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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Early Lyrics For The Christmas Song "Go Tell It On The Mountain"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a four part series about the song "Go Tell It On The Mountain". This post provides information and comments about and lyric examples for early versions of the song "Go Tell It On The Mountain".

Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/12/three-examples-of-mahalia-jackson.html for Part II of this series. Part II showcases three examples of Mahalia Jackson singing "Go Tell It On The Mountain". My transcriptions of those examples are included in this post.

Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/12/freedom-civil-rights-adaptations-of-go.html for Part III of this series. Part III provides information and comments about freedom (civil rights) adaptations of "Go Tell It On The Mountain". Lyrics and sound file examples of those adaptations are also included in that post.

Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-wailers-peter-tosh-lead-singer-go.html for Part IV of this series. Part IV showcases a 1969 Reggae version of "Go Tell It On The Mountain" that is performed by the Wailers.

The content of this post is presented for religious, folkloric, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the unknown original composer/s of this song and thanks to early collectors/arrangers of this song. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

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COMMENTS ABOUT AND LYRICS FOR EARLY VERSIONS OF THE SONG "GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN"
From http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=3744

Posted by From: masato sakurai, 02 Nov 01 - 09:18 PM
"GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN
(Christmas Plantation Song)
1.
When I was a seeker
I sought both night an' day,
I ask' de Lord to help me,
An' He show' me de way........
(Chorus)
Go tell it on de mountain,
Over de hills an' everywhere;
Go tell it on de mountain,
Dat Jesus Christ is born.
2.
He made me a watchman
Upon a city wall,
An' if I am a christian,
I am de least of all........
(Chorus)

SOURCE: Hampton Institute, Religious Folk Songs of the Negro, new edition [from the original edition by Thomas P. Fenner](1920; reprint AMS, 1973, p. 174, with tune)
Contrary to the notes in Rise Up Singing (p. 209), this song is not contained in "CABIN AND PLANTATION SONGS" by Thomas P. Fenner, appendixed to Hampton and its Students (1874). I may be wrong, but my guess is the 1909 edition (from which the song is quoted in The New Oxford Book of Carols, p. 573, with tune; and in Peters, Lyrics of the Afro-American Spiritual, p. 351) is the earliest."

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posted by Q, 22 Nov 08 - 04:50 PM
Lyr. Add: GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN
[as sung by] Ballanta-Taylor

1
When I was a seeker,
I sought both night an' day
I ask' de Lord to help me,
An' He show me de way.

Chorus-
Go tell it on de mountain,
Ober de hills an' eberywhere,
Go tell it on the mountain
Dat Jedus Chris' is a-born.

2
He choose me for a watchman,
And placed me on the wall,
An' if I am a christian,
I am de least ob all.

3
In de time of David,
Some call' him a king,
And if a chil' is true born,
Maussuh Jedus will hear him sing.

p. 90, Nicholas George Julius Ballanta-(Taylor), 1925, "Saint Helena Island Spirituals," Press of G. Schirmer, Inc.

Referenced in the book to "Religious Folksong of the Negro Page 174," but the version in my copy of that book (1972 AMS Reprint, ed. R. N. Dett) lacks the 3rd verse and the dialect is different…
-snip-
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_G._J._Ballanta
"Nicholas G.J. Ballanta [Taylor] (1893–1962) was a Sierra Leonean music scholar, composer and educator who conducted field research of the music of West Africa in the early 20th century"

**
Excerpt of comment posted by Joe Offer, 22 Nov 08 - 04:58 PM

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN
While shepherds kept their watching
O'er silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens,
There shone a holy light.

CHORUS
Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo! above the earth,
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed our Saviour's birth.
CHORUS

Down in a lowly manger
The (or Our) humble Christ was born;
And God sent us salvation
That blessed Christmas morn.
CHORUS

When I was a seeker,
I sought both night and day;
I sought the Lord to help me,
And He showed me the way.
CHORUS

He made me a watchman
Upon the city wall.
And if I am a Christian,
I am the least of all.
CHORUS

This five-verse version may be found in Ronald Herder's 500 Best-Loved Song Lyrics (Dover Publications, 1998). Herder does not document his sources. Only the first three verses (shepherds, shepherds, and manger) appear in American Negro Songs, by John J. Work (Crown Publishers, 1940). Work notes: "These verses were supplied by John Work Sr. in place of the original ones which could not be found.

The "seeker" and "watchman" verses can be found in a two-verse version in this source: Hampton Institute and Fenner, 1909 and 1924, "Religious Folk-Songs of the Negro as Sung by the Hampton Students."
-snip-
The title of John W. Work [Jr]'s 1940 book is American Negro Songs: 230 Folk Songs and Spirituals, Religious and Secular.
Here's an excerpt about that book:
"This important volume was originally compiled in 1940 by Dr. John W. Work, the noted musicologist affiliated with Fisk University and the celebrated Fisk Jubilee Singers." http://store.doverpublications.com/0486402711.html#sthash.cJyaUi2N.dpuf

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comment posted by Q, Date: 22 Nov 08 - 11:51 PM
"Joe, the message you substituted has errors in attribution.
The two verses of "Go Tell It on the Mountain" are not in "original edition by Thomas P. Fenner" but in: Hampton Institute and Fenner, 1909 and 1924, "Religious Folk-Songs of the Negro as Sung by the Hampton Students," p. not known (book not seen). Fenner was long dead.

The song again appeared in the revision, R. Nathaniel Dett, 1927, "Religious Folk-Songs of the Negro as Sung at Hampton Institute" (AMS reprint 1972-1973 of the 1927 Dett edition. "Go Tell it on the Mountain" is on p. 78, not p. 174 ("Bright Sparkles in de Churchyard") and again in the Appendix; III, of the 1927 edition."

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PANCOCOJAMS EDITOR COMMENTS
After reading these comments and others, I'm not certain whether the earliest publication date for "Go Tell It On The Mountain" was 1907 or 1909. However, the source for either of these dates appears to be "Hampton Institute students". Hampton Institute [now Hampton University] is a historically African American university in Virginia.

The word "seeker" in these early lyrics is self-explanatory. The word "watcher" refers to a person on a wall or a watchtower who guards or watches over a place against enemies.

I think that the lyrics "And if I am a Christian/I am the least of all" in the verse that begins "He made me a watchman/Upon the city wall" refers to the sentiment that true Christians are humble because they know that they really aren't worthy of God's love and mercy.

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