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Origins: Go Down Moses

DigiTrad:
GO DOWN MOSES
GO DOWN MOSES (2)


Related thread:
Film Sullivan's Travels. Go Down Moses (10)


JedMarum 17 Apr 03 - 11:13 AM
JedMarum 17 Apr 03 - 11:24 AM
MMario 17 Apr 03 - 11:33 AM
MMario 17 Apr 03 - 11:36 AM
masato sakurai 17 Apr 03 - 12:17 PM
masato sakurai 17 Apr 03 - 12:31 PM
GUEST,Q 17 Apr 03 - 02:09 PM
GUEST,Guest: Music_educe 17 Apr 03 - 09:19 PM
GUEST,Q 17 Apr 03 - 10:21 PM
masato sakurai 17 Apr 03 - 10:21 PM
toadfrog 18 Apr 03 - 01:19 AM
masato sakurai 18 Apr 03 - 09:48 AM
GUEST,Q 18 Apr 03 - 12:38 PM
GUEST,Q 18 Apr 03 - 12:50 PM
masato sakurai 19 Apr 03 - 06:44 AM
GUEST,Q 19 Apr 03 - 11:35 AM
GUEST,Q 07 Aug 03 - 09:11 PM
JedMarum 17 Feb 11 - 09:43 AM
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Subject: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: JedMarum
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 11:13 AM

Can anyone tell me where this song came from? How long have folks been singing it? Any history you know about it?


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: JedMarum
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 11:24 AM

what I've found on the web is pretty vague; its appears to have originated in the 19th century, probably out of the slave church tradition, no known author, several verses/versions ...


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: MMario
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 11:33 AM

Jed - there is a french site I found claiming a published version in 1873 - and probable history back to 1795. but they don't give any reasoning for that claim.


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: MMario
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 11:36 AM

http://www.ac-nantes.fr/peda/disc/lv/anglais/moses.htm


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: masato sakurai
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 12:17 PM

"This spiritual was first referred to in a letter to the American Missionary Association from the Rev. Mr. Lockwood, dated Sept. 4, 1861" (James J. Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music, 5th ed., 2000, p. 247). The possible first edition with the music and words is at the Levy collection (copyrighted Dec. 5, 1861, according to Fuld):

Title: The Song of the Contrabands. "O Let My People Go."
Composer, Lyricist, Arranger: Words and Music obtained through the Rev. L.C. Lockwood, Chaplain of the "Contrabands" at Fortress Munroe. Arranged by Thomas Baker.
Munroe Thomas Baker Publication: New York: Horace Waters, 481 Broadway, 1861.
Form of Composition: strophic with chorus
Instrumentation: piano and voice
First Line: The Lord by Moses to Pharoah said, to let my people go!
First Line of Chorus: O! go down, Moses, away down to Egypt's land
Performer: This Song has been sung for about nine years by the Slaves of Virginia--L.C.L.
Engraver, Lithographer, Artist: Stackpole Sc
Advertisement: ads on back cover for Horace Waters stock
Subject: Civil War--Union
Subject: Slavery
Subject: Biblical references
Subject: Religion
Call No.: Box: 090 Item: 022

See also "Editor's Table" (Continental Monthly: Devoted to literature and national policy, Volume 2, Issue 1, July 1862, p. 113); and A Reply to the Address of the Women of England, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 11, Issue 63, January 1863, p. 132).

The familar version is in Jubilee Songs, as sung by the Jubilee Singer of Fisk University, copyrighted and published in 1872 (again according to Fuld). It is also contained in J.B.T. Marsh, The Story of the Jubilee Singers; With Their Songs ([1875], 1877, pp. 142-143, with music and 25 stanzas) as "Go Down, Moses" [also in the 1880 revised edition, which was reprinted by AMS, 1971].

~Masato


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: masato sakurai
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 12:31 PM

A later edition:

"Go Down, Moses (Let My People Go!)" arranged by H.T. Burleigh (New York: G. Ricordi, 1917)


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 02:09 PM

Surprised that this on isn't listed in the Spirituals Permathread (38686). There are two fairly modern versions in the DT.
The Cleveland Index lists this spiritual in Burlin, Dann, Dett, Fenner, Fisher (as "Let My People Go"), Frey, Grey, Johnson, Jubilee and Plantation songs, White, and Weir.
The Nineteenth Century is the earliest recorded occurrence. Here is the 1872 version as sung by the Jubilee Singers, Fisk Institute.

Lyr. Add: GO DOWN MOSES
^^
When Israel was in Egypt's land;
Let my people go,
Opressed so hard they could not stand,
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt's land.
Tell old Pharoah, Let my people go.

Thus saith the Lord, bold Moses said,
Let my people go;
If not I'll smite your first-born dead,
Let my people go.

No more shall they in bondage toil,
Let my people go;
Let them come out with Egypt's spoil,
Let my people go.

When Israel out of Egypt came,
Let my people go;
And left the proud opressive land,
Let my people go.

O. 'twas a dark and dismal night,
Let my people go;
When Moses led the Israelites,
Let my people go.

'Twas good old Moses and Aaron too,
Let my people go;
'Twas they that led the armies through,
Let my people go.

The Lord told Moses what to do,
Let my people go;
To lead the children of Israel through,
Let my people go.

O come along Moses, you'll not get lost,
Let my people go;
Stretch out your rod and come across,
Let my people go.

When they reached the other shore,
Let my people go;
They sang a song of triumph o'er,
Let my people go.

Pharoah said he would go across,
Let my people go;
But Pharoh and his host were lost,
Let my people go.

O Moses the cloud shall cleve the way,
Let my people go;
A fire by night, a shade by day,
Let my people go.

You'll not get lost in the wilderness,
Let my people go;
With a lighted candle in your breast,
Let my people go.

Jordan shall stand up like a wall,
Let my people go;
And the walls of Jerico shall fall,
Let my people go.

Your foes shall not before you stand,
Let my people go;
And you'll possess fair Canaan's land,
Let my people go.

'Twas just about in harvest time,
Let my people go;
When Joshus led his host divine,
Let my people go.

O let us all from bondage flee,
Let my people go;
And let us all in Christ be free,
Let my people go.

We need not always weep and moan,
Let my people go;
And wear these slavery chains forlorn,
Let my people go.

This world's a wilderness of woe,
Let my people go;
O, let us on to Canaan go,
Let my people go.

What a beautiful morning that will be,
Let my people go;
When time breaks up in eternity,
Let my people go.

The Devil he thought he had me fast,
Let my people go;
But I thought I'd break his chains at last,
Let my people go.

O take yer shoes off yer feet,
Let my people go;
And walk into the golden street,
Let my people go.

I'll tell you what I likes de best,
Let my people go;
It is the shouting Methodist,
Let my people go.

I do believe without a doubt,
Let my people go;
That a Christian has the right to shout,
Let my people go.

Source: [Seward, T. F., compiler] "Jubilee Songs: As Sung by the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn., under the auspices of the American Missionary Association." New York: Biglow and Main, c. 1872, pp. 22-23. Reproduced in "Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, Black Folk Music to the Civil War," Dena J. Epstein, pp. 372-373 (Song of the Contrabandists also reproduced).


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: GUEST,Guest: Music_educe
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 09:19 PM

I would like to speculate that this song became increasingly
popular as the Underground Railroad became more organized.
Harriet Tubman was often referred to as "Moses" and these
songs were a way of talking about escaping "pharoh" i.e.
the plantation owner.
~Music_Educe


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 10:21 PM

From "Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, Dena J. Epstein, p. 245-246: "The Reverend Lewis Lockwood had heard "Go Down, Moses" at Fortress Monroe on September 3, 1861. By Dec. 2 he had sent an extended text of the song to the secretary of the YMCA in New York, who in turn sent it to the New York Tribune with a letter describing its circumstances. We do not know how much the text was edited in transit but this version appears to have been the first publication of the complete text of a Negro spiritual. The historic document was republished in the National Anti-Slavery Standard under the heading: "The Contrabands' Freedom Hymn" (See notes by Masato in his posting, above).
Mr. Lockwood said he took the words verbatim from the dictation of Carl Hollosay and other contrabands. "It was said to have been sung for at least fifteen or twenty years in Virginia and Maryland, and perhaps in the slave states...."
Lockwood made no attempt to preserve the dialect, "nor did he have a modern editor's respect for the integrity of the text, for he supplied a substantially different version for the sheet music edition."

The last three verses from the 1872 version (reproduced, above) do not appear in the 1861 version published in the National Anti-Slavery Standard 22 (Dec. 21, 1861) nor the version provided to the New York Tribune.
In the chorus, there is a slight difference:
O go down, Moses
Away down to Egypt's land.
And tell King Pharoah
To let my people go.

There are other small differences. In "The Song of the Contrabands" the first verse reads:
The Lord by Moses to Pharoah said:
"O let my people go!
If not I'll smite your first born dead.
Then let my people go."


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: masato sakurai
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 10:21 PM

Sarah H. Bradford's Harriet: The Moses of Her People (Geo. R. Lockwood & Son, 1886) seems to be one of the main sources for the story of Tubman as Moses in this song. The following is from the relevant pages (pp. 37-38).
Up and down the road she passes to see if the coast is clear, and then to make them certain that it is their leader who is coming, she breaks out into the plaintive strains of the song, forbidden to her people at the South, but which she and her followers delight to sing together:


                           Oh go down, Moses,
                           Way down into Egypt's land,
                           Tell old Pharaoh,
                           Let my people go.

                           Oh Pharaoh said he would go cross,
                           Let my people go,
                           And don't get lost in de wilderness,
                           Let my people go.

                           Oh go down, Moses,
                           Way down into Egypt's land,
                           Tell old Pharaoh,
                           Let my people go.

                           You may hinder me here, but you can't up dere,
                           Let my people go,
                           He sits in de Hebben and answers prayer,
                           Let my people go!

                           Oh go down, Moses,
                           Way down into Egypt's land,
                           Tell old Pharaoh,
                           Let my people go.

       And then she enters the recesses of the wood, carrying hope and comfort to the anxious watchers there. One by one they steal out from their hiding places, and are fed and strengthened for another night's journey.
~Masato


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: toadfrog
Date: 18 Apr 03 - 01:19 AM

Masato: Thanks! What a helpful response!


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: masato sakurai
Date: 18 Apr 03 - 09:48 AM

There's no mention of Tubman in Natalie Curtis-Burlin, Negro Folk-Songs: The Hampton Series Books I-IV, Complete ([1918-19]; Dover, 2001, pp. 13-21); Roland Hayes, My Favorite Spirituals ([1948]; Dover, 2001, pp. 22-23); Hampton Institute, Religious Folk Songs of the Negro, new ed. ([1920]; AMS, 1973, p. 153); John W. Work, American Negro Songs ([1940]; Dover, 1998, p. 165).


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 18 Apr 03 - 12:38 PM

The University of North Carolina electronic texts are amazing in their volume and diversity. The large collection listed here covers first-person narratives of slaves and whites of the Civil War period. It would take days to read them all.
And this is just a small part of the material being put on the internet in the "docsouth" (Documenting the American South) websites.
First Person Narratives

The Bradford volume on Tubman (link by Masato, above) has a couple of spiritual songs not listed in the Cleveland Index nor in the Spirituals Permathread.


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 18 Apr 03 - 12:50 PM

A complete list of "docsouth" titles on the internet: Docsouth titles
List is by titles, not author (i. e., the Bradford book linked by Masato is under H for Harriet).


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: masato sakurai
Date: 19 Apr 03 - 06:44 AM

Sarah H. Bradford had written another book on Tubman, which is also in the Ducumenting the South collection: Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman (Auburn, N. Y.: W. J. Moses, Printer, 1869). The quotation below is from pp. 26-27. The song might not be "Go Down Moses"; The "Moses" in this song, I'm sure, is not Harriet.
         I give these words [of "Hail, oh hail ye happy spirits"] exactly as Harriet sang them to me to a sweet and simple Methodist air. "De first time I go by singing dis hymn, dey don't come out to me," she said, "till I listen if de coast is clar; den when I go back and sing it again, dey come out. But if I sing:

                         Moses go down in Egypt,
                         Till ole Pharo' let me go;
                         Hadn't been for Adam's fall,
                         Shouldn't hab to died at all,

den dey don't come out, for dere's danger in de way."
         And so by night travel, by hiding, by signals, by threatening, she brought the people safely to the land of liberty. But after the passage of the Fugitive Slave law, she said, "I wouldn't trust Uncle Sam wid my people no longer; I brought 'em all clar off to Canada."
I'd like to know since when the Moses of the spiritual as Tubman has been advocated. Irwin Silber wrote in 1960 in his Songs of the Civil War (1960, 1988; Dover, 1995, p. 270; underline mine):
[O]f all the mighty leaders of the Old Testament, none held greater attraction or appeal than Moses who went "way down in Egypt land" to "tell old Pharoah, Let my people go."
   According to legend, partially confirmed by the reminiscences of former slaves, the great Negro woman Abolitionist leader and ex-slave, Harriet Tubman, was the Moses of the song. As a tireless Underground Railroad conductor, Harriet Tubman made scores of journeys into "Egypt's land," returning to the North after each trip with a band of runaway slaves, and amassing a record of never having lost a soul.
Harold Courlander (in Negro Folk Music, U.S.A., Columbia University Press, 1963, p. 43) has a different opinion:
It may well have been, as legend has it, that to some slaves Harriet Tubman was Moses. Yet in the semi-isolation in which many slaves found themselves, Harriet Tubman probably was not a household word, and "Go Down Moses" must have been sung by some slaves in the belief that Moses meant simply Moses. A large number of spirituals and anthems were so worded that they could have a disguised meaning; but it is not safe to assume (or even take the word of persons who were born in slavery) that they were created as anything else but religious songs.
~Masato


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 19 Apr 03 - 11:35 AM

Myth-making seems to be an important part of the folk process. I can see how someone might draw a parallel between Tubman, and her escorting of slaves to freedom, and the biblical Moses, but "Go Down Moses," the song obtained from the Contrabandists, is certainly just a religious song.
Several songs have been suggested as having significance to escaping slaves. A few, such as the one quoted from Bradford, could have been used as pre-arranged messages in the area covered by Tubman, but for others often cited as directional songs, e. g. "The Drinking Gourd," there is little evidence of such a meaning. The inferences were drawn many years after slavery by the myth-makers.


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 07 Aug 03 - 09:11 PM

From the 1872 version posted above, verse 9 is missing.

As Israel stood by the water side,
O let my people go,
At the command of God it did divide,
O let my people go.

This verse also is in the 1961 version published in the NY Tribune and also The national Anti-Slavery Standard, 22, Dec. 21, 1861, p. 4.

The simpler version given by Sarah Bradford in the post by Masato, above, is probably closer to what was sung by the blacks of the time; the longer, more formalized versions could have been expanded by abolitionists.


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Subject: RE: Origins: GO DOWN MOSES
From: JedMarum
Date: 17 Feb 11 - 09:43 AM

A live, simple rendering of this beautiful old song here.


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