Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

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Original score of "Motherless Child" by William E. Barton, D.D., 1899.

"Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child", also "Motherless Child", is a traditional spiritual. It dates back to the era of slavery in the United States.

An early performance of the song was in the 1870s by the Fisk Jubilee Singers.[1][2] Commonly heard during the Civil rights movement in the United States,[3] it has many variations and has been recorded widely.


The song is an expression of pain and despair as the singer compares their hopelessness to that of a child who has been torn from its parents. Under one interpretation, the repetition of the word "sometimes" offers a measure of hope, as it suggests that at least "sometimes" the singer does not feel like a motherless child.[4]


  • Multiple recordings of the song were made by Paul Robeson, starting in 1926.[5]
  • Bessie Griffin and The Gospel Pearls recorded the song on their Portraits in Bronze album in 1960.[6][7]
  • Sweetwater recorded the song on their self-titled debut album, and often opened their live performances with it.
  • Richie Havens performed a historical rendition of the song – retitled Freedom (Motherless Child) – on August 15, 1969 at the opening of the Woodstock festival.
  • Elvis Presley used the first verse of the song to open the gospel sequence in his Comeback Special in 1968, sung by Darlene Love.
  • Thea Bowman, a Black Catholic religious sister, recorded the song in 1988 for the stereocassette, "Songs of My People". She then sang it at a meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops the next year, shortly before her death from cancer, while giving a speech on Black Catholic history and experience. The studio recording was re-released in 2020 for the 30th anniversary of Sister Bowman's death as part of the digital album, Songs of My People: The Complete Collection.
  • Billy Preston recorded a version of the song titled "Motherless Child" on his 1978 album Behold!
  • Van Morrison recorded a version for his 1987 album Poetic Champions Compose. In his rendition, writes biographer Brian Hinton, "it is 'Mother Ireland' whom Van is missing and his world weary vocals are like sobs of pain."[11]
  • Hootie and the Blowfish closed out their biggest-selling 1994 album Cracked Rear View with an a cappella rendition. It is a hidden track as its presence is not announced on the album's track listing. It is also the shortest track on the album, clocking in at only 53 seconds.
  • Prince performed his rendition of the song at many concerts beginning in 1999.[12][13]
  • Kassa Overall created a rendition of the song on his SHADES 3 mixtape in 2023.


  1. ^ "Blue Gene" Tyranny, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" article, AllMusic
  2. ^ Barton, Hymns of the Slave and the Freedman, p.17 ("Not very long ago I attended a concert given by a troupe of jubilee singers, whose leader was a member of the original Fisk company. Toward the end of the programme he announced that a recently arrived singer in his troupe from Mississippi had brought a song that her grandparents sang in slave times, which he counted the saddest and most beautiful of song of slavery. It was a mutilated version of Aunt Dinah's song ['Motherless Child' or 'I feel like I'd never been borned.']")
  3. ^ McGill, Ann (19 February 2020). "Music of the Movement: A Lowcountry gospel singer explains the songs of the Civil Rights era". Live 5 WCSC. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  4. ^ *"Sweet Chariot: the story of the spirituals" Archived 2007-01-09 at the Wayback Machine by Arthur C. Jones
  5. ^ "Paul Robeson - Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child /On Ma Journey". Discogs. 28 May 1926. Retrieved 2019-11-10.
  6. ^ "Bessie Griffin And The Gospel Pearls - Portraits In Bronze". Discogs. 1961. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  7. ^ Lipsitz, George (1997). Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture. U of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-1-4529-0578-5.
  8. ^ Odetta - Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, archived from the original on 2021-12-14, retrieved 2020-03-13
  9. ^ "Jimmy Scott – The Source". Discogs. 1970. Retrieved 2023-08-22.
  10. ^ "Maki - 浅川マキの世界". Discogs. 1970. Retrieved 2021-01-14.
  11. ^ Brian Hinton, Celtic Crossroads, p. 264
  12. ^ "Watch Prince Shred His Guitar On 1999 Spanish Television Show". L4LM. 2016-05-04. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  13. ^ McDermon, Daniel (2017-04-20). "5 Live Prince Clips Worth Watching (While You Can)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  14. ^ "Barbara Hendricks, Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Artes 2000". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-05.
  15. ^ Rodriguez, Jayson. "John Legend Sings 'Motherless Child' On 'Hope For Haiti Now' Telethon". MTV News. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  16. ^ "Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album by Various Artists". 2017-04-07. Retrieved 2022-03-15 – via Apple Music.
  17. ^ Willman, Chris (June 17, 2022). "The Music of 'Elvis': A Complete Guide to Who Sings What on Soundtrack, From Jack White to Jazmine Sullivan to Stevie Nicks". Variety.

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