"Oh Shenandoah" (also called simply "Shenandoah", or "Across the Wide Missouri") is a traditional American folk song of uncertain origin, dating at least to the early 19th century. The song is number 324 in the Roud Folk Song Index, but is not listed amongst the Child Ballads.
Until the nineteenth century only adventurers who sought their fortunes as trappers and traders of beaver fur ventured as far west as the Missouri River. Most of these men were loners who became friendly with, and sometimes married, Native Americans.
Shenandoah is said to have originated with French voyageurs traveling down the Missouri River. The lyrics tell the story of a trader who fell in love with the daughter of an Algonquian chief, Shenandoah. American sailors heading down the Mississippi River picked up the song and made it a capstan shanty that they sang while hauling in the anchor.
Shenandoah was printed as part of Capt. Robert Chamblet Adams' article "Sailors' Songs", in the April 1876 issue of The New Dominion Monthly. He also included it in his 1879 book On Board the "Rocket". It was later printed as part of William L. Alden's article "Sailor Songs", in the July 1882 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine.
Ike Skelton, the U.S. congressman for Missouri, noted in 2005 that local artist George Caleb Bingham immortalized the jolly flatboatmen who plied the Missouri River in the early 19th century; these same flatboatmen were known for their shanties, including the lovely "Oh Shenandoah". This boatmen's song found its way down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to the American clipper ships, and thus around the world.
Sea Songs and Shanties, Collected by W.B. Whall, Master Mariner (First edition in Nov 1910), states that the song probably originated from American or Canadian "voyageurs", who were great singers. Thomas Moore drew inspiration from them in his Canadian Boat Song. The author further goes on and states that he heard it sung over fifty years prior to publishing the book, which place its origin at least a fair bit earlier than 1860. Besides sung at sea, this song figured in old public school collections. (info taken from page one in the sixth edition of the book)
Set in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Washington & Lee University chorus singers and bands play this song in homage to their alma mater. The University names the "Washington and Lee Swing" as their fight song, but the student body, who lived in the Blue Ridge for at least four years, considers this one of their most nostalgic songs.
The Virginia Military Institute Regimental Band and Glee Club frequently perform this song, as it is widely considered that school's theme song. In this interpretation, Shenandoah refers to the home of the Virginia Military Institute and expresses the longing that a cadet experiences once he is reminded of the valley's beauty by his travels across the 'wide Missouri'.
Shenandoah is the official school song of Shenandoah University in Winchester VA, located at the north end of the valley.
It is played during the final credits of the movie Nixon, performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Oh Shenandoah appeared on the American version of House of Cards in Season 1, Episode 8, where the protagonist returns to his military alma mater in South Carolina.
In The Newsroom Season 3, episode 5 (entitled Oh Shenandoah), the song is heard playing in the background in a college dorm room, and later is featured prominently in the soundtrack after a main character suffers a heart attack. The version used was performed by Sissel. She is available on iTunes.
The origin of the song is unclear, and there are many sets of lyrics.
Some lyrics may tell the story of a roving trader in love with the daughter of an Indian chief; in this interpretation, the rover tells the chief of his intent to take the girl with him far to the west, across the Missouri River. Other interpretations tell of a pioneer's nostalgia for the Shenandoah River Valley in Virginia, or of a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War, dreaming of his country home in Virginia.
The Shenandoah area made many parts, like wheels and seats, for wagons going west. These parts were assembled in Conestoga Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and settlers set out in Conestoga wagons down the Ohio River, on the Mississippi and west up the Missouri River. Lyrics were undoubtedly added by rivermen, settlers, and the millions who went west.
The lyrics as given in Sea Songs and Shanties, collected by W.B. Whall, Master Mariner (1910) is as follows:
A Mr. J.E. Laidlaw of San Francisco reported hearing a version sung by a black Barbadian sailor aboard the Glasgow ship Harland in 1894, which went:
Alfred Mason Williams' 1895 Studies in Folk-song and Popular Poetry called it a "good specimen of a bowline chant". In his 1931 book on sea and river chanteys entitled Capstan Bars, David Bone wrote that "Oh Shenandoah" originated as a river chanty or shanty and then became popular with seagoing crews in the early 19th century.
Lyrics to Oh Shenandoah by Tennessee Ernie Ford
Interim state song of Virginia
For a time in early 2006, it appeared that "Shenandoah" would become the "interim state song" for Virginia. While the authorizing legislation passed the Senate of Virginia, the measure died in committee on the Virginia House of Delegates side. It was a problematic choice because the song never specifically mentions Virginia and, in many versions of the song, the name "Shenandoah" refers to an Indian chief, not the Shenandoah Valley or Shenandoah River. However, an early rendition of the song, as related in 1931 by David Bone in Capstan Bars, includes verses that appear to allude to the Shenandoah River, which is almost wholly located in Virginia:
It is possible that, as the song's popularity spread, flatboatmen of the Missouri might have evolved different lyrics than the bargemen of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal along the Potomac or sailors of the American clipper fleet out of New Orleans.
- Brian Blade on, "Landmarks," (Blue Note Records, 2014).
- Bill Peterson Trio on, "Ruby Diamond" (Summit Records, 2013).
- Chanticleer on "Chanticleer: A Portrait" (Teldec, 2003)
- Dave Crossland on "Here's To The Ride" (1992)
- Civil War Memories: Bill Darrow, Hertford, NC 27944
- House of Cards (U.S. TV series): Francis Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) and three of his old college friends sing a part of this song a cappella after breaking into the old library (Season 1, Episode 8 "Chapter 8", first aired February 1, 2013 on Netflix).
- Tom Waits & Keith Richards on Son of Rogues Gallery (ANTI-, 2013)
- Rene Marie on "Voice of My Beautiful Country" (Motema Music, 2011)
- Peter Hollens on Sing me a Song! A Cappella from Around the World for Kids (A Cappella Records, 2012)
- Heather Alexander on Arms of the Sea (Sea Fire Productions, 2006)
- Dave Alvin on Public Domain: Songs From the Wild Land (Hightone Records, 2000)
- Archibald Asparagus on VeggieTales: Bob and Larry's Campfire Songs (Big Idea, 2004)
- Harry Belafonte on a 1952 single and on Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (RCA Records, 1959)
- David Berkeley on "Some Kind of Cure" (2011)
- Bread and Roses, an American Folk Punk band, on Deep River Day (Fistolo, 2007)
- Glen Campbell on The Artistry of Glen Campbell (Capitol, 1972) or The Essential Glen Campbell Volume One (Capitol CDP-33288, 1994)
- Celtic Woman on Celtic Woman: A New Journey (Manhattan, 2007)
- Chanticleer on Out of This World
- Liam Clancy from the album The Wheels of Life (2008)
- The Corries on Flower of Scotland (Moidart, 2006)
- Celtas Cortos on Introversiones (2010)
- Bing Crosby on How the West Was Won (RCA Records, 1959)
- David Daniels[disambiguation needed] on A quiet thing (Virgin Classics 724354560025, 2003)
- Dauphine Street Six, produced by Joe Meek
- Connie Dover on "Somebody" (Taylor Park Music, 1991)
- Bob Dylan on Down in the Groove (1988)
- Laura Love on "Fourteen Days" (2000. Zoe)
- Tennessee Ernie Ford on The Folk Album (Capitol, 1971)
- Sergio Franchi on Live at The Coconut Grove (RCA, 1965)
- Bill Frisell on Good Dog, Happy Man (Nonesuch, 1999)
- Michael Holliday on "Hi!" (EMI Columbia, 1957)
- The Kelly Family on Honest Workers (1991)
- Jerry Garcia and David Grisman on Not For Kids Only - combined with Brahms's Lullaby (1993)
- Judy Garland on That Old Feeling - Classic Ballads from the Judy Garland Show (Savoy Jazz label, 2005)
- Nathan Gunn on American Anthem (EMI, 1999)
- Arlo Guthrie on Son of the Wind (Rising Son, 1994)
- Charlie Haden on Rambling Boy (DECCA, 2008)
- Thomas Hampson on Song of America (Angel Records, 2005)
- The Harvard Glee Club on multiple recordings; arrangements by Archibald T. Davison and Jameson Marvin
- Allan Holdsworth on Against The Clock - The Essential (2005)
- Tyler James on Sweet Relief (Son of Geert Music, 2007)
- Keith Jarrett on The Melody At Night, With You (ECM, 1999)
- Jimmy Kelly of The Kelly Family on his solo album Roots - Diggin' Deeper (2009)
- The King's Singers on The King's Singers: Original Debut Recording (1971)
- The Kingston Trio as "Across the Wide Missouri" on Here We Go Again! (Capitol, 1959)
- Darlene Koldenhoven, Grammy Award Winner, included it in her arrangement "A Celtic American Treasury" on her Solitary Treasures CD (10/10/11)
- Land of Lakes Choirboys on The Voice of the Children (2007)
- Michael Landon on Bonanza: Ponderosa Party Time (RCA, 1962)
- Jim McGrath (musician) on Red Right Returning (Wepecket Island Records, 2007)
- Roger McGuinn on Limited Edition (April First Productions, 2004)
- Michigan State University Children's Choir, the Grammy Award-winning youth choir associated with Michigan State University, on "America the Beautiful: Songs of Our Heritage"
- Nanami Morikawa on A Sea of Voices (T.I.E. Records, 2012)
- Mormon Tabernacle Choir on multiple recordings including America's Choir, Choral Adagios, Essential Choral Classics.
- Van Morrison with The Chieftains on The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3 (Manhattan/EMI, 2007)
- Mickey Newbury on multiple recordings including Live in England
- The Choir of New College, Oxford on Early One Morning: An anthology of folksong
- Port Isaac's Fisherman's Friends on their eponymous début album (2010)
- Leontyne Price on God Bless America (RCA, 1982)
- Achim Reichel on Dat Shanty Alb'm (1976)
- Riot on The Brethren of the Long House (Rising Sun Productions, 1996)
- Paul Robeson on multiple recordings including Ballads for Americans, The Essential Paul Robeson, Spirituals, Folksongs & Hymns
- Roanoke College Looking for an Echo
- Small Potatoes on RAW (1993)
- Pete Seeger on American Favorite Ballads, Volume 1 (Smithsonian Folkways, 2002)
- Shusha on Shusha / This is the day (Bgocd531, 2001)
- Sissel with The Chieftains on Sissel (Decca, 2002)
- Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band on We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (Columbia, 2006)
- Frederick Squire on Frederick Squire Sings Shenandoah and Other Popular Hits (2011)
- Jo Stafford on American Folk Songs (Corinthian, 1950)
- The Statler Brothers on Big Country Hits (Columbia, 1967)
- Bryn Terfel on A Song in my Heart (UCJ, 2007)
- Thin Lizzy as a part of the title medley on Black Rose: A Rock Legend (1979)
- Richard Thompson on 1000 Years of Popular Music (Beeswing, 2003)
- Trampled by Turtles Feat. Rich Mattson on Duluth (Banjodad, 2008)
- Virginia Military Institute Glee Club
- Sal Viviano on The Standards Of Love - LIVE (FRIARecords, 2008)
- Voces8, on their EP "In the Beginning"
- Hannes Wader on Hannes Wader Singt Shanties (1978)
- Hayley Westenra on Celtic Treasure (Decca B000MTDRJA, 2007)
- The Westminster Chorus winning performance in their 2009 Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod "Choir of the World" competition set
- Mason Williams on Of Time and Rivers Flowing (Skookum, 1984)
- Akiko Yano on Love is Here (Epic Sony, 1993)
- Youn Sun Nah on Voyage (ACT,2009)
- Dan Zanes on Sea Music (2004)
- King's Heralds on Favorite American Folk Songs (1984)
- Tennessee Ernie Ford on Shenandoah (Red Door Productions, 1959)
- Paul Clayton on "Whaling and Sailing Songs from the Days of Moby Dick" (Allmusic, 1956)
- Jane Siberry on Hush (Sheeba Records 2000)
- Méav Ní Mhaolchatha on "The Calling" (2013)
- The Tony Rice Unit on Unit of Measure (album) (Rounder Records, 2000)
- R.W. Hampton on Born to be a Cowboy (1994)
- Jerry Reed on "A Good Woman's Love" (RCA, 1974)
- Charlie Haden on his album "Rambling Boy" (Emarcy Records, 2008)
- Capt. R. C. Adams (April 1876). "Sailors' Songs". The New Dominion Monthly (Montreal: John Dougall & Son): 262. Retrieved March 27, 2014.
- Robert Chamblet Adams (1879). On Board the "Rocket".. D. Lothrop. p. 317. Retrieved March 27, 2014.
- "About "Shenandoah"". Song of America Project. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2010-03-06.
- "Sailor Songs", Harper's New Monthly Magazine 65 (386), July 1882: 283
- "Harpers New Monthly Magazine from 1882". ebooks.library.cornell.edu. Retrieved September 29, 2012.
- The Times (45616) (London). September 12, 1930. p. 8 columnB.
- Western Writers of America. "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Retrieved 2014-08-08.
- The Times, Friday, Sep 12, 1930; pg. 8; Issue 45616; col B: Quoted in a letter to the editor written by A.A. Brookington of Liverpool. Brookington added his informant Laidlaw had later heard it sung "almost word for word as the sailor of Harland sang it" in 1926 at Monterey Presidio by a captain of the 9th U.S. Cavalry, and that this regiment, though officered by whites, was made up largely of black troopers. The letter-writer therefore speculated the song was originally a negro spiritual.
- In a letter to ‘The Times’ a former sailor who had worked aboard clippers carrying wool between Britain and Australia in the 1880s, suggested it had originated as a black American spiritual which developed into a work song: ‘This chantey is obviously of American origin...“Shenandoah” was more a wool and cotton chantey than a capstan chantey. I have many times heard it sung down the hold on the wool screws by the Sydney waterside workers... and many were full-blood negroes, who undoubtedly brought these chanteys off the cotton ships...With regard to the words, these vary according to the taste of the chantey man in the first and third line of each verse, there being no effort called for on these two lines, but the second and fourth lines were always the same, these being the rhythm lines on which the weight was used. When I was in the wool trade in the eighties, in both the Tweed and Cutty Sark this chantey was daily used on the wool screws.’ R. L. ANDREWES. "'Shenandoah'." The Times [London, England] 19 September 1930, p. 6.
- Alfred Mason Williams (1895). Studies in Folk-song and Popular Poetry. London: Elliot Stock. pp. 5–7., as reprinted in Alfred Mason Williams (2005). Studies in Folk-song and Popular Poetry. BiblioBazaar. ISBN 978-0-559-78728-7.
- David W. Bone (1931). Capstan Bars. Edinburgh: The Porpoise Press. OCLC 896299.
- Sluss, Michael (March 2, 2006). "Proposed state song doesn't bring down the House". The Roanoke Times. Retrieved October 14, 2008.
- Shenandoah River
- http://www.gemm.com Sergio Franchi
- http://www.rwhampton.com/albums/born.html List of tracks on the cassette-only album Born to Be a Cowboy
- Homer & Jethro's parody, done as I Love Your Pizza
- Link to live recording with Sissel singing backed up by The Chieftains
- David Bone: Capstan Bars
- Old fashioned spelling with midi
- Shorter version
- NPR interview "The Music and Life of Richard Thompson" (Fresh Air from WHYY with Terry Gross) which includes the song as sung by Thompson