Wade in the Water
|"Wade in the Water"|
|"New Jubilee Songs" (1901)|
"Wade in the Water" (Roud 5439) is the name of a Negro spiritual first published in New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers (1901) by John Wesley Work II and his brother, Frederick J. Work (see Fisk Jubilee Singers). It is associated with the songs of the Underground Railroad.
- Wade in the water, children.
- Wade in the water.
- God's gonna trouble the water.
The song relates to both the Old and New Testaments. The verses reflect the Israelites' escape out of Egypt as found in Exodus:14. The chorus refers to healing: see John 5:4, "For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had."
Many Internet sources and popular books claim that songs such as "Wade in the Water" contained explicit instructions to fugitive slaves on how to avoid capture and the route to take to successfully make their way to freedom.
An example of this is cited in the book Pathways to Freedom: Maryland & the Underground Railroad. The book explains how Harriet Tubman used the song “Wade in the Water” to tell escaping slaves to get off the trail and into the water to make sure that the dogs employed by slavers lost their trail. 
In popular culture
"Wade in the Water" was a popular instrumental hit in 1966 for the Ramsey Lewis Trio, which prompted further instrumental recordings by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and Billy Preston (both 1967). The melody was used for the 1988 Tony! Toni! Toné! hit "Little Walter". The version by Golden Gate Quartet also appears on the album Nick Cave - Roots & Collaborations (2009), establishing the song as one of the musical sources that have inspired the Australian artist. The band Half Man Half Biscuit parody the song in "Took Problem Chimp To Ideal Home Show" on their 2008 album CSI:Ambleside, with the chorus "wade in the watertube".
"Wade in the Water, Children" is a 2008 American Documentary directed and produced by Elizabeth Wood and Gabriel Nussbaum. It was filmed by a group of 8th grade students at the first school to reopen in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The film offers a shockingly intimate look into life as a child in the ruined city. The film was praised as "Scalding Stuff" by Newsday, and won the audience award at the New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival.
Selective list of recordings
- Sunset Four Jubilee Singers (Paramount 1923, 1925)
- The Charioteers (Brunswick-Columbia 1939)
- Golden Gate Quartet (1946)
- Odetta The Tin Angel (1954)
- The Folksmiths with Joe Hickerson (1958) Folkways F-2407
- Ella Jenkins and the Goodwill Spiritual Choir (1960)
- Johnny Griffin The Big Soul Band (1960)
- Bob Dylan Live 1961–2000: Thirty-Nine Years of Great Concert Performances (2001)
- Judy Henske "Judy Henske" (1963)
- Graham Bond (1965)
- Ramsey Lewis Trio (1966)
- Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (1967)
- Billy Preston (1968)
- Big Mama Thornton (1968)
- Harvey Mandel Cristo Redentor (1968)
- The Chambers Brothers Love, Peace and Happiness (1969)
- Eva Cassidy (1997)
- Chanticleer, recorded in "Reflections (An Anniversary Celebration)" (1997) and "A Portrait" (2005)
- Mary Mary Thankful (2000)
- Moses Hogan Moses Hogan Singers: Choral Series (2002)
- Marc Broussard's song "Home" (Carenco, 2004) includes the chorus of "Wade in the Water" with the altered lyrics "Straight from the Water, Straight from the water, children"
- IIIrd Tyme Out (The Best Durn Ride) (2004)
- Mavis Staples (Live: Hope at the Hideout) (2008)
- J. Boykin (Jesus Loves Me) (2009)
- John Boutte, recorded for the film Wade in the Water, Children (see above)
- Patty Griffin Downtown Church (2010)
- Cerys Matthews - "Explorer" (2011)
- Tedeschi Trucks Band Everybody's Talkin' (2012)
- Tina Savage The Son and the Soul (2013)
- Jamie N Commons Spotify Sessions (Jamie N Commons EP) (2013)
- Waltz, Robert B; David G. Engle. "Wade In The Water". The Traditional Ballad Index: An Annotated Bibliography of the Folk Songs of the English-Speaking World. Hosted by California State University, Fresno, Folklore, 2007.
- Further reading
- Jones, Arthur C. (2005). Wade in the water : the wisdom of the spirituals (3rd ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Leave a Little Room. pp. 54, 112. ISBN 0976237709.
- "Music : Wade in the Water". Pathways to Freedom: Maryland & the Underground Railroad | Secrets: Signs and Symbols. Maryland Public Television. 2014.
- Tobin, Jacqueline L.; Dobard, Raymond G. (2011). Hidden in plain view the secret story of quilts and the underground railroad. New York, N.Y.: Anchor Books. p. 126. ISBN 0307790568.