Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)
DESCRIPTION: The "darky" remembers the "old folks at home" on "de Swanee ribber." Now forced to wander, he still longs "for de old plantation." He recalls growing up on the plantation, playing with his brother, and listening to the banjo. He hopes to go home.
AUTHOR: Stephen C. Foster
EARLIEST DATE: 1851 (sheet music by Firth, Pond & Co.)
KEYWORDS: home exile family slave
FOUND IN: US(MW)
REFERENCES (16 citations):
RJackson-19CPop, pp. 163-166, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text, 1 tune)
Dean, pp. 125-126, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text)
Cohen-AFS1, p. 320, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text)
Hill-CivWar, p. 218, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text)
Krythe 5, pp. 74-99, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fuld-WFM, pp. 407-408, "Old Folks at Home"
PSeeger-AFB, p. 83, "Swanee River" (1 text, 1 tune)
Pankake-PHCFSB, pp. 268-269, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #1707, p. 115, "Old Folks at Home" (2 references)
Emerson, pp. 15-16, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text)
Fireside, p. 86, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text, 1 tune)
Messerli, pp. 79-80, "Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 258, "Old Folks At Home" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Harold Vincent Milligan, _Stephen Collins Foster: A Biography of America's Folk-Song Composer_, 1920 (I use the 2004 University of Hawaii reprint), pp. 60-60, "(no title)" (1 partial text, plus a photo of Foster's original manuscript)
William E. Strudwekk and Bruce R. Schueneman, _State Songs of the Unites States: An Annotated Anthology_, The Haworth Press, 1997, [[. 28-29, "(Old Folks at Home" (1 text, the modified version Florida uses as its state song; tune on p. 97)
ST RJ19163 (Full)
Bowman Sisters, "Swanee River" (Columbia 15473-D, 1929; rec. 1928)
Fiddlin' John Carson, "Swanee River" (OKeh 45139, 1927; on TimesAint02)
Monroe Quartet, "Old Folks at Home" (OKeh 45133, 1927)
Riley Puckett, "Swanee River" (Columbia 15003-D, c. 1924)
Virginia Rea & Elias Breeskin, "Old Folks at Home" (Brunswick 10013, 1920)
Paul Robeson, "Old Folks at Home" (HMV [UK] B-3664, 1930)
Pete Seeger, "Swanee River" (on PeteSeeger24)
Unidentified quartette, "Old Folks at Home" (Imperial [UK] 44961, c. 1906)
Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, "Way Down Upon the Swanee River" (Vocalion 04387, 1938)
Bodleian, Harding B 11(1232), "The Old Folks at Home!," J.O. Bebbington (Manchester), 1855-1858; also Firth b.26(85), Firth b.26(240), Firth b.26(339), Harding B 20(268), Firth b.27(171), Firth c.16(291), Firth c.12(366), Firth b.26(378), Harding B 11(2797), "The Old Folks at Home[!]"
LOCSheet, rpbaasm 0473, "Old Folks at Home," Firth, Pond & Co. (New York), n.d. ["written and composed by E.P. Christy"]; also sm1875 03964, sm1885 23541, "Old Folks at Home" ["by S. C. Foster"] (tune)
LOCSinging, sb30401b, "Old Folks at Home," H. De Marsan (New York), 1861-1864; also as110190, "Old Folks at Home"
cf. "Sweet Refrain" (recalls this song)
Song to Captain S. D. Oliver (File: HGam067)
Way Down upon the Swanee River
NOTES [449 words]: The first sheet music version of this piece credits it to E.P. Christy. This was with 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."
For some reason, a lot of people know about that change, but don't know that the first draft makes less mention of the "old folks"; instead of areference to the "old folks at home" in the fourth line, Foster's first draft reads "Dere's wha my brudders play"; see John Tasker Howard, Stephen Foster, America's Troubadour, 1934 (I use the 1939 Tudor Publishing edition), p. 191.
Howard, p. 194, also says that some people have suspected that Henry Kleber had some involvement in the music for this song, but adds that there is no proof. Howard himself thinks it unlikely, and I agree -- the tune has the simplicity that marks much of Foster's earliest and best work. A more formally trained musician like Kleber probably would only have interfered.
Phillips Barry posits that this tune is derived from "Annie Laurie." If so, there was a lot of reworking done along the way.
An 1852 report says that this song had already sold 40,000 copies, and that with two, or even three, presses, the publishers still could not keep up with demand (Howard, p. 202).
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."
Accordng to William E. Studwell and Bruce R. Schueneman, State Songs of the Unites States: An Annotated Anthology, The Haworth Press, 1997, p. 28, this is Florida's state song, although the state in 1978 altered it to read "dear ones" instead of "darkies." - RBW
Broadside LOCSinging sb30401b: H. De Marsan dating per Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site.
LOCSheet, sm1853 700590, "Old Folks at Home," Firth, Pond & Co. (New York), 1853 does not include words and has the attribution "Composed by Stephen C. Foster."
Another warning about relying on broadsides for anything: Bodleian, Firth b.27(171), "The Old Folks at Home!," unknown, n.d. has the note "AIR -- 'Old house at home.'" - BS
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