode in our ears the mighty ideas which transformed the early disciples and enabled them to turn their world upside down." The messages are taken out of the study and stained-glass sanctuary and placed under the sky where people toil, laugh, cry, and wonder—not only a translation into modern American English but into modern American ideas.

The Cotton Pickers

While not directly involved in the creation of Cotton Patch Gospel, the Cotton Pickers were the original four musicians who were part of the show's initial New York run, and who also appear on the videotaped performance. They are:

Scott Ainslie - fiddle, banjo, dobro, mandolin Pete Corum - bass fiddle Jim Lauderdale - banjo, guitar Michael Mark - guitar, mandolin


Although originally written as a one-man show with musical accompaniment, Cotton Patch Gospel can be made to accommodate any number of actors. Licensing for productions is available exclusively through the Dramatic Publishing Company. Tom Key continues to perform the show every few years, most recently with his own theater company, the Theatrical Outfit in downtown Atlanta. A filmed 1988 production, starring Key, is available through the Koinonia Farm website, in both VHS and DVD formats.

Musical Numbers

Act I

  • Something Brewing in Gainesville
  • Baby Born to God
  • I Did It
  • Mama Is Here/I Did It (Reprise)
  • It Isn't Easy
  • Sho 'Nuff
  • Turn It Around
  • When I Look Up
  • Ain't No Busy Signals
  • Spitball
  • Miracle on Stone Mountain
  • Love the Lord Your God
  • Blind Date
  • Goin' to Atlanta

Act II

  • Are We Ready?
  • You Are Still My Boy
  • We Gotta Get Organized
  • We're Gonna Love It While It Lasts
  • Jubilation
  • Dangerous Man
  • Jud
  • Hey, What's Goin' On?
  • Jud (Reprise)
  • Thank God for Governor Pilate
  • One More Tomorrow
  • I Wonder (with Jubilation reprise)
  • Somethin's Brewin' in Gainesville (Reprise)

External links

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