Old Black Joe

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"Old Black Joe"
OldBlackJoeFoster1860LOC.jpg
Original sheet music cover
Music by Stephen Foster
Lyrics by Stephen Foster
Published New York: Firth, Pond & Co. (1853)
Language English
Form Strophic with chorus

"Old Black Joe" is a parlor song by Stephen Foster (1826–1864). It was published by Firth, Pond & Co. of New York in 1853.[1] Ken Emerson, author of Doo-Dah!, indicates that Foster's fictional Joe was inspired by a servant in the home of his father-in-law, Dr. McDowell of Pittsburgh. The song is not written in dialect, Emerson writes, "yet the bluntness of Joe's blackness and his docility reduce Old Black Joe to the status of Old Dog Tray rather than its owner, to simply another white man's possession prized solely for its loyalty." He believes the song "epitomizes Foster's racial condescension" but W. E. B. Du Bois points to the song as a piece standing apart from the debasing minstrel and "coon" songs of the era.

Emerson believes that the song's "soft melancholy" and its "elusive undertone" (rather than anything musical), brings the song closest to the traditional African American spiritual.[2]

Harold Vincent Milligan describes the song as "one of the best of the Ethiopian songs ... its mood is one of gentle melancholy, of sorrow without bitterness. There is a wistful tenderness in the music."[3] Jim Kweskin covered the song on his 1971 album Jim Kweskin's America.[4]

Lyrics[edit]

1.
Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay,
Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away,
Gone from the earth to a better land I know,
I hear their gentle voices calling "Old Black Joe".
Chorus
I’m coming, I’m coming, for my head is bending low:
I hear those gentle voices calling, "Old Black Joe".
 
2.
Why do I weep when my heart should feel no pain
Why do I sigh that my friends come not again,
Grieving for forms now departed long ago.
I hear their gentle voices calling “Old Black Joe”.
Chorus
 
3.
Where are the hearts once so happy and so free?
The children so dear that I held upon my knee,
Gone to the shore where my soul has longed to go.
I hear their gentle voices calling "Old Black Joe".
Chorus

Adaptations[edit]

  • Roy Harris made a choral adaptation of the song: Old Black Joe, A Free Paraphrase for full chorus of mixed voices a capella (1938).

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Old Black Joe". Retrieved September 2011. 
  2. ^ Ken Emerson. 1998. Doo-dah!: Stephen Foster and the rise of American popular culture Da Capo Press. pp. 256-9.
  3. ^ Harold Vincent Milligan. 1920. Stephen Collins Foster: a biography of America's folk-song composer. p. 87.
  4. ^ Lundborg, Patrick (2004). "Woody Guthrie on Acid". Ugly Things (22): 114–117. Retrieved July 10, 2011.