Posted by: Democratic Thinker | June 30, 2015

Weekly Story: Down In The Valley To Pray

Weekly Story

In 1899, Congregational minister William E. Barton publishes Old Plantation Hymns—a book of songs he collected during his time in Kentucky—”hitherto unpublished.”

It was the writer’s privilege to live in the South from 1880 till 1887, and to come into contact with a good many kinds of people. During the earlier years especially he made careful records of most that interested him, and he supplemented these records as the years went by with whatever came in his way. One of the things which never was allowed to escape was an odd song, secular or religious; and wherever possible the quaint air as well as the words was written down at the time. These have waited for eleven years, and it is time that they were printed if they are to appear at all. It is possible that some have been printed already; but even if so, the variations will be of interest. The most of them, however, are probably new to almost all who will see them here, and many, I am confident, have never been printed or even written before.


Down In The River To Pray—Alison Krauss


Down in the Valley to Pray.


O BROTHER, less go down,
Less go down,
Less go down.
O brother, less go down,
Down in the valley to pray.

‘S I went down in the valley to pray,
Stud-y-in’ a-bout dat good ole way.
You shall wear a starry crown,
Good Lord, show me de way.

THIS song does not usually follow through the family in order, but, being in the nature of an exhortation, addresses the “mourners,” “sinners,” “seekers,” etc. The “mourners” of these songs, it should be remembered, are not necessarily those in affliction, but those who frequent the “mourners’ bench” and have not yet “got through.” Some of these songs inform these mourners that,

“When I was a mourner just like you,
I prayed and prayed till I got through.”

Not “till I got through mourning” or praying, but till that necessary intermediate state, that limbo bordering upon regeneration, was passed. A period of “mourning” is counted a prerequisite for conversion.

The music in this piece is very expressive. The word “down” has always a descending note, and in the first and third lines covers three notes, re, do, la; the word “pray” falls as it were to its knees on the dominant below and is held for four beats.

—William E. Barton, Old Plantation Hymns (1899).


Down In The Valley To Pray—Old Plantation Hymns.



Old Plantation Hymns;
A collection of hitherto unpublished melodies of the slave and the freedman, with historical and descriptive notes.
William E. Barton (1899).