Deep River (song)

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Sheet music for Henry T. Burleigh's influential 1917 arrangement of "Deep River"

"Deep River" is an anonymous African-American spiritual, popularized by Henry Burleigh in his 1916 collection Jubilee Songs of the USA.


The song was first mentioned in print in 1867, when it was published in the first edition of The Story of the Jubilee Singers: With Their Songs, by J. B. T. Marsh (page 230).[1] By 1917, when Harry Burleigh completed the last of his several influential arrangements, the song had become very popular in recitals. It has been called "perhaps the best known and best-loved spiritual".[2]


Deep river, my home is over Jordan.
Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into campground.

Oh, don't you want to go to that Gospel-feast?
That Promised Land, where all is peace?


The melody was adopted in 1921 for the song Dear Old Southland by Henry Creamer and Turner Layton, which enjoyed popular success the next year in versions by Paul Whiteman and by Vernon Dalhart.[3]

"Deep River" has been sung in several films. The 1929 film Show Boat featured it mouthed by Laura La Plante to the singing of Eva Olivetti.[4] Paul Robeson famously sang it accompanied by male chorus in the 1940 movie The Proud Valley.[5] And in the 1983 blockbuster hit National Lampoon's Vacation it was sung by Chevy Chase.[6]

"Deep River" is also one of five spirituals written into the 1941 oratorio A Child of Our Time by Michael Tippett.

An operatic adaption of the spiritual was sung at the memorial service for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she was taken to lie in state on September 25, 2020.



  1. ^ Marsh, J. B. T.; Loudin, Frederick J. (2003). Amazon. ISBN 978-0486431321.
  2. ^ Wayne D. Shirley, "The Coming of 'Deep River'", American Music, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Winter 1997), pp. 493–534. Published by the University of Illinois Press.
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 490. ISBN 978-0-89820-083-6.
  4. ^ "Internet Movie Database". Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  5. ^ "Internet Movie Database". Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  6. ^ "Show Boat (1929) – Soundtracks",IMDb.
  7. ^ "The Online Discographical Project". Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  8. ^ "The Online Discographical Project". Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  9. ^ "The Online Discographical Project". Retrieved November 21, 2018.
  10. ^ "Album Reviews". Review of Spirituals by Adelaide Hall and Kenneth Cantril, Billboard, January 22, 1949. Retrieved December 28, 2014).
  11. ^ "". Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  12. ^ "The Online Discographical Project". Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  13. ^ Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg memorial service. YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-11.
  14. ^ Moreland, Quinn (30 June 2020). "Beverly Glenn-Copeland Announces New Album Transmissions, Shares New Song". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2020-09-25.

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