"Kumbaya" or "Kumbayah" (Gullah, "Come By Here" — "Kum ba yah") — is a spiritual song from the 1930s. It became a standard campfire song in Scouting and summer camps, and enjoyed broader popularity during the folk revival of the 1960s.
The song was originally associated with human and spiritual unity, closeness and compassion, and it still is, but more recently it is also cited or alluded to in satirical or cynical ways which suggest false moralizing, hypocrisy, or naively optimistic views of the world and human nature.
The origins of the song are disputed. Research in Kodaly Envoy by Lum Chee-Hoo has found that some time between 1922 and 1931, members of an organization called the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals collected a song from the South Carolina coast. "Come By Heah", as they called it, was sung in Gullah, the creole language spoken by the former slaves living on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. Between 1926 and 1928, four more versions of traditional spirituals with the refrain "Come by Here" or "Come by Heah" were recorded in South Carolina and Georgia on wax cylinder by Robert Winslow Gordon, founder of what became the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. In May 1936, John Lomax, Gordon's successor as head of the Library of Congress's folk archive, discovered a woman named Ethel Best singing "Come by Here" with a group in Raiford, Florida.
These facts contradict the longstanding copyright and authorship claim of Reverend Marvin V. Frey. Rev. Frey (1918–1992) claimed to have written the song circa 1936 under the title "Come By Here," inspired, he claimed, by a prayer he heard delivered by "Mother Duffin," a storefront evangelist in Portland, Oregon. It first appeared in this version in Revival Choruses of Marvin V. Frey, a lyric sheet printed in Portland, Oregon in 1939. Frey claimed the change of the title to "Kum Ba Yah" came about in 1946, when a missionary family returned from Africa where they had sung Frey's version and slightly changed the words. This family toured America singing the song with the text "Kum Ba Yah". This account is contradicted by the fact that a nearly identical Gullah version of the song was recorded almost two decades earlier. According to Samuel Freedman (The New York Times, November 20, 2010), the metamorphosis to the "African" word Kumbaya was explained in liner notes to a 1959 Pete Seeger album, but "no scholar has ever found an indigenous word 'kumbaya' with a relevant meaning.". Freedman goes on to discuss the usage of kumbaya as a term of political rhetoric.
Folk music revival
Joe Hickerson, one of the Folksmiths, recorded the song in 1957, as did Pete Seeger in 1958. Hickerson credits Tony Saletan, then a songleader at the Shaker Village Work Camp, for introducing him to "Kumbaya" (Saletan had learned it from Lynn Rohrbough, co-proprietor with his wife Katherine of the camp songbook publisher Cooperative Recreation Service, predecessor to World Around Songs). Joe Hickerson later succeeded Gordon at the American Folklife Center. The song enjoyed newfound popularity during the American folk music revival of the early to mid-1960s, largely due to Joan Baez's 1962 recording of the song, and became associated with the Civil Rights Movement of that decade.
Recently "Kumbaya" has been used to refer to artificially covering up deep seated disagreements. To say "It's all Kumbaya" means "It's fake unanimity."
|Version No. 1||Version No. 2|
Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's laughing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Hear me crying and laughing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's crying, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Hear me singing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's praying, Lord, kum bay ya;
Hear me praying, Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's singing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Oh, I need you, my Lord, kum bay ya;
|"Kum Bah Yah"|
|Song by The Folksmiths including Joe Hickerson from the album We've Got Some Singing To Do|
|Label||Folkways Records F-2407|
|We've Got Some Singing To Do track listing|
The Folksmiths including Joe Hickerson recorded the first LP version of the song in August 1957. As this group traveled from summer camp to summer camp teaching folk songs, they may be the origin of Kumbaya around the campfire.
The Journeymen had a minor hit in Vancouver in February, 1962 
Joan Baez's 1962 In Concert, Volume 1 included her version of the song. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach also sang "Kum Bah Yah" in a 1962 concert, a recording of which was subsequently released in 1963 on the album Shlomo Carlebach Sings.
The Seekers recorded it in 1963 for their first album, "Introducing the Seekers". They later re-recorded for their third album, "Hide & Seekers" (also known as "The Four & Only Seekers"); it was re-released on their 1989 album "The Very Best of the Seekers".
Ballad singer Tommy Leonetti gave the song chart status in 1969. His single reached #54 pop, #4 easy listening, released on Decca 32421. The song charted three years later for the Hillside Singers, reaching #117 in the Record World charts.
In 1984, the proto-punk band, Guadalcanal Diary, recorded a version on their album Watusi Rodeo.
Peter, Paul & Mary recorded Kumbaya on their 1998 Around the Campfire album.
German band Guano Apes and German comedian Michael Mittermeier recorded a rap metal cover of "Kum Bah Yah" called "Kumba Yo!" and made a music video ("Kumba yo!" on YouTube). The "Kumba yo!" single was released in 2001.
In 2013, Christian folk-rock band Rend Collective Experiment recorded a version as the opening track on their third album.
The melody of kumbaya has at times been borrowed for alternate versions that remove the spiritual emphasis.
- In Peppa Pig, a British children's animated television series, 'International day' episode 8 of series 4, the lyrics "Peace and Harmony in all the world; Peace and Harmony in all the world; Peace and Harmony in all the world; Peace and harmony" are used.
References in politics
- After a private farewell dinner on December 5, 2006 at the White House for outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (Secretary-General 1996 to 2006), soon-to-resign U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton joked that "nobody sang 'Kumbaya.'" When told of Bolton's comment, Annan laughed and asked: "Does he know how to sing it?"
- In November 2007, Sol Trujillo, the Chief Executive of the Australian telecommunications company Telstra, mocked the proposed $4.7 billion taxpayer-funded, public-private partnership for a new national broadband network. He labeled it as some sort of "kumbaya, holding hands" theory.
- Woodstock music festival in Water Mill, New York Banker-turned-singer, peace activist, and television celebrity, "Sir-Ivan" performed his new hit dance single "Kumbaya" in front of 800 guests and friends who attended Castlestock 2009 to raise money for The Peaceman Foundation. Sir-Ivan founded The Peaceman Foundation to combat hate crimes and to assist sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD,
- In September 2010, Christopher Pyne, the opposition's manager of business in the Australian House of Representatives said "This will not be a Parliament where all of its history is turned on its head and we all sit around smoking a peace pipe singing Kumbayah."
- Jeffery, Weiss (November 12, 2006). "'Kumbaya': How did a sweet simple song become a mocking metaphor?". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
- "Mama Lisa'a World-Kumbaya". Retrieved November 1, 2008.
- [Samuel G.] (November 19, 2010). "A Long Road From 'Come by Here' to 'Kumbaya'". New York Times. Retrieved November 20, 2010.
- Stern, Gary (June 27, 2009). ""Kumbaya, My Lord:" Why we sing it; why we hate it.". The Journal News. Retrieved February 1, 2010.
- Weiss, Jeffrey (November 12, 2006). "How did 'Kumbaya' become a mocking metaphor?". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
- Stern, Gary (June 27, 2009). "'Kumbaya, My Lord:' Why we sing it; why we hate it". The Journal News (White Plains, NY). OCLC 40979145. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
- Amy, Ernest F. (1957). Cooperative Recreation Service: A unique project. Midwest Folklore 7 (4, Winter): 202–6. ISSN 0737-7037. OCLC 51288821.
- World Around Songs: Our History 
- Zorn, Eric (August 31, 2006). "Someone's dissin', Lord, kumbaya". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 11, 2008.
- Feb 10, 1962 CKWX RADIO Official Survey
- Goldenberg, Suzanne (December 12, 2006). "Annan bows out of UN with attack on Bush". December 12, 2006 : The Guardian (London). Retrieved December 12, 2006.
- "Telstra rejects Labor net plan". Australian IT. December 6, 2007.
- "Insults start to fly from furious Coalition". SMH. September 8, 2010.
- The history and meaning of Kumbaya, the tune and French Translation
- Origins: Kumbaya
- What does 'Kumbaya' in the song 'Kumbaya, My Lord' Mean?
- What does 'Kumbaya' Mean? at Straight Dope
- Michael E. Ross: Oh, Lord, Kumbaya. How an innocent campfire song got warped by the cynicism of our times The Root, October 2008
- Kumbaya: arrangement for choir, full score
- Listen to its Short version
- Full version, with chords and mp3
- Sir-Ivan hit dance single "Kumbaya"
- Library Of Congress research on the origins of Kumbaya