O Death

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"O Death", also known as "O, Death", "Oh Death" and "Conversations with Death", is a traditional American folk song. In 2004, the Journal of Folklore Research asserted that "O, Death" is Lloyd Chandler's song "A Conversation with Death", which Chandler performed in the 1920s while preaching in Appalachia.[1][2] However, Chandler does not appear to have been the original composer, as the song appears on at least one 19th-century broadside as "A Dialogue Between Death & the Sinner."[3]

First line reads: Death/ O, sinner I'm come by heaven's decree, my warrant is to summon thee.


Country blues banjo player Moran Lee "Dock" Boggs recorded the song in the late 1920s.[4] A recording from the 1938 National Folk Festival in Washington, D.C. is on file with the Library of Congress.[5] Various folk music artists included "O, Death" on musical collections throughout the 1970s and 1980s.[6] It is sung in the 1976 Barbara Kopple documentary Harlan County, USA by early union activist and coal miner Nimrod Workman, a well known folk music singer from Mingo County WV.

Among the most famous recordings is Ralph Stanley's version in the 2000 Coen brothers film (and soundtrack album) O Brother, Where Art Thou?, for which Stanley won the Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 2002.[6] The soundtrack's producer, T-Bone Burnett, originally asked for a banjo rendition emulating Dock Boggs, but Stanley convinced him otherwise with an a cappella performance in the style of the Appalachian Primitive Baptist Universalist church.[7] The song also appears in episode 7 of the second season of television series Fargo, inspired by another Coen brothers film of the same name. The version used in this episode was recorded by Shakey Graves with Monica Martin of PHOX.

"O, Death" has appeared twice in American television series Supernatural, both times in connection with the show's personification of Death, portrayed by Julian Richings: the 2010 episode "Two Minutes to Midnight" featured a version by Jen Titus; Lisa Berry performed the song in character as Billie in the 2015 episode "Form and Void". A version by Amy Van Roekel is included in the 2015 horror video game Until Dawn. The version sung by Vera Hall was featured in episode three of the first season of Altered Carbon, a Netflix original.[8]

Other versions[edit]


Oh, Death
Oh, Death
Won't you spare me over 'til another year
Well what is this that I can't see
With icy hands takin' hold of me
Well I am Death, none can excell
I'll open the door to Heaven and Hell
Whoa, Death
Whoa, Oh death
someone would pray
Could you wait to call me another day
The children prayed, the preacher preached
Time and mercy is out of your reach
I'll fix your feet til you can't walk
I'll lock your jaw til you can't talk
I'll close your eyes so you can't see
This very hour, come and go with me
I'm Death I come to take the soul
Leave the body and leave it cold
To draw up the flesh off of the frame
Dirt and worm both have a claim

O, Death
O, Death
Won't you spare me over 'til another year
My mother came to my bed
Placed a cold towel upon my head
My head is warm my feet are cold
Death is a-movin' upon my soul
Oh, Death how you're treatin' me
You've closed my eyes so I can't see
Well you're hurtin' my body
You make me cold
You run my life right outta my soul

Oh Death please consider my age
Please don't take me at this stage
My wealth is all at your command
If you will move your icy hand
The old, the young, the rich or poor
All alike to me you know
No wealth, no land, no silver no gold
Nothing satisfies me but your soul

O, Death
O, Death
Won't you spare me over til another year
Won't you spare me over til another year
Won't you spare me over til another year

Preceded by
Solitary Man
by Johnny Cash
Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance
for Ralph Stanley

Succeeded by
Give My Love to Rose
by Johnny Cash


  1. ^ Smith, Hazel (April 25, 2005). "HOT DISH: The Preacher and the Song". CMT.com. Country Music Television. Retrieved 2008-12-28.
  2. ^ Lindahl, Carl (May–August 2004). "Thrills and Miracles: Legends of Lloyd Chandler". Journal of Folklore Research. Indiana University Press. 41 (2–3): 133–171. doi:10.2979/JFR.2004.41.2-3.133. ISSN 0737-7037. JSTOR 3814588.
  3. ^ "Dialogue between death & the sinner - Old age & death - English ballads - National Library of Scotland". digital.nls.uk. Retrieved 2020-11-13.
  4. ^ Sylvester, Ron (March 14, 2007). "Song 'Oh, Death' dates back to the late 1920s and before". Kansas.com. The Wichita Eagle. Archived from the original on September 26, 2013. Retrieved March 16, 2020.
  5. ^ "Oh death". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  6. ^ a b Wichita Eagle, Op. cit.
  7. ^ "Old-Time Man" interview by Don Harrison June 2008 Virginia Living, p. 57.
  8. ^ "O DEATH: ALTERED CARBON, VERA HALL, RALPH STANLEY, JEN TITUS, A HILL TO DIE UPON, KHEMMIS". No Clean Singing. February 4, 2018. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  9. ^ "Oh Death". Genius. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  10. ^ "O, Death, by Sons of Magdalene". Sons of Magdalene. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  11. ^ "John Reedy And His Stone Mountain Trio - Oh, Death". Discogs. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  12. ^ Lake, Daniel (2 May 2017). "Khemmis Have "A Conversation with Death"". Decibel Magazine. Retrieved 20 November 2017.

External links[edit]