Old Folks at Home

(1851)

"Old Folks at Home" is often called by the first line of the song: "Way Down Upon the Swanee River." Stephen Foster wrote the words and the music to this song in 1851, though he had trouble figuring out which river to use. The original river that he wrote of was the "Pedee" of South Carolina, but that river was used already in another minstrel song ("Ole Pee Dee" of 1844).

According to the writing of his brother Morrison Foster, he and Stephen consulted an atlas to find a river with a name suitable to Foster's tune. Apparently, Stephen chose the Suwannee of Florida, though the river was not well known before his composition.

The song was written for Christy's Minstrels, and Foster received little credit for the song at the time. "Old Folks at Home" is the state song of Florida.

--Christie Finn

Old Folks at Home
Old Folks at 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.


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.


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.


(Revised lyrics, adopted by the Center for American Music, Stephen Foster Memorial, at the University of Pittsburgh)

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