Sinner Man

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"Sinner Man"
Les Baxter Sinner Man 1956.jpg
Single by Les Baxter Chorus and Orchestra with Will Holt
A-side "Tango of the Drums"
Released 1956
Format 7-inch single
Recorded 1956
Genre Gospel, jazz, pop
Length 3:07
Label Capitol
Songwriter(s) Les Baxter, Will Holt

"Sinner Man" or "Sinnerman" is an African American traditional spiritual song that has been recorded by a number of performers and has been incorporated in many other of the media and arts. The lyrics describe a sinner attempting to hide from divine justice on Judgement Day. It was recorded in the 1950s by Les Baxter, the Swan Silvertones, the Weavers and others, before Nina Simone recorded an extended version in 1965.

1950s recordings[edit]

The earliest recording of the song to bear the title "Sinner Man" was by the Les Baxter Orchestra in 1956, as the B-side of the Capitol Records single "Tango of the Drums". The lead vocal was by folk singer Will Holt, who shared the credit for writing the song with Baxter. However, the song clearly bears a close resemblance, in both melody and lyrics, to "On the Judgement Day", which was recorded by gospel group the Sensational Nightingales in 1954 and released the following year on the Peacock label. The writing of the Sensational Nightingales' song was credited to two of the group's singers, Julius Cheeks and Ernest James.[1][2] Some of the lyrics in "Sinner Man", including "The rock cried out, 'No hiding place'", appear to derive from those in the spiritual, "No Hiding Place Down Here", recorded in 1928 by the Old South Quartette.[3]

A version of "Sinner Man" released in 1956, by Swedish-American folk singer William Clauson, credited Baxter, Holt, Cheeks and James as co-writers.[4] Another gospel group, the Swan Silvertones, released their version of the song in 1957 on the Vee-Jay label, and folk singer Guy Carawan issued a version in 1958. Carawan wrote that he had learned the song in 1956 from Bob Gibson.[5] Most modern recorded versions derive from the 1956 recording by Les Baxter.[6][7] Further changes and additions were codified in 1959 by the folk music group the Weavers. The Weavers' performance of the song appears on their compilation albums Gospel and Reunion at Carnegie Hall Part 2.

The Nina Simone recording[edit]

Song by Nina Simone
from the album Pastel Blues
Released May 20, 1965
Recorded New York City
Genre Jazz, gospel music
Length 10:20
Label Philips
Songwriter(s) Traditional
Producer(s) Hal Mooney

"Sinnerman" (spelled as one word) is one of Nina Simone's most famous songs and she recorded her definitive 10-minute-plus version on her 1965 album Pastel Blues. Simone learned the lyrics of this English song in her childhood when it was used at revival meetings by her mother, a Methodist minister, to help people confess their sins. In the early days of her career during the early sixties, when she was heavily involved in the Greenwich Village scene, Simone often used the long piece to end her live performances. An earlier version of the song exists, recorded live at The Village Gate, but was not used on the 1962 Colpix album Nina at the Village Gate.

Simone's version of Sinnerman has been sampled by Kanye West for the Talib Kweli song "Get By", by Timbaland for the song "Oh Timbaland", and by Felix da Housecat for Verve Record's "Verve Remixed" series. It has also been covered by 16 Horsepower on their album Folklore, and by Zegota on their self-titled single. French rapper Abd al-Malik sampled Simone's version for the title track of his 2006 album "Gibraltar". He also sampled Simone's version of "See Line Woman" for the track "Le grand frère" from the same album.

Peter Tosh and the Wailers versions[edit]

"Sinner Man" has also been recorded as ska and reggae versions several times by the Wailers.

It was first recorded by the group at Studio One in Kingston, Jamaica in early 1966; Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer shared lead vocals.

A different version entitled "Downpressor" was recorded by Peter Tosh & The Wailers in 1970 ("downpressor" meaning "oppressor" in Rastafarian vocabulary). The song featured Tosh on lead vocals and Bunny Wailer on background. An instrumental version was also released. Songwriting credit for this version is sometimes given to Tosh.

Another version was recorded in 1971 as "Oppressor Man". This version was billed as a Peter Tosh solo single, and the B Side of the single featured an instrumental version. It was one of the rarer songs from the period before being included, along with its version, on JAD's Black Dignity compilation in 2004.

Tosh recorded the song again as "Downpresser Man" for his 1977 solo album Equal Rights and released a live recording of the song in a medley with "Equal Rights" on his 1983 album Captured Live.

The Tosh solo version was covered by Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor on her 2005 album Throw Down Your Arms, and by the ska-punk band Goldfinger.

Other versions[edit]

A number of other versions of the song have been recorded by performers such as The Seekers, Cory Wells of Three Dog Night (recorded as Cory Wells and the Enemys), John P. Kee, 16 Horsepower, Soda & His Million Piece Band, Nina and Frederik, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Lauryn Hill and 1960s Spanish folk group "Nuestro pequeño mundo".

  • An interpretation was recorded by Yoko Kanno as a background track for an episode of Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG entitled "Vegetarian Dinner".
  • The Wailers made a ska version of this song in 1964 on Studio One
  • A hard rock version was recorded by the band Extra Fancy in 1996, which was also the name of their debut album. It was a minor hit on MTV2, and was also featured on the cartoon series, Mega Man, which is based on the best-selling video game series and character of the same name by Capcom.
  • An instrumental variation titled "Guru / Sinnerman" was recorded by indie-rock band Plants and Animals for their 2007 EP With/Avec.
  • The Canadian section of the Ukrainian youth organization Plast has adapted a translated version sung regularly at campfires.
  • The Von Trapp Children have recorded a version for their CD A Capella.
  • Spot Light on Bud and Travis Liberty Records, side one LRP3138
  • Gordon Lightfoot and Terry Whelan recorded Sinnerman in 1962 as the Two Tones. The song appears on live "At The Village Corner" record.
  • Tribe After Tribe recorded the song for inclusion on their single, "Ice Below," in 1993.
  • Sinnerman (Heavenly House mix) by Felix Da Housecat with Nina Simone, from the 2003 CD Verve Remixed 2.
  • His Name Is Alive released a cover on their 1997 EP Nice Day
  • American blues duo Black Diamond Heavies recorded a version for their 2008 album, A Touch of Someone Else's Class.
  • Brazilian musician Zé Ramalho recorded a version in Portuguese, entitled Oh! Pecador, as bonus for his 1985 album De Gosto de Água e de Amigos.
  • Justin Bond performed the song several times as part of an April 2011 US tour to promote V's solo album, Dendrophile. The song does not feature on the album, but followed topical stage banter regarding Harold Camping's well publicized prediction of the rapture, set to occur on May 21, 2011. The song was later featured on V's 2012 album, Silver Wells.
  • Blues singer Eric Bibb released a version on February 2012, on his album Deeper In the Well.
  • 16 Horsepower, an American alternative country music band, did a version of the song on their album Folklore.
  • New Orleans singer Esquerita recorded two versions in June 1966 that appear on the album Sinner Man: The Lost Session.
  • Israeli singer Ester Rada recorded a version of the song with heavy jazz, acid jazz, and reggae influences on her album I Wish.
  • Nigerian-American artist Iyeoka recorded a version for her 2016 album "Gold".
  • Peter, Paul and Mary perform this song on their Lifelines album, along with Rivers of Babylon.
  • An unedited recording of Shlomo Carlebach singing "Sinner Man," seemingly in a casual setting, is circulating among his followers and admirers.

"Sinner Man" in other media[edit]

Nina Simone's "Sinnerman" has been featured in various films and commercials. Her version has also been used in a number of fashion show soundtracks, including Dior's Ready-to-Wear Fall/Winter 2004 and Valentino Ready-to-Wear Fall/Winter 2008.




  • Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure (video game)
  • The Absinthe Films snowboarding video Futureproof
  • "Sinner Man" is featured in Ben Bova's short story "Stars, Won't You Hide Me?" and the title is a lyric from the song. (The story can be found in his 1990 Future Crime anthology and in his book Notes to a Science Fiction Writer as an example of storytelling.)
  • Dance 8 for male solo of Alvin Ailey's ballet Revelations
  • Sinnermen Productions production company.
  • The Felix Da Housecat remix is featured in the mobile phone maker HTC Corporation You campaign commercials.
  • "Sinnerman" is featured in the novel Night of Thunder by Stephen Hunter (2008). The lyrics are partially quoted and a character takes on the persona of the Sinnerman.
  • "Sinnerman" is featured in the novel Sinnerman by mystery and thriller writer Cheryl Bradshaw (2011). The serial killer who abducts and kills women in the book gives himself the name Sinnerman.
  • Sinnerman is the title (stylized as SINNERMAN) of Jonathan M. Cook's second novel (2013). The song itself figures into the novel thematically, and Nina Simone's version in particular is used by the protagonist in a discussion of aesthetics.[8]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ ""On the Judgement Day" by The Sensational Nightingales". Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  2. ^ ""Sinner Man" by Les Baxter". Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Ballantyne, Mike. "No Hiding Place Down Here". Retrieved 20 October 2015. 
  4. ^ "Sinner Man". The Originals. Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  5. ^ Carawan, Guy (1958). "Liner notes for Songs with Guy Carawan" (PDF). Folkways Records. 
  6. ^ "Nina Simone's Sinnerman". WhoSampled. 
  7. ^ Randol, Shaun (20 November 2012). "Variations on a Theme: Sinner Man". The Mantle forum. 
  8. ^ Cook, Jonathan. "Sinnerman". Jonathan M. Cook: The Official Website.