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Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

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

"Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" (or simply "Motherless Child") is a traditional Negro spiritual.

The song dates back to the era of slavery in the United States when it was common practice to sell children of slaves away from their parents. An early performance of the song dates back to the 1870s by the Fisk Jubilee Singers.[1][2] Like many traditional songs, it has many variations and has been recorded widely (see partial lists of choral arrangements and covers below).

The song is clearly an expression of pain and despair as it conveys the hopelessness of a child who has been torn from his or her parents. Under one interpretation, the repetitive singing of the word "sometimes" offers a measure of hope, as it suggests that at least "sometimes" I do not feel like a motherless child.[3]

Although the plaintive words can be interpreted literally, they might alternatively be metaphoric. The “motherless child” could be a slave separated from and yearning for his or her African homeland, his or her spouse, parents, siblings or child(ren) (from all or any of which he or she may have been separated in the trafficking process) or a slave suffering “a long ways from home”—home being heaven—or most likely all.

Notable versions and covers

References

  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. ^ *"Sweet Chariot: the story of the spirituals" by Arthur C. Jones
  4. ^ Miller, Leta E. (Fall 2010). "Elmer Keeton and His Bay Area Negro Chorus: Creating an Artistic Identity in Depression-Era San Francisco". Black Music Research Journal (Board of Trustees of the  
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Jocelyn Vena, "'Hope For Haiti Now' Telethon Airs Tonight At 8 P.M.: George Clooney, Wyclef Jean and Hollywood's biggest names help raise money for earthquake relief." MTV News, January 22, 2010, found at MTV News. Accessed January 22, 2010.

External links

  • Recording by Odetta at dailymotion.com
  • Lyrics as by J. W. Johnson & J. R. Johnson (1926) at negrospirituals.com
  • Art of the States: Piano Sonata No. 4 musical work quoting the spiritual by African-American composer George Walker
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