Old Black Joe
DESCRIPTION: "Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay, Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away, Gone from the earth to a better land I know, I hear their gentle voices calling 'Old Black Joe.'" The singer, having outlived so much, says "I'm coming"
AUTHOR: Stephen C. Foster
EARLIEST DATE: 1860 (sheet music by Firth, Pond & Co.)
KEYWORDS: age nonballad death
FOUND IN: US(MW)
REFERENCES (7 citations):
RJackson-19CPop, pp. 156-159, "Old Black Joe" (1 text, 1 tune)
Saunders/Root-Foster 2, pp. 99-102+428, "Old Black Joe" (1 text, 1 tune)
Dean, pp. 126-127, "Old Black Joe" (1 text)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #1692, p. 114, "Old Black Joe" (1 reference)
Emerson, pp. 20-21, "Old Black Joe" (1 text)
Fuld-WFM, p. 407, "Old Black Joe"
ST RJ19156 (Full)
Criterion Quartet, "Old Black Joe" (CYL: Edison [BA] 3092, n.d.)
Edison Quartette, "Old Black Joe" (Edison 8823, 1904)
Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, "Old Black Joe" (Victor 35097, 1909)
Ford Hanford, "My Old Kentucky Home and Old Black Joe [medley]" (Victor 18767, 1921)
Riley Puckett, "Old Black Joe" (Columbia 15005-D, 1924)
Come Up, Dear Dinner, Come Up (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 121)
Poor Old Joe
NOTES: By the time Foster wrote this piece, his parents were dead, his marriage was troubled, and he was in bad financial shape. It has been theorized that this put him in a nostalgic mood. As always, he set it on the plantation -- but for once not in dialect.
Deems Taylor et al, A Treasury of Stephen Foster, Random House, 1946, p. 135, report that "Foster's granddaughter, Mrs. A. D. Rose claimed that 'Joe' was a real person, a servant in the home of [Foster's future wife] Jane McDowell in the days when Stephen was courting her. Up to the time of Dr. McDowell's death, Joe drove Jane's father on his rounds.... According to Mrs. Rose, Stephen promised Joe that he would put him into a song. The old man was gone when the day of inspiration came, but today an perhaps always, Old Black Joe live again."
It is perhaps an indication of how far Foster had fallen by the time he wrote this that he actually produced a sort of parody, "Poor Old Joe." According to Aline Waites & Robin Hunter, The Illustrated Victorian Songbook, Michael Joseph Ltd., 1984, p. 80, the latter is "virtually identical to Old Black Joe. Probably [Foster] altered a few words and notes so that more than one publisher could issue the same song." - RBW
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