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Old Folks at Home

Composer: Foster Stephen

Instruments: Voice Piano

Tags: Song



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Piano + Violin (Fritz Kreisler) Mandolin + Piano + Violin (Eugen Lazora)


Piano + Voice + Mixed chorus (Robert A. Hudson) Cello + Piano (Gustav Strube) Piano (Unknown) Banjo (Stewart, Samuel Swain)
"Old Folks at Home" (also known as "Swanee River") is a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1851. Since 1935 it has been the official state song of Florida, although in 2008 the original lyrics were revised.
"Old Folks at Home" was commissioned in 1851 by E. P. Christy for use by Christy's Minstrels, his minstrel troupe. Christy also asked to be credited as the song's creator, and was so credited on early sheet music printings. As a result, while the song was a success, Foster did not directly profit much from it.
Foster had composed most of the lyrics but was struggling to name the river of the opening line, and asked his brother to suggest one. The first suggestion was "Yazoo" (in Mississippi), which despite fitting the melody perfectly, was rejected by Foster. The second suggestion was "Pee Dee" (in South Carolina), to which Foster said, "Oh pshaw! I won't have that." His brother then consulted an atlas and called out "Suwannee!" Foster said, "That's it, exactly!" Adding it to the lyrics, he purposely misspelled it as "Swanee" to fit the melody. Foster himself never saw the Suwannee, or even visited Florida, but nevertheless Florida made "Old Folks At Home" its state song in 1935, replacing "Florida, My Florida". Despite the song's popularity during the era, few people outside of Florida actually knew where the Suwannee River was, or that it was even a real place.
Antonín Dvořák's Humoresque No. 7, written in the 1890s, is musically similar and is sometimes played along with "Old Folks at Home". The Library of Congress's National Jukebox presents a version with soprano Alma Gluck and violinist Efrem Zimbalist Sr.
Written in the first person from the perspective and in the dialect of an African slave (at a time when slavery was legal in 15 of the states of the US), the song's narrator states "longing for de old plantation", which has been criticized as romanticizing slavery. The word, "darkies", used in Foster's lyrics, has been amended; for example, "brothers" was sung in place of "darkies" at the dedication of the new Florida state capitol building in 1978. In general, at public performances another word like "lordy", "mama", "darling", "brothers", "children", or "dear ones" is typically substituted.
In practice, the pronunciation, as written in dialect, has long been disregarded in favor of the corresponding standard American English usage, as demonstrated by the song's performances at the 1955 Florida Folk Festival.
As the official state song of Florida, "Old Folks at Home" has traditionally been sung as part of a Florida governor's inauguration ceremony. However, over time, the lyrics were progressively altered to be less offensive; as Diane Roberts observed:
Florida got enlightened in 1978; we substituted "brothers" for "darkies". There were subsequent revisions. At Jeb Bush's second inauguration as governor in 2003, a young black woman gave a moving, nondialect rendition of "Old Folks at Home", except "still longing for the old plantation" came out "still longing for my old connection". Perhaps someone confused Stephen Foster's lyrics with a cell phone commercial.
In his 2007 inauguration ceremony, Charlie Crist decided not to include the state song, but rather to use in its place, "The Florida Song", a composition written by a black Floridian jazz musician, Charles Atkins. Crist then encouraged state Senator Tony Hill, who was the leader of the legislature's Black Caucus, to find a new song. Hill joined forces with state Representative Ed Homan and the Florida Music Educators Association to sponsor a contest for a new state song.
On January 11, 2008, the song "Florida (Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky)" was selected as the winner. The Florida Legislature considered the issue and ultimately adopted it as the state anthem while retaining "Old Folks at Home" as the state song, replacing its original lyrics with a revised version approved by scholars at the Stephen Foster Memorial, University of Pittsburgh. Governor Crist stated that he was not pleased by the "two songs" decision; but he signed the bill, creating a new state anthem and establishing the reworded version of the state song by statute, rather than by resolution like the 1935 decision.
Way down upon de Swanee Ribber, Far, far away, Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber, Dere's wha de old folks stay. All up and down de whole creation Sadly I roam, Still longing for de old plantation, And for de old folks at home. Chorus All de world am sad and dreary, Eb-rywhere I roam; Oh, darkeys, how my heart grows weary, Far from de old folks at home! 2nd verse All round de little farm I wandered When I was young, Den many happy days I squandered, Many de songs I sung. When I was playing wid my brudder Happy was I; Oh, take me to my kind old mudder! Dere let me live and die. 3rd Verse One little hut among de bushes, One dat I love Still sadly to my memory rushes, No matter where I rove. When will I see de bees a-humming All round de comb? When will I hear de banjo strumming, Down in my good old home?
Way down upon the Suwannee River, Far, far away, There's where my heart is turning ever, There's where the old folks stay. All up and down the whole creation, Sadly I roam, Still longing for my childhood station, And for the old folks at home. Chorus All the world is sad and dreary Everywhere I roam. O dear ones, how my heart grows weary, Far from the old folks at home. 2nd verse All ‘round the little farm I wander’d, When I was young; Then many happy days I squander’d, 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. 3rd Verse One little hut among the bushes, One that I love. Still sadly to my memory rushes, No matter where I rove. When will I see the bees a humming, All ‘round the comb? When shall I hear the banjo strumming, Down in my good old home.
Joel Whitburn identifies early successful recordings by Len Spencer (1892), Vess Ossman (1900), Haydn Quartet (1904), Louise Homer (1905), Alma Gluck (1915), Taylor Trio (1916) and by Oscar Seagle and Columbia Stellar Quartet (1919).
The song enjoyed a revival in the 1930s with versions by Jimmie Lunceford and by Bunny Berigan. Bing Crosby sang the song in the 1935 movie Mississippi and also recorded the song commercially the same year.
Kenny Ball And His Jazzmen recorded a swing version of the song (using only the first verse and chorus twice over and substituting "Lordy" for "darkies") in 1962 for Pye Records. The recording appeared on the B side of their 1963 single "Sukiyaki". Another swing version was recorded by Hugh Laurie (2011).