Breedloves's Folk Songs



“Old Folks at Home,” also known by the words of its first line, “(Way Down Upon the)
Swanee River,” is a song written in 1851 by composer Stephen Foster, to be performed
by the New York performing troupe Christy’s Minstrels. The name of E. P. Christy, the
troupe’s leader, appears on early printings of the music as the song’s creator, as shown in
the illustration; Christy had paid Foster to be credited, something Foster himself had
suggested. Though Foster later regretted this, the deal stood. It has been the official state
song of Florida since 1935.
According to legend, Foster had most of the lyrics in place but was casting about to give
a name to the river of the opening line and asked his brother to suggest one. The first
suggestion was the Yazoo” of Mississippi, which, despite fitting the melody perfectly,
Foster rejected. The second suggestion was the Pee Dee” of the Carolinas, to which
Foster said, “Oh pshaw! I won’t have that.” His brother then consulted an atlas and called
out Suwannee!”. Foster immediately wrote it in (misspelling it “Swanee” to fit the
melody), saying “That’s it exactly!”. Foster himself never saw the Suwannee or even
visited Florida, but the popularity of the song singlehandedly started a major tourist
movement to Florida to see the river, as travelers from the Northeastern states in
particular flocked to the region.
Way down upon the Swanee River, far, far away
That’s where my heart is turning ever
That’s where the old folks stay
All up and down the whole creation, sadly I roam
Still longing for the old plantation
And for the old folks at home
All the world is sad and dreary everywhere I roam
Oh darkies, how my heart grows weary
Far from the old folks at home
All ’round the little farm I wandered, when I was young
Then many happy days I squandered, 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
One little hut among the bushes, one that I love
Still sadly to my mem’ry rushes, no matter where I rove
When shall I see the bees a humming, all ’round the comb
When shall I hear the banjo strumming, down by my good old home

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