Down in the river to pray

Music: Trad. arr. Frances Cockburn. Words: Trad. American
performance time approx 2m 45s
Range S1: g' – e'' / S2: c' – c'' / A1: c' – g' / A2: f – e'
Price code: C
Complexity: **

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This song, made famous by the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, has a 19th century African American origin. A very similar song entitled ‘The Good Old Way’ appears in the 1867 collection Slave Songs of the United States, compiled by abolitionists. Numerous variants exist. Frances Cockburn’s engaging arrangement has a harmonious yet slightly rough-edged quality, using deliberate dissonances.

The recording is by the Wild Myrtles, directed by Frances Cockburn. The version recorded differs very slightly from the published edition.


As I went down in the river to pray,
Studying about that good old way,
And who shall wear the starry crown,
      [in alternate verses: robe and crown]
Good Lord, show me the way.

Oh sisters, let’s go down,
Let’s go down, come on down,
Oh sisters, let’s go down,
Down in the river to pray.

As I went down in the river to pray…

Oh brothers….

As I went down in the river to pray…

Oh fathers….

As I went down in the river to pray…

Oh mothers….

As I went down in the river to pray…

Oh sinners….


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