Down in the Valley (folk song)

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"Birmingham Jail" redirects here. For the open letter written by Martin Luther King, Jr., see Letter from Birmingham Jail.
"Down in the Valley"
("Birmingham Jail")
Form Ballad
Writer Traditional
Language English

"Down in the Valley", also known as "Birmingham Jail", is a traditional American folk song.[1] It has been recorded by many artists, and is included in the Songs of Expanding America recordings in the Burl Ives six-album set Historical America in Song.


Down in the valley, the valley so low
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow
Hear the wind blow, dear, hear the wind blow;
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow.
Roses love sunshine, violets love dew,
Angels in Heaven know I love you,
Know I love you, dear, know I love you,
Angels in Heaven know I love you.
If you don't love me, love whom you please,
Throw your arms round me, give my heart ease,
Give my heart ease, dear, give my heart ease,
Throw your arms round me, give my heart ease
Build me a castle, forty feet high;
So I can see her as she rides by,
As she rides by, dear, as she rides by,
So I can see her as she rides by.
Write me a letter, send it by mail;
Send it in care of the Birmingham jail,
Birmingham jail, dear, Birmingham jail,
Send it in care of the Birmingham jail.

It is a ballad played in the 3/4 time signature. Lyrics vary, as with most folk songs. For example, sometimes the line "Hang your head over, hear the wind blow" is replaced by "Late in the evening, hear the train blow".[2] In 1927, Darby and Tarlton sang "down in the levee" in place of "down in the valley"; the version sung by Lead Belly in 1934 substitutes "Shreveport jail" for "Birmingham jail".[3]

Selected recordings[edit]

In other media[edit]

The song is the basis of the 1945 Kurt Weill and Arnold Sundgaard opera Down in the Valley.

The last verse of the song is sung briefly by Tennessee Ernie Ford on the Season 4 (1955) episode of I Love Lucy entitled "Tennessee Bound".

Over the years the song has been heard on film. In the original Friday the 13th (1980), a group of camp councilors sing the song while the killer stalks. This song is mimed by Erland Van Lidth De Jeude in the 1980 comedy movie Stir Crazy starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in which their characters are sent to prison after being wrongfully convicted of a bank robbery. The 1982 film Safari 3000 features a scene where Eddie Miles (David Carradine) and J.J. Dalton (Stockard Channing) sing a verse of the song.

The song has also been used on a number of television shows. On the The Andy Griffith Show episode "Andy and Opie – Bachelors", the song was performed by Andy Griffith and actress Joanna Moore.[6] In the episode "The Brady Braves" of The Brady Bunch, the family sang the song around a campfire. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Dark Page", an illusion of Deanna Troi's father sings the song in the form of a lullaby.[7]

The author/songwriter David M. Pierce used selected lyrics from the song as titles for a series of detective novels written between 1989 and 1996: Down In The Valley, Hear The Wind Blow, Dear, Roses Love Sunshine, Angels In Heaven, Write Me A Letter and As She Rides By. The first four verses are featured in Catherine Marshall's novel, Christy, before the prologue.


  1. ^ Ken Tate; Janice Tate (2004). Favorite Songs of the Good Old Days. DRG Wholesale. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-59217-034-0. 
  2. ^ Henry M. Belden; Arthur P. Hudson, eds. (1952). Folk Songs from North Carolina. The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore 3. Duke University Press. 
  3. ^ a b "The Shreveport Jail/Leadbelly". Traditional Music and Spoken Word Catalog. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  4. ^ Charles K. Wolfe (2002). Classic Country: Legends of Country Music. Routledge. p. 90. ISBN 978-1-135-95734-6. 
  5. ^ Joel Whitburn (2008). Joel Whitburn Presents Across the Charts: The 1960s. Record Research. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-89820-175-8. 
  6. ^ Dale Robinson; David Fernandes (2004). The Definitive Andy Griffith Show Reference. McFarland. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-1-4766-0187-8. 
  7. ^ Larry Nemecek (2003). The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (Revised ed.). Simon and Schuster. p. 270. ISBN 978-0-7434-7657-7. 

Further reading[edit]

  • G.L. Kittredge (July–September 1917). "Ballads and Songs". The Journal of American Forlk-Lore XXX (117): 283–369. JSTOR 534379. 

External links[edit]