Kumbaya

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"Kum Bah Yah"
Song by The Folksmiths including Joe Hickerson from the album We've Got Some Singing To Do
RecordedAugust 1957
Length2:09
LabelFolkways Records F-2407
We've Got Some Singing To Do track listing
Hold On (Keep Your Hand On the Plow)
(11)
"Kum Bah Yah"
(12)
Wade in the Water
(13)
 
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"Kumbaya" or "Kumbayah" (Gullah, "Come By Here" — "Kum ba yah") — is a spiritual song from the 1930s. It became a standard campfire song in Scouting and summer camps, and enjoyed broader popularity during the folk revival of the 1960s.

The song was originally associated with human and spiritual unity, closeness and compassion, and it still is, but more recently it is also cited or alluded to in satirical or cynical ways which suggest false moralizing, hypocrisy, or naively optimistic views of the world and human nature.[1]

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

Come By Here / Kum Ba Ya / Kumbaya transcribed by the United States Library of Congress from a 1926 recording.

The origins of the song are disputed. Research in Kodaly Envoy by Lum Chee-Hoo has found that some time between 1922 and 1931, members of an organization called the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals collected a song from the South Carolina coast.[1] "Come By Heah", as they called it, was sung in Gullah, the creole language spoken by the former slaves living on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia.[2] Between 1926 and 1928, four more versions of traditional spirituals with the refrain "Come by Here" or "Come by Heah" were recorded in South Carolina and Georgia on wax cylinder by Robert Winslow Gordon, founder of what became the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.[3] In May 1936, John Lomax, Gordon's successor as head of the Library of Congress's folk archive, discovered a woman named Ethel Best singing "Come by Here" with a group in Raiford, Florida.[4]

These facts contradict the longstanding copyright and authorship claim of Reverend Marvin V. Frey.[1] Rev. Frey (1918–1992) claimed to have written the song circa 1936 under the title "Come By Here," inspired, he claimed, by a prayer he heard delivered by "Mother Duffin," a storefront evangelist in Portland, Oregon. It first appeared in this version in Revival Choruses of Marvin V. Frey, a lyric sheet printed in Portland, Oregon in 1939. Frey claimed the change of the title to "Kum Ba Yah" came about in 1946, when a missionary family returned from Africa where they had sung Frey's version and slightly changed the words. This family toured America singing the song with the text "Kum Ba Yah".[1] This account is contradicted by the fact that a nearly identical Gullah version of the song was recorded almost two decades earlier. According to Samuel Freedman (The New York Times, November 20, 2010), the metamorphosis to the "African" word Kumbaya was explained in liner notes to a 1959 Pete Seeger album, but "no scholar has ever found an indigenous word 'kumbaya' with a relevant meaning.".[3] However, the phrase Kumbayah is sufficiently close to the Mandinka "n/a be kumboolaa," ("I/he am/is weeping"), or just "kumboolaa," to suggest a West African origin of the song. The "oo" is a long sound, pronounced a little like the English word "awe," accentuating the similarity in sound. [5]This theory is proposed by Alison Lyon, an informal, rather than an academic, student of Mandinka. It is supported by the subsequent, English language verse of the song, which is “Someone’s weeping, Lord.” The song may have been sung originally by slaves who spoke Mandinka, and altered in transmission to generations who did not.

Folk music revival[edit]

Joe Hickerson, one of the Folksmiths, recorded the song in 1957, as did Pete Seeger in 1958. Hickerson credits Tony Saletan, then a songleader at the Shaker Village Work Camp, for introducing him to "Kumbaya" (Saletan had learned it from Lynn Rohrbough, co-proprietor with his wife Katherine of the camp songbook publisher Cooperative Recreation Service, predecessor to World Around Songs).[6][7][8][9] Joe Hickerson later succeeded Gordon at the American Folklife Center.[10] The song enjoyed newfound popularity during the American folk music revival of the early to mid-1960s, largely due to Joan Baez's 1962 recording of the song, and became associated with the Civil Rights Movement of that decade.

Recently "Kumbaya" has been used to refer to artificially covering up deep seated disagreements. To say "It's all Kumbaya" means "It's fake unanimity."

Lyrics[edit]

Version No. 1Version No. 2

Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya,
O Lord, kum bay ya.

Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya,
O Lord, kum bay ya.

Someone's laughing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's laughing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's laughing, my Lord, kum bay ya,
O Lord, kum bay ya.

Hear me crying and laughing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Hear me crying, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Hear me crying, my Lord, kum bay ya,
O Lord, kum bay ya.

Someone's crying, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's crying, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's crying, my Lord, kum bay ya,
O Lord, kum bay ya.

Hear me singing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Hear me singing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Hear me singing, my Lord, kum bay ya,
O Lord, kum bay ya.

Someone's praying, Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's praying, Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's praying, Lord, kum bay ya,
O Lord, kum bay ya.

Hear me praying, Lord, kum bay ya;
Hear me praying, Lord, kum bay ya;
Hear me praying, Lord, kum bay ya,
O Lord, kum bay ya.

Someone's singing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's singing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Someone's singing, my Lord, kum bay ya,
O Lord, kum bay ya.

Oh, I need you, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Oh, I need you, my Lord, kum bay ya;
Oh, I need you, my Lord, kum bay ya,
O Lord, kum bay ya.

Recordings[edit]

"Kum Bah Yah"
Song by The Folksmiths including Joe Hickerson from the album We've Got Some Singing To Do
RecordedAugust 1957
Length2:09
LabelFolkways Records F-2407
We've Got Some Singing To Do track listing
Hold On (Keep Your Hand On the Plow)
(11)
"Kum Bah Yah"
(12)
Wade in the Water
(13)

The Folksmiths including Joe Hickerson recorded the first LP version of the song in August 1957. As this group traveled from summer camp to summer camp teaching folk songs, they may be the origin of Kumbaya around the campfire.

It was recorded by Pete Seeger in 1958, and The Weavers released it on Traveling on With the Weavers in 1959.

The Journeymen had a minor hit in Vancouver in February, 1962 [11]

Joan Baez's 1962 In Concert, Volume 1 included her version of the song. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach also sang "Kum Bah Yah" in a 1962 concert, a recording of which was subsequently released in 1963 on the album Shlomo Carlebach Sings.

The Seekers recorded it in 1963 for their first album, "Introducing the Seekers". They later re-recorded for their third album, "Hide & Seekers" (also known as "The Four & Only Seekers"); it was re-released on their 1989 album "The Very Best of the Seekers".

Ballad singer Tommy Leonetti gave the song chart status in 1969. His single reached #54 pop, #4 easy listening, released on Decca 32421. The song charted three years later for the Hillside Singers, reaching #117 in the Record World charts.

It was included on The Sandpipers' 1969 album The Wonder of You.

Raffi recorded it for his Baby Beluga album.

In 1984, the proto-punk band, Guadalcanal Diary, recorded a version on their album Watusi Rodeo.

Peter, Paul & Mary recorded Kumbaya on their 1998 Around the Campfire album.

Stacie Orrico used it in a short interlude on her 2000 album Genuine.

German band Guano Apes and German comedian Michael Mittermeier recorded a rap metal cover of "Kum Bah Yah" called "Kumba Yo!" and made a music video ("Kumba yo!" on YouTube). The "Kumba yo!" single was released in 2001.

In 2013, Christian folk-rock band Rend Collective Experiment recorded a version as the opening track on their third album.

Melody borrowing[edit]

The melody of kumbaya has at times been borrowed for alternate versions that remove the spiritual emphasis.

References in politics[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Jeffery, Weiss (November 12, 2006). "'Kumbaya': How did a sweet simple song become a mocking metaphor?". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved July 17, 2008. 
  2. ^ "Mama Lisa'a World-Kumbaya". Retrieved November 1, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b [Samuel G.] (November 19, 2010). "A Long Road From 'Come by Here' to 'Kumbaya'". New York Times. Retrieved November 20, 2010. 
  4. ^ Stern, Gary (June 27, 2009). ""Kumbaya, My Lord:" Why we sing it; why we hate it.". The Journal News. Retrieved February 1, 2010. 
  5. ^ Peace Corps, Mandinka-English Dictionary, Banjul 1995
  6. ^ Weiss, Jeffrey (November 12, 2006). "How did 'Kumbaya' become a mocking metaphor?". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved September 1, 2010. 
  7. ^ Stern, Gary (June 27, 2009). "'Kumbaya, My Lord:' Why we sing it; why we hate it". The Journal News (White Plains, NY). OCLC 40979145. Retrieved September 1, 2010. 
  8. ^ Amy, Ernest F. (1957). Cooperative Recreation Service: A unique project. Midwest Folklore 7 (4, Winter): 202–6. ISSN 0737-7037. OCLC 51288821.
  9. ^ World Around Songs: Our History [1]
  10. ^ Zorn, Eric (August 31, 2006). "Someone's dissin', Lord, kumbaya". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 11, 2008. 
  11. ^ Feb 10, 1962 CKWX RADIO Official Survey
  12. ^ Goldenberg, Suzanne (December 12, 2006). "Annan bows out of UN with attack on Bush". December 12, 2006 : The Guardian (London). Retrieved December 12, 2006. 
  13. ^ "Telstra rejects Labor net plan". Australian IT. December 6, 2007. 
  14. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpdOiq-2DFU
  15. ^ http://www.sirivanmusic.com
  16. ^ "Insults start to fly from furious Coalition". SMH. September 8, 2010. 

External links[edit]