The Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)

TITLE: The Old Folks at Home (Way Down Upon the Swanee River)
AUTHOR: Stephen Foster
CATEGORY: Public Domain, Author Known
KEYWORDS: home, exile, family
EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1851 (sheet music by Firth, Pond & Co.). First recording, February 1894 in Washington DC by Miss Jessie Oliver.
SOME CONSIDER THIS SONG OFFENSIVE: Click here for more information.

Stephen Foster“The first sheet music version of this piece credits it to E.P. Christy. This was with Stephen Foster’s consent; he sold Christy the right to claim authorship for $5. (Fortunately, Foster at least got the royalties on the song.) It finally appeared under his name in 1879 when the copyright was renewed. 

“In Foster’s first draft, the river was the “Pedee,” but he concluded that that didn’t sound right. So he and his brother Morrison scouted an atlas for a better name, finally distorting “Suwanee” (a river in south Georgia and northern Florida) into “Swanee.”

“Ken Emerson, Doo-Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture, Da Capo, 1997?, p. 29, notes that Stephen Foster’s parents lost their home very early in Foster’s life, and suggests that “Foster would compose so many songs about home in part because he seldom knew one for long.” (Robert B. Waltz in The Traditional Ballad Index)

OTHER TITLES AND VARIATIONS:

  • Way Down Upon the Swanee River
  • Swanee River

RECORDINGS: (mp3’s available through Amazon.com)

YOUTUBE VIDEO: 

YOUTUBE AUDIO: download
LYRIC & CHORD PRO CHART: download
PPT LYRICS FOR THE CLASSROOM: download
BONUS YOUTUBE VIDEO: Hugh Laurie

Old Folks at Home

Way down upon the Swanee River, far, far away
That’s where my heart is turning ever
That’s where the old folks stay

All up and down the whole creation, sadly I roam
Still longing for the old plantation
And for the old folks at home

All the world is sad and dreary everywhere I roam
Oh brothers, how my heart grows weary
Far from the old folks at home

All ’round the little farm I wandered, when I was young
Then many happy days I squandered,
Many the songs I sung

When I was playing with my brother, happy was I
Oh, take me to my kind old mother,
There let me live and die

All the world is sad and dreary everywhere I roam
Oh brothers, how my heart grows weary
Far from the old folks at home 

One little hut among the bushes, one that I love
Still sadly to my mem’ry rushes,
No matter where I rove

When shall I see the bees a humming, all ’round the comb
When shall I hear the banjo strumming,
Down by my good old home

All the world is sad and dreary everywhere I roam
Oh brothers, how my heart grows weary
Far from the old folks at home

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.

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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