BLACK MUSIC MOMENT: HISTORY OF "GO DOWN MOSES" ~ THE SONG USUALLY THOUGHT OF AS A SPIRITUAL (924 hits)
"GO DOWN MOSES" ~ HISTORY
"Go Down Moses" is an American Negro spiritual. It describes events in the Old Testament of the Bible, specifically Exodus 7:16: "And the Lord spoke unto Moses, go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, thus saith the Lord, Let my people go, that they may serve me", in which God commands Moses to demand the release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.
In the song "Israel" represents the African-American slaves while "Egypt" and "Pharaoh" represent the slavemaster.
Going "down" to Egypt is derived from the Biblical origin, where Egypt is consistently perceived as being "below" other lands, with going to Egypt being "down" while going away from Egypt is "up". In the context of American slavery, this ancient sense of "down" converged with the concept of "down the river" (the Mississippi), where slaves' conditions were notoriously worse, a situation which left the idiom "sell [someone] down the river" in present-day English.
Although usually thought of as a spiritual, the earliest recorded use of the song was as a rallying anthem for the Contrabands at Fort Monroe sometime before July 1862. Early authorities presumed it was composed by them. Sheet music was soon after published, titled "Oh! Let My People Go: The Song of the Contrabands" and arranged by Horace Waters. L.C. Lockwood, chaplain of the Contrabands, stated in the sheet music the song was from Virginia, dating from about 1853.
The song was made famous by Paul Robeson whose voice, deep and resonant as it was, was said by some to have attained the status of the voice of God. On February 7, 1958, the song was recorded in New York City, and sung by Louis Armstrong with Sy Oliver's Orchestra. It was recorded by Doris Akers and the Sky Pilot Choir in 1958. The song is also become a jazz standard, having been recorded by Grant Green, Fats Waller, Archie Shepp, Hampton Hawes and many others.
It is also one of the spirituals used in the oratorio "A Child of Our Time" by the English composer Michael Tippett. William Faulkner titled his novel Go Down, Moses after the song. A Hebrew translation of the song is a common element in the Passover seder in Israel.
A reference is made to the song in the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off when a bedridden Cameron Frye sings, "When Cameron was in Egypt's land, let my Cameron go".
The NBC television comedy The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air twice used the song for comedic effect. In the first instance, Will Smith's character sings the song after he and cousin Carlton Banks are thrown into prison (Smith sings the first two lines, Banks sullenly providing the refrain, then a prisoner sings the final four lines in an operatic voice.) In the second instance, Banks is preparing for an Easter service and attempts to show off his prowess by singing the last two lines of the chorus; Smith jokingly replies with his own version, in which he makes a joke about Carlton's height.
The song was recorded by Deep River Boys in Oslo on September 26, 1960. It was released on the extended play Negro Spirituals No. 3 (HMV 7EGN 39).
In 2010, the teen comedy film Easy A remixed this song with a fast guitar and beats. The song was originally published as Original Soundtrack and is listed in Imdb. The French singer Claude Nougaro used its melody for his tribute to Louis Armstrong in French, under the name Armstrong.
The opening verse as published by the Jubilee Singers in 1872:
When Israel was in Egypt's land: Let my people go,
Oppress'd so hard they could not stand, Let my People go.
Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt's land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
Let my people go.
Saturday, June 9th 2012 at 6:39PM