Wade in the Water

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This article is about the song. For the album by Ramsey Lewis, see Wade in the Water (album).
"Wade in the Water"
River baptism in New Bern.jpg
Published 1901 New Jubilee Songs
Genre Negro spiritual

"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
Wade in the water, children
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.[1] 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[who?] 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.[2]

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.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

"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".It was also used to warn slaves back then that a Slave Hunter or a Bounty Hunter was nearby and it was to warn them to go in the opposite direction. 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.[4] 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.[5]

"Wade in the Water" is the title of a historical fiction novel by American author Michael Stephan Oates. The story follows the lives of three characters before, during, and after the great Johnstown Flood of 1889.

Selective list of recordings[edit]


  1. ^ "Wade in De Water". Archived from the original on July 9, 2008. Retrieved January 11, 2008. 
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2008-08-18. 
  3. ^ "Pathways to Freedom | Secrets: Signs and Symbols | Music". Pathways.thinkport.org. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  4. ^ "Wade in the Water : A Must See Film : Boston Globe". Wadeinthewater.com. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  5. ^ "Wade in the Water, Children (DVD) | Elizabeth Wood, Gabriel Nussbaum". IndiePix Films. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 


Further reading

External links[edit]