Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gum Tree Canoe: S. S. Steele, 1847

Carter taught me this next song from American Songs volume 2, and it is quickly becoming one of my favorite traditional songs.

If you've missed the stories behind the songs in previous posts and would like to catch up, please use these links:



Story behind the song:
Carter Little sent me this song back in April, and I immediately fell in love with it. It's a song about two slaves who work in the cotton fields near the Tombigbee river, which flows from Mississippi to the Alabama River. In the evenings, to forget the hardships of the day, they go out for a row in their canoe, and one day, they decide to keep going and never come back.

It's a very beautiful and exciting song about emancipation and hope. I love the way the words "true" and "blue" are constantly repeated throughout the song. Both words hold such promise...of open skies and freedom, and the hope that devotion, perseverance, and holding to what is true will eventually set you free.

The song was written in 1847 by S. S. Steele, and you can actually view the original sheet music at Music for the Nation (very cool). Originally, the song was sung in dialect and from a male perspective. Hopefully not too sacreligiously, I changed the true love's name from Julia to Joseph, and sang the song from a female perspective.

Lyrics
(the way I sing them...visit Digital Tradition for the original lyrics in dialect and further notes on the song) Click on the title to listen to a sample
Gum Tree Canoe: S. S. Steele, 1847

On the Tombigbee River so bright I was born
In a hut made of husks of the tall yellow corn
It was there I first met with my Joseph so true
And he'd row me around in his gum tree canoe

Sing row away row o'er the water so blue
Like a feather we'll float in our gum tree canoe

All day in the field the soft cotton I'd hoe
I'd think of my Joseph and sing as I go
I'll catch him a bird with a wing of true blue
And at night we will row in our gum tree canoe

Sing row away row o'er the water so blue
Like a feather we'll float in our gum tree canoe

With my hands on the banjo and toe on the oar
I sing to the sound of the river's soft roar
While the stars they look down on my Joseph so true
And dance in his eye in our gum tree canoe

Sing row away row o'er the water so blue
Like a feather we'll float in our gum tree canoe

One day the old river took us so far away
That we couldn't get back, so we thought we'd just stay
We spied a tall ship with a flag of true blue
And she took us in tow in our gum tree canoe

Sing row away row o'er the water so blue
Like a feather we'll float in our gum tree canoe

1 comment:

Gene A said...

I really like the song. What is the ship with a flag of true blue? Is it a underground railroad by sea? Do you have any idea?