He Never Said a Mumblin' Word

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"He Never Said a Mumblin' Word"
Song by Louisiana State Penitentiary inmates
RecordedAngola Prison Farm, 1933
GenreSpiritual folk song

"He Never Said a Mumblin' Word" (also known as "They Hung Him on a Cross", "Mumblin' Word", "Crucifixion", and "Easter") is an American spiritual folk song.

The song narrates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, detailing how he was nailed to the cross, "whooped up the hill", speared in the side, hung his head and died, all the while keeping a dignified silence. Like all traditional music, the lyrics vary from version to version, but maintain the same story.


The song's writers and origins are unknown. Notes accompanying American Ballads and Folk Songs, an anthology of songs collected by John Lomax and Alan Lomax during the 1930s and 1940s, mention that the song as known throughout Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, and was titled "Never Said a Mumbalin' Word."[1] It is known to be a companion piece to, and possibly has the same writer(s) as, "Were You There", another spiritual.[2]

Recorded versions[edit]

  • Unidentified prisoners – John and Alan Lomax recorded a performance by a group of unidentified prisoners in June 1933 at the Angola Prison Farm, Louisiana,[3] and in July 1933 at the Parchman Farm penitentiary, Mississippi.[4]
  • Roland Hayes – recorded the song for Victor Records in 1927.[5] A Song Recital (Columbia Masterworks M-393, 1939) includes an unaccompanied piece in a set of mostly of selected classical selections.[6] Hayes published his arrangement of the song as part of the song cycle Life of Christ,[7] and recorded it again in 1953 and other times. Later performers also often credit his arrangement.
  • Golden Gate Quartet – recorded a rendition in 1941 for Okeh Records.[8]
  • J. Rosamond Johnson – recorded it in 1944.[citation needed]
  • Lead Belly – the Lomaxes recorded the song while on a visit to Camp C at Louisiana State Penetentiary in the 1933, where they also discovered Lead Belly, who recorded several versions of the song from 1945 onwards. According to Lead Belly, the song originated from "down south" and claimed to have learned it from his mother, Sallie Brown.[9] Lead Belly recorded at least three versions of the song. The earliest was on February 15, 1945, as part of the Standard Oil Company-sponsored radio show Let it Shine on Me in San Francisco.[10] It was recorded as the final part of medley along with two other spiritual songs, "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", featuring children singing along. The song was recorded under the title "They Hung Him on a Cross", whereas his final two recordings of the song, recorded during his last recording sessions ranging from September 27, 1948 to November 5, 1948[11] in New York with producer Frederic Ramsey, Jr., list the song as "He Never Said a Mumblin' Word."[12] An a cappella version of the song and a solo acoustic version of the song were recorded and are featured on Smithsonian Folkways 1994 box set Lead Belly's Last Sessions.
  • Morton Gould – adapted it for string orchestra in his 1959 composition Spirituals for Strings.[13] It was recorded in 1963 by Morton Gould and his Orchestra.[14]
  • The Jury – Members of American alternative rock bands Nirvana and the Screaming Trees formed a side project known as the Jury in 1989, featuring Kurt Cobain on vocals and guitar, Mark Lanegan on vocals, Krist Novoselic on bass and Mark Pickerel on drums. Over two days of recording sessions, on August 20 and 28, 1989, the band recorded four songs also performed by Lead Belly; "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", an instrumental version of "Grey Goose", "Ain't It a Shame" and "They Hung Him on a Cross"; the latter of which featured Cobain solo.[15] Cobain was inspired to record the songs after receiving a copy of Lead Belly's Last Sessions' from friend Slim Moon, after which hearing it he "felt a connection to Leadbelly's almost physical expressions of longing and desire."[16]
  • Roger McGuinnByrds founder Roger McGuinn recorded two versions of the song. In 1996, he made an mp3 quality recording available for free via his Folk Den website. On the website, McGuinn uses the title "Easter" (from the opening line "On Easter morn he rose"). On the 1999 compact disc McGuinn's Folk Den Vol. 2., McGuinn released this same recording under the longer title "Easter Morn". In 2005, McGuinn released a more professional quality recording of the song, again with the title "Easter Morn", as part of his four-disc set "The Folk Den Project."
  • The Welcome Wagon – a version appears on the 2008 album Welcome to The Welcome Wagon.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Lomax, Alan; Lomax, John Avery (1994). American Ballads and Folk Songs. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 587–88, 625. ISBN 978-0-486-28276-3.
  2. ^ Hughes, Langston; Hubbard, Dolan (2001). The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Works for Children and Young Adults: Biographies. University of Missouri Press. pp. 120, 318. ISBN 978-0-8262-1372-3.
  3. ^ "He never said a mumblin' word / Unidentified [sound recording]:Bibliographic Record Description: Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress". Lcweb2.loc.gov. 2011-11-23. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  4. ^ "And he never said a mumblin' word / Unidentified group [sound recording]:Bibliographic Record Description: Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress". Lcweb2.loc.gov. 2011-11-23. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  5. ^ "Matrix [Trial 1927-05-04-02]. The crucifixion / Roland Hayes". Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  6. ^ OCLC 17368508
  7. ^ Hayes, Roland (1948). My Songs; Aframerican Religious Folk Songs Arranged and Interpreted. Little, Brown and Co.
  8. ^ "Okeh discography 1941–1945". Retrieved 11 January 2012.
  9. ^ Ledbetter, Huddie. (1948). "Listen to this, this is a spiritual to tell the story about Christ. Which I guess makes me happy, but you don't know that it comes from down south. Got it from my mother, my shouting mother." Extract of a transcription from Lead Belly's Last Sessions, released on Smithsonian Folkways, SF-400-69.
  10. ^ "B. Leadbelly, vcl/gtr, acc. unknown, tp/cl/ts/pno/sb/d on 7,8; with children singing on 5, 8, 9b, 9c, 15 – San Francisco, Ca. 15 February 1945". Complete Recorded Works 1939–1947, In Chronological Order, Vol.5, 27 October 1944 to October 1946 (CD). Lead Belly. Document Records. 1994. p. 4-5. DOCD-5311.
  11. ^ "Leadbelly's Last Sessions – Leadbelly | AllMusic". Allmusic. Retrieved May 2, 2011.
  12. ^ "Smithsonian Folkways – He Never Said a Mumblin' Word – Leadbelly". Smithsonian Folkways. Retrieved May 2, 2011.
  13. ^ "Morton Gould: Spirituals for Strings". AllMusic. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  14. ^ "Morton Gould And His Orchestra - Spirituals For Strings". Discogs. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  15. ^ "Live Nirvana | LiveNirvana.com Sessions History | Studio Sessions | (The Jury) August 20 & 28, 1989 – Reciprocal Recording, Seattle, WA, US". LiveNIRVANA. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  16. ^ True, Everett (2006). Nirvana – The True Story. Omnibus Press. pp. 146, 636. ISBN 978-1-84449-640-2.

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