94. O Brothers, Don’t Get Weary
Written by Unknown
Published in Slave Songs of the United States, by William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison, A. Simpson & Co.,1867
Transcribed from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Electronic Edition.


Slave Songs of the United States was among the first collections of Negro spirituals to be published in America and, in its time, was the most influential book of its kind. The book’s collators/compilers, Allen, Ware, and Garrison were Northern abolitionists.

Slave Songs of the United States is also one of the earliest published collection of African American music of any kind.

Here is the song:

O brothers, don’t get weary
O brothers, don’t get weary
O brothers, don’t get weary
We’re waiting for the Lord
We’ll land on Canaan’s shore
We’ll land on Canaan’s shore
When we land on Canaan’s shore
We’ll meet forever more

And here, from the Introduction to Slave Songs, is what Allen, Ware, and Garrison had to say about their anthology:

‘The musical capacity of the Negro race has been recognised for so many years that it is hard to explain why no systematic effort has hitherto been made to collect and preserve their melodies.

More than thirty years ago those plantation songs made their appearance which were so extraordinarily popular for a while; and if ‘Coal-black Rose,’ ‘Zip Coon’ and ‘Ole Virginny nebber tire’ have been succeeded by spurious imitations, manufactured to suit the somewhat sentimental taste of our community, the fact that these were called ‘negro melodies’ was itself a tribute to the musical genius of the race.

The public had well-nigh forgotten these genuine slave songs, and with them the creative power from which they sprung, when a fresh interest was excited through the educational mission to the Port Royal islands, in 1861. The agents of this mission were not long in discovering the rich vein of music that existed in these half-barbarous people, and when visitors from the North were on the islands, there was nothing that seemed better worth their while than to see a ‘shout’ or hear the ‘people’ sing their ‘sperichils.’ A few of these last, of special merit, soon became established favourites among the whites [...]

The greater part of the music here presented has been taken down by the editors from the lips of the coloured people themselves; when we have obtained it from other sources, we have given credit in the table of contents. The largest and most accurate single collection in existence is probably that made by Mr. Charles P. Ware, chiefly at Coffin’s Point, St. Helena Island. […] Of the other hymns and songs we have given the locality whenever it could be ascertained.

The negroes keep exquisite time in singing, and do not suffer themselves to be daunted by any obstacle in the words. The most obstinate Scripture phrases or snatches from hymns they will force to do duty with any tune they please, and will dash heroically through a trochaic tune at the head of a column of iambs with wonderful skill. We have in all cases arranged one set of words carefully to each melody; for the rest, one must make them fit the best he can, as the negroes themselves do.

The best that we can do, however, with paper and types, or even with voices, will convey but a faint shadow of the original. The voices of the coloured people have a peculiar quality that nothing can imitate; and the intonations and delicate variations of even one singer cannot be reproduced on paper.’ [1]


[1] Edited text from: Slave Songs of the United States: Electronic Edition, William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison. Made available online by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/allen/allen.html



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