Shenandoah

(1800)

The origins of "Shenandoah," perhaps one of America's most recognizable folk tunes, are not so easily deciphered. Like many folk songs, it is impossible to determine exactly when the song was composed, yet the song probably did not originate later than the Civil War. In any case, by the end of the 19th century, "Shenandoah" had achieved widespread popularity, both on land and at sea.


Artwork: The valley of the Shenandoah, ca. 1864. Currier and Ives. Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.

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The audio recording, provided in the audio player to the right, features Thomas Hampson, baritone, and Craig Rutenberg, piano. This recording is on Thomas Hampson's album Wondrous Free: Song of America II.

Shenandoah

American folklorist Alan Lomax suggested that "Shenandoah" was a sea-shanty and that its "composers" quite possibly were French-Canadian voyageurs. Sea-shanties were work songs used by sailors to coordinate the efforts of completing chores such as raising the ship's anchor or hauling ropes. The formal structure of a shanty is simple: it consists of a solo lead that alternates with a boisterous chorus. With the sweeping melodic line of its familiar refrain, "Shenandoah" is the very nature of a sea-shanty; indeed, the song's first appearance in print was in an article by William L. Alden, titled "Sailor Songs," published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1882.



As unclear as the song's origin is, so is the definitive version and interpretation of its text. Some believe that the song refers to the river of the same name. Others suggest that it is of African-American origin, for it tells the tale of Sally, the daughter of the Indian Chief Shenandoah, who is courted for seven years by a white Missouri river trader. Regardless of these textual mysteries, "Shenandoah" remains an American classic.



--Library of Congress



Version by Stephen White


Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you,
Away, you rolling river
Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you,
Away, I’m bound away, across the wide Missouri.


Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter
Away, you rolling river
Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter
Away, I’m bound away, across the wide Missouri.


Oh, Shenandoah, I'm bound to leave you,
Away, you rolling river
Oh, Shenandoah, I'm bound to leave you,
Away, I’m bound away, across the wide Missouri.

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