Nelly was a Lady

"Nelly was a Lady" was written and composed by Stephen Foster in 1849. As Ken Emerson writes in Doo-Dah!: Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture:

"'Nelly was a Lady' was a milestone in Stephen Foster's development... By merging the minstrel ditty with the parlour ballad, he not only overcame and resolved some of his own musical ambivalence and conflict--the push-pull between respectability and rebellion, the bourgeois and the bawdy--he also reconciled black and white, rescuing blackface from the overt rascism that had characterized it from the outset."

--Christie Finn

Date: 1849Composer: Stephen FosterText: Stephen Foster

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Text

Nelly was a Lady

Down on the Mississippi floating,
Long time I travel on the way.
All night the cottonwood a-toting,
Sing for my true love all the day.

Now I’m unhappy, and I’m weeping,
Can’t tote the cottonwood no more;
Last night, while Nelly was a-sleeping,
Death came a-knocking at the door.

Nelly was a lady.
Last night, she died.
Toll the bell for lovely Nell,
My dark Virginny bride.

When I saw my Nelly in the morning,
Smile till she opened up her eyes,
Seemed like the light of day a-dawning,
Just ‘fore the sun begin to rise.

Down in the meadow, ‘mong the clover,
Walk with my Nelly by my side;
Now all them happy days are over,
Farewell, my dark Virginny bride.

Nelly was a lady.
Last night, she died.
Toll the bell for lovely Nell,
My dark Virginny bride.

Related Information

Videos

Audio

Track:

    Recordings

    Wondrous Free

    (Leonard Bernstein, Paul Bowles, John Alden Carpenter, John Woods Duke, Stephen Foster, Sidney Homer, Francis Hopkinson, Charles Ives, Edward MacDowell, William Grant Still, Traditional and Elinor Remick Warren)

    2009

    Sheet Music

    Foster: "Nelly Was a Lady"

    Composer(s): Stephen Foster

    View via Library of Congress

    Stephen Foster Song Book (Dover Edition)

    Composer(s): Stephen Foster

    Buy via Amazon

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