Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep

TITLE: Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep
AUTHOR: unknown
CATEGORY: traditional, public domain
KEYWORDS: religious, spiritual
EARLIEST DATE: 1915 (recording, Fisk University Male Quartette)
HISTORICAL REFERENCES: Most music scholars believe that it was one of more than 100 spirituals constructed within Southern slave communities during the first half of the 19th century.

87465391“Mary Don’t You Weep” is an old African American spiritual. Predating the Civil War, the song offered religious comfort to American slaves while they were held in bondage. The song’s importance did not end with emancipation, though. It played a very specific part in advancing African American goals well into the 20th century, as well, and it still inspires both black and white audiences and performers. 

Like most spirituals, the precise origins of “Mary Don’t You Weep” are unknown. It is unclear who wrote it, who first sang it, and exactly where and when the music was composed. Most music scholars believe that it was one of more than 100 spirituals constructed within Southern slave communities during the first half of the 19th century.

“Mary Don’t You Weep” offered both solace and hope to the slaves who sang it. The Biblical Mary at the center of the song was Mary of Bethany (not Mary of Nazareth, Jesus’s mother, or Mary Magdalene, his famous follower). According to the Book of John, when Mary met Jesus on his visit to the village of Bethany, she was distraught by the recent death of her brother. Jesus assured her that Lazarus would eventually find new life, but Mary’s weeping so moved Jesus that he too wept, and so he led her to Lazarus’s, tomb where he raised the man immediately from the dead.

When slaves sang “Mary Don’t You Weep,” they were reminded that God rewards his believers. The song stressed that resurrection was promised, but it also focused on the idea that God protected his people and punished their enemies. “Pharaoh’s army got drowned,” the lyrics repeated over and over again. According to Book of Exodus, the army of the powerful Egyptian ruler drowned in the Red Sea. They were hot pursuit of the children of Israel, God’s chosen people, as the latter attempted to flee to the Promised Land. They had been held as slaves for several centuries by the Egyptians, and with Moses’s help and leadership, they were finally escaping. Pressed up against the Red Sea and with the Pharaoh’s army at their heels, though, they seemed doomed. At that moment, Moses raised his staff and parted the sea, allowing the children of Israel to cross. When the Egyptians tried to follow, the returning waters swallowed them. (read the rest of the article on shmoop.com)

OTHER TITLES AND VARIATIONS:

  • Pharoah’s Army Got Drowned

RECORDINGS:

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Mary Don’t You Weep

If I could I surely would,
Stand on the rock where Moses stood.
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

If I could I surely would,
Stand on the rock where Moses stood.
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

Oh, Mary  don’t you weep don’t ya mourn,
Oh, Mary  don’t you weep don’t ya mourn,
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

The Lord told Moses what to do,
To lead those Hebrew children through.
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

Moses stood on the Red Sea shore,
Smotin’ the water with a two-by-four.
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

Oh, Mary  don’t you weep don’t ya mourn,
Oh, Mary  don’t you weep don’t ya mourn,
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water but fire next time.
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

Mary wore three links of chain,
Every link was Jesus name.
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

Oh, Mary  don’t you weep don’t ya mourn,
Oh, Mary  don’t you weep don’t ya mourn,
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

Wonder what Satan’s a-grumblin’ ’bout,
Chained in Hell an’ he can’t git out.
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

Ol’ Satan’s mad an’ I am glad,
Missed that soul he thought he had.
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

Oh, Mary  don’t you weep don’t ya mourn,
Oh, Mary  don’t you weep don’t ya mourn,
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

One of these nights bout twelve o’clock,
This old world is gonna reel and rock.
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

Oh, Mary  don’t you weep don’t ya mourn,
Oh, Mary  don’t you weep don’t ya mourn,
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

SOURCES:

  • Folk Song Index: A Comprehensive Guide to the Florence E. Brunnings Collection, Florence E. Brunnings, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London 1981—Amazon Books
  • Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music, Guthrie T. Meade, Jr. with Dick Spottswood and Douglas S. Meade, Southern Folklife Collection, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, NC 2002—Amazon Books
  • Blues and Gospel Records 1902-1943, John Goodrich and Robert M.W. Dixon, Storyville Publications and Company, London Revised 1969.
  • Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore (1952), Volume 3: Folk Songs from North Carolina. Edited by Henry M Beldin and Arthur Palmer Hudson. Duke University Press.

SONGBOOKS:

NOTICE: I’m not the best guitar player or vocalist, but no one loves these songs more than I do. The tune and lyrics are in the public domain unless otherwise noted. The recording © copyright 2013 by Stephen Griffith and may be used by permission of the copyright holder. The variation of the song I’m posting is the version I perform and is not exactly replicating the sources cited, but is always in the same song family. If anyone has more details about this song, or believes I’ve stated something in error, please let me know. I’m also open to suggestions to improve the site. Thanks. sgg

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