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Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow

15 Oct 02 - 12:33 PM (#803648)
Subject: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: GUEST,ParaHandy

I have read all of the stuff I could find about this without getting to the true origins of either the words or the tune? Can anyone help? I am also looking for any well known bluegrass / North American songs that use Scottish or Irish tunes. Any help there also appreciated.


15 Oct 02 - 12:44 PM (#803654)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: 53

I love the song but I don't know how it came about.

15 Oct 02 - 12:55 PM (#803666)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: Nathan in Texas

One source lists it as: First published in 1913 by the blind Richard Burnett.

Yazoo collection: Man of Constant Sorrow and Other Timeless Mountain Ballads (Yazoo 3001) has a recording "from the 20s and 30s" by Emry Arthur.

15 Oct 02 - 01:02 PM (#803673)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow

Saw that one, thanks Nathan. However, it also says that it was a "ballet" that Burnett transcribed. I am probably more interested in the origins of the tune though.

15 Oct 02 - 01:04 PM (#803674)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow

Richard Burnett's Man of Constant Sorrow, 1913, is in Richie's post to thread 35233 (East Virginia thread): East VA
Also see Farewell

Much information in Mudcat. Try- i am a man, constant, sorrow, farewell, etc., in both filter (for about 180 days) and in Supersearch.
Also see thread 25469 O Brother where Stewie discusses the Farewell Song (Man of constant...). Whether the traditional tune in the song is English, Irish, Scots or North American is, I believe, open to question.

15 Oct 02 - 01:08 PM (#803679)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: masato sakurai

I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow -- Emry Arthur [Realaudio] (Vocalion 5280; Date Issued: October 1928) from Honkingduck.


15 Oct 02 - 01:58 PM (#803721)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow

Here's a few off the top of my head. Some may not appear to be bluegrass songs but you'd be surprised. Some are fiddle tunes.

Girl I Left Behind Me
Froggie Went A-Courting
Handsome Molly
Garry Owen
Danny Boy (covered by Bill Monroe)
Hop High Ladies
Irish Washerwoman
Acres of Clams
Dear Companion
Blackberry Blossom

We went over the Drowsey Sleeper songs in the East Virginia thread- songs from that are: Silver Dagger/Katie Dear, Greenback dollar, Man of Constant Sorrow, Dark Hollow, Awake Awake/Arise Arise, In Old Virginny, and Dear Companion/Lover's Farewell songs.


15 Oct 02 - 02:25 PM (#803740)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: 53

song is played in F

15 Oct 02 - 04:30 PM (#803823)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow

Thanks for all this. Richie, does that mean that the tune for Man of Constant Sorrow is Drwosy Sleeper?

15 Oct 02 - 06:30 PM (#803896)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: Joe Offer

I guess it might be a good idea to post the Traditional Ballad Index entries for "Man of Constant Sorrow" and "Girl of Constant Sorrow."
-Joe Offer-

Man of Constant Sorrow

DESCRIPTION: "I am a man of constant sorrow, I have been troubled all my days, I'll bid farewell to old Kentucky, The place where I was born and raised." Singer describes his hard, rambling life, and bids farewell to his lover, country, and friends.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1913 (Richard Burnett's songbook)
KEYWORDS: loneliness farewell rambling train lament lyric hobo
REFERENCES (6 citations):
SharpAp 167, "In Old Virginny" (4 texts, 4 tunes, with the "C" text being this song; "A" and "B" are "East Virginia (Dark Hollow)" and D is a collection of floaters)
Shellans, pp. 26-27, "Constant Sorrow" (1 text, 1 tune, beginning with "Man of Constant Sorrow" but with most of "Fair and Tender Ladies" grafted on at the end)
Cohen/Seeger/Wood, p. 113, "Man of Constant Sorrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, p. 260, "Man of Constant Sorrow" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 57, "Man of Constant Sorrow" (1 text)

Roud #499
Emry Arthur, "Man of Constant Sorrow" (Paramount 3289, 1931; on ConstSor1); "I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow" (Vocalion 5208, 1928)
Roscoe Holcomb, "Man of Constant Sorrow" (on Holcomb-Ward1)
Frank Proffitt, "Man of Constant Sorrow" (on FProffitt01)
The Stanley Brothers, "I'm A Man of Constant Sorrow" (Columbia 20816, 1951)

cf. "Girl of Constant Sorrow" (structure, tune)
Girl of Constant Sorrow (File: FSWB128B)
I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow
Farewell Song
NOTES: The words of this song have the curious characteristic of sounding like floating verses, even though they are not. - PJS
Although Emry Arthur claims to have composed this piece, a significantly different version was found in the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1957. One suspects that, when Arthur claimed authorship, he meant (as many other old-time singers meant) that he put it in shape for collection.
In later years, Richard Burnett was asked about the song. He himself could not remember, at that time, if he had composed it, or copied it, or -- perhaps most likely -- adapted it from something traditional. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.6
File: CSW113

Girl of Constant Sorrow

DESCRIPTION: Singer tells of leaving her mother (now dead) and her home in Kentucky so that her children could be fed. She then describes the coal miners' poor food, homes and clothing; she is sure "if there's a heaven/That the miners will be there"
AUTHOR: Words: Sara Ogan Gunning / tune "Man of Constant Sorrow" (Emry Arthur?)
EARLIEST DATE: before 1950 (recording by author)
KEYWORDS: separation mining hardtimes poverty family worker derivative
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Greenway-AFP, pp. 1168-169, "I Am a Girl of Constant Sorrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 128, "Girl of Constant Sorrow" (1 text)

Roud #499
cf. "Man of Constant Sorrow" (structure, tune)
NOTES: Although the source lists a copyright date of 1965, I'm certain [this] was recorded on a Library of Congress field recording in the 1930s or 1940s. - PJS
File: FSWB128B

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.

16 Oct 02 - 01:05 AM (#804130)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: Coyote Breath

ParaHandy; I am not certain of this but I remember reading (I think in the NLCR Song book) that the tune is a Myxolidian structure, in F. Also that it was recorded at the old Wisconsin Chair Company factory in Port Washington, Wisconsin. I also read "somewhere" that it was one of the many hundreds of recordings which were "found" at the factory about the time the building was sold and contents auctioned off. There was an allusion to the line "for six long years I've been in trouble" as really being "for six long years I've been in prison". But I believe that might have been speculation. I can't recall whether I read all this or it is remembered from a conversation at Paul Prestopino's house in Madison, Wisconsin, while we were listening to some tapes Mike Seeger had sent to Paul (or Marshal Brickman). The songs were recorded from old 78's and other sources that Mike Seeger had gathered. I know that the original recording of "Man of Constant Sorrow" was one of the songs. If it is possible you might try to contact Mike Seeger as to the tunes origin. It IS an odd structure.

I'm sorry to be so vague about origins and sources but that was about 40 years ago or more.


16 Oct 02 - 08:08 AM (#804283)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: GUEST,Richie


I consider the "Drowsey Sleeper/Silver Dagger/Katie Dear" branch to be different than "The Man of Constant Sorrow" but both are related through "In Old Virginny" (East Virginia). Drowsey Sleeper has a different melody.

I play the "O Brother Version" in F (chords are D G A with a capo on III)


17 Oct 02 - 02:11 AM (#805113)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: Coyote Breath

I used to play the song in F but age has changed my voice. I was never comfortable with the phrasing of the words until O Brother. I always found it a difficult song to sing CONVINCINGLY! I had heard it that once as I mentioned and relied on the New Lost City Rambler's Songbook for "my" version.


01 Feb 09 - 02:46 PM (#2554650)
Subject: Lyr. Add: Farewell to the Home of My Childhood
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Stewie's post of "Farewell Song," Richard Burnett, should be transferred here, since it is the earliest, and probably the source. (Message ID=380013, mention in thread 34638).

Reminiscent of, but perhaps unrelated, to Burnett's song is:

Author not cited, 19th c. songsheets.

Farewell to the home of my childhood,
Farewell to my cottage and vine,
I go to the land of the stranger,
Where pleasure alone will be mine.
When life's fleeting journey is o'er
And earth again mingles with earth,
I can rest in the land of the stranger,
As well as in that of my birth.
Yes, these were my feelings when parting,
But absence soon alter'd their tone,
The cold hands of sickness came o'er me,
And I wept o'er my sorrow alone.
No friend came near to cheer me,
No parent to soften my grief.
No brother, nor sister were near me,
And strangers could give no relief.
It's true that it matters but little,
Tho' living, the thought makes me pine,
What e'er befalls the poor relic
When the spirit has flown from its shrine.
But oh! when life's journey is o'er,
And earth again mingles with earth,
Lamented or not, still my wish is,
To rest in the land of my birth.

Johnson, Philadelphia. No author cited, no date.
Thomas G, Doyle, Baltimore. No author cited, no date.
America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets; American Memory.

"In the land of the stranger" is also reminiscent of Davy Crockett's "Farewell (to the mountains)."

18 Jun 10 - 05:50 PM (#2930781)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: GUEST,Matt Coleman

Sorry about that. Here is a summation of the song's origins

19 Jun 10 - 11:54 AM (#2931084)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: Tannywheeler

It's not a "song", but a tune. I always think that parts, at least, of "Soldier's Joy" sound like lines from Irish tunes. Tw

28 Dec 11 - 12:03 PM (#3281054)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: Richie


I recorded a few songs playing Nathan Hicks' dulcimer made in early 1930s. Hicks was Frank Proffitt's father-in-law. Performers: Richard Matteson -dulcimer, with Kara Pleasants- vocal, and Zach Matteson- fiddle, in December 2011. Listen: [Girl of Constant Sorrow] Recorded by Bob Hitchcock.

Just click on link to listen: Girl of Constant Sorrow:


28 Dec 11 - 02:26 PM (#3281133)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: GUEST,leeneia

Thanks for the links, matt and Richie.

The tunes in your versions are completely different from the version I know. Interesting!

06 Jun 12 - 08:00 PM (#3360258)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: Musician.Shane

Does anybody know the chords or know of a recording of the version by Richard Burnett? I have found a YouTube video of Emry Arthur in 1928, and he does it in G/D/C/D/G, a slow style. How did Richard play it? Slow? Fast? Anybody know what key? Chords? Thanks, I am stumped.

10 Feb 13 - 11:32 AM (#3477903)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: Airymouse

Oops, I'm getting old. I learned the song in 1962 or 1963, but I got the location and the singer right.

22 Apr 13 - 05:00 PM (#3507260)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: GUEST,The White Hat

William Walker arranged the tune "Tender-Hearted Christian" in The Southern & Western Pocket Harmonist in 1845, "intended as an appendix to the Southern Harmony." The song can be found on page 78 (

He uses the lyrics:

    Come all ye tender-hearted Christians,
    Come join with me to weep and mourn,
    To see the man of constant sorrows,
    Abused, forsaken, and forlorn;

    The foxes they have holes prepared,
    And birds of air have pleasant nests;
    But Christ, the Son of man, worse far-ed
    He had nowhere to go to rest.

And six other verses, all of which can be found in the image linked above. The original words come from Stith Mead's 1807 A General Selection, which is sadly not available online. I was able to track down a copy on an institutional library server, and I'll post the full lyrics below.

The tune is also included in the newly-published Shenandoah Harmony on page 270. Here's a recording of it, track 13 on the following page: ( As you can hear, the tune is very different from the secular versions, and as you'll read, the 1807 text goes in a completely different direction as well. All the same,

Lyrics from Mead's A General Selection, 1806-7. Trigger warning: pretty damn macabre. Other trigger warning: lots of Fs where there fhould be Fs.

p. 85, HYMN LIV. CHrist Suffering. Trigger

Come all you tender hearted Chriftians
O come and help me for to mourn
To fee the fon of God a bleeding,
And his precious body torn:
To fee him in the garden lying,
And his body bowed down;
To fee the bloody fweat a running,
In drops a falling to the ground.

He was a man of conftant forrow,
He went a mourner all his days,
And with grief, was well acquainted,
He never went in finful ways.
The foxes they have holes provided,
And the fowls of th' air have nefts,
But the fon of God had no where,
For to lay his head to rest.

Behold the foldiers when they took him,
and led him unto Pilate's bar,
Come all you broken hearted mourners,
O come and view your Savior here;
Behold him when he was condemned,
A wearing of his thorny crown,
And his tender temples pierced,
Until the blood came trickling down.

See the foldiers, now they take him,
And nail him to the rugged tree,
With their knotted whips they fcourge him,
Until the bones by-ftanders fee.
He gave his back up to the fmiters,
Who made long furrows in the fame,
And his vifage was more marred,
Than any of the fons of men.

He did not hide his face from fpitting,
Nor his cheeks from cruel hands,
You berfecuting finners view him,
For you he fpreads his bleeding hands,
O Who is that that comes from BOZRAM,
With his garments dyed red,
And his vefture with crimfon ftained,
Like one who in the wine prefs tread?

Behold him on the crofs a bleeding,
And his foul in agony,
The glittering fur, withdraws his fhining,
And this was done for finful me.
Huge maffy rocks were burft afunder,
When the lamb gave up the ghoft,
The pond'rous earth did quake and tremble,
And many of the dead came forth.

They laid him in a new fepulchre,
Where never man was laid before;
He burft the bands of death afunder,
And brought falvation to the poor:
Behold him pleading for poor finners,
At his heavenly father's fide,
And when juftice cries againft him,
Says, father fpare them I have died.

And folks complain about violent video games.

22 Apr 13 - 11:13 PM (#3507443)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: Richie

Gr8 post,

It scans well to "Man of Constant Sorrow" and clearly could be an earlier source,


23 Apr 13 - 10:58 AM (#3507724)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: GUEST,leeneia

Years ago I learned 'Man of Constant Sorrow' from the Judy Collins songbook. After trying out 'Girl of Constant Sorrow' (mildly insulting) and 'Maid of Constant Sorrow' (twee, I ran the song through my folk processor and it came out thus:

I've lived a life of constant sorrow...

Feel free to use it if you like it.

14 Nov 15 - 10:49 AM (#3750854)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: davidkiddnet

video Mike Seeger solo on autoharp. With the New Lost City Ramblers on a Pete Seeger TV show
You tube dIuoJTuhkxA
His melody is most similar to CONSTSOR (Baez)
But Mike has an additional verse:
"You may bury me in some deep valley
For many years where I may lay
Then you may learn to love another
While I am sleeping in my grave"

14 Nov 15 - 02:21 PM (#3750903)
Subject: RE: Origins: Man of Constant Sorrow
From: Western Trails

Thought I should add that Emry Arthur also sang that verse, or a similar one, in his recording.