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"Kum ba yah"
English: Come by Here
Come By Here Kumbaya Transcription of 1926 recording.jpg
"Come By Here", transcribed by J. Cutting from the singing of H. Wylie, 1926
American folk song
Native language(s) Gullah, English
First time recorded by Minnie Lee (*); Robert Winslow Gordon (**)
Recorded on date 1926
Way of recording by hand (*); on wax cylinder (**)
Place of origin Alliance, North Carolina (*); Georgia (U.S.) (**)
Field recording(s) two 1926 recordings: a manuscript without melody (*); the phonograph recording of H. Wylie (**) (both reside in the Library's American Folklife Center); a Gullah version from the South Carolina coast (collected by some activists from the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals, between 1922 and 1931)
Area(s) American South
Notable performer(s) The Folksmyths, Joan Baez
Audio sample
Come By Here / Kum Ba Ya / Kumbaya transcribed by the United States Library of Congress from a 1926 recording

Kum ba yah ("Come by Here") is a spiritual song first recorded in the 1920s. It became a standard campfire song in scouting and summer camps and enjoyed broader popularity during the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

The song was originally a simple appeal to God to come and help those in need.[1]

Origins[edit]

According to Library of Congress editor Stephen Winick, the two earliest versions whose year of origin is known for certain were both collected in 1926, and both reside in the Library's American Folklife Center. No precise month or day was recorded for either version, so either may be the earliest known version of the song. One was submitted as a high school collecting project by a student named Minnie Lee to her teacher, Julian P. Boyd, later a celebrated historian. This version, collected in Alliance, North Carolina, is a manuscript featuring lyrics but no music. The other 1926 version was recorded on wax cylinder by Robert Winslow Gordon, founder of what began as the Library of Congress's Archive of Folk Song, which became the American Folklife Center. The singer's name was H. Wylie, and the song was recorded within a few hours' drive of Darien, Georgia, although Gordon did not note the exact location. Between 1926 and 1928, Gordon recorded three more versions of traditional spirituals with the refrain "come by here" or "come by heah". One of these is a different song concerning the story of Daniel in the den of lions. Of the other two, one has been lost, and one cylinder was broken, so it cannot be determined if they are versions of "Kumbaya".[1]

According to an article in Kodaly Envoy by Lum Chee-Hoo, some time between 1922 and 1931, members of an organization called the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals collected a version from the South Carolina coast.[2] "Come by Yuh", 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, as well as The Bahamas.[3] It is possible this is the earliest version, if it was collected before 1926. Because the individual songs in this society's publications are not dated, however, it cannot be dated with certainty to before 1931.[1]

In May 1936, John Lomax, Gordon's successor as head of the Archive of Folk Song, 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.[2] 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. In an interview at the Library of Congress quoted by Winick[1] Frey claimed the change of the title to "Kum Ba Yah" came about in 1946, when a missionary family named Cunningham returned from Africa where they had sung Frey's version. According to Frey, they brought back a partly translated version, and "Kum Ba Yah" was an African phrase from Angola (specifically in Luvale). Frey claimed the Cunninghams then toured America singing the song with the text "Kum Ba Yah".[1]

The story of an African origin for the phrase circulated in several versions, spread also by the revival group the Folksmiths, whose liner notes for the song stated that "Kum Ba Yah" was brought to America from Angola.[1] As Winick points out, however, no such word or phrase exists in Luvale or any related language.

Although it is often claimed that the song originated in Gullah, Winick further points out that the Boyd manuscript, which may be the earliest version of the song, was probably not collected from a Gullah speaker. However, Winick concludes that the song almost certainly originated among African Americans in the Southeastern United States, and had a Gullah version early in its history even if it did not originate in that dialect.[1]

Folk music revival[edit]

Joe Hickerson, one of the Folksmiths, recorded the song in 1957,[5] 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).[2][4][6][7] Joe Hickerson later succeeded Gordon at the American Folklife Center (successor to the Archive of Folk Song).[8] 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.

Lyrics[edit]

Version No. 1[9] Version No. 2[10] Version No. 3 Version No. 4[11]

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 need you, Lord, come by here
Someone need you, Lord, come by here
Someone need you, Lord, come by here
Oh, Lord, come by here.

For the sun, that rises in the sky
For the rhythm of the falling rain
For all life, great or small
For all that's true, for all you do.

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, 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.

Now I need you, Lord, come by here
Sinners need you, Lord, come by here
Sinners need you, Lord, come by here
Oh, Lord, come by here.

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 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.

Come by here, my Lord, come by here,
Come by here, my Lord, come by here,
Come by here, my Lord, come by here,
Oh, Lord, come by here.

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

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

In the mornin' see, Lord, come by here,
In the mornin' see, Lord, come by here,
In the mornin' see, Lord, come by here,
Oh, Lord, come by here.

For the second on this world you made,
For the love that will never fade,
For a heart beating with joy,
For all that's real, for all we feel.

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.

I gon' need you, Lord, come by here,
I gon' need you, Lord, come by here,
I gon' need you, Lord, come by here,
Oh, Lord, come by here.

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.

Oh, Sinners need you, Lord, come by here,
Sinners need you, Lord, come by here,
Sinners need you, Lord, come by here,
Oh my Lord, won't you come by here.

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.

In the morning - morning, won't you come by here
Mornin' - morning, won't you come by here
In the Mornin' - morning, won't you come by here
Oh, Lord, come by here.

"Kum Bah Yah"
Song by The Folksmiths including Joe Hickerson
from the album We've Got Some Singing To Do
Recorded August 1957
Length 2:09
Label Folkways Records F-2407
Songwriter(s) Unknown
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)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Winick, Stephen (Summer–Fall 2010). "The World's First 'Kumbaya' Moment: New Evidence about an Old Song" (PDF). Folklife Center News, Library of Congress. Retrieved March 1, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Jeffery, Weiss (November 12, 2006). "'Kumbaya': How did a sweet simple song become a mocking metaphor?". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on September 14, 2008. Retrieved July 17, 2008. 
  3. ^ "Mama Lisa'a World-Kumbaya". Retrieved November 1, 2008. 
  4. ^ a b Stern, Gary (June 27, 2009). ""Kumbaya, My Lord:" Why we sing it; why we hate it". The Journal News. Retrieved February 1, 2010. 
  5. ^ Smithsonian Folkways, We've Got Some Singing to Do, FW02407
  6. ^ Amy, Ernest F. (1957). Cooperative Recreation Service: A unique project. Midwest Folklore 7 (4, Winter): 202–6. ISSN 0737-7037. OCLC 51288821.
  7. ^ World Around Songs: Our History
  8. ^ Zorn, Eric (August 31, 2006). "Someone's dissin', Lord, kumbaya". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 11, 2008. 
  9. ^ Mitra (September 6, 2009). "Kumbaya" (in English and Persian). YouTube. 
  10. ^ "Kumbaya, my Lord" (PDF). evangeliser.nu. Retrieved 2 December 2015. 
  11. ^ Sacro Capo (March 11, 2009). "Kumbaya my Lord". YouTube. 

External links[edit]

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