Shenandoah

The origins of "Shenandoah," perhaps one of America's most recognizable folk tunes, are not so easily deciphered. Like many folk songs, it is impossible to determine exactly when the song was composed, yet the song probably did not originate later than the Civil War. In any case, by the end of the 19th century, "Shenandoah" had achieved widespread popularity, both on land and at sea.

Date: 1800Composer: TraditionalText: Traditional

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    About

    American folklorist Alan Lomax suggested that “Shenandoah” was a sea-shanty and that its “composers” quite possibly were French-Canadian voyageurs. Sea-shanties were work songs used by sailors to coordinate the efforts of completing chores such as raising the ship’s anchor or hauling ropes. The formal structure of a shanty is simple: it consists of a solo lead that alternates with a boisterous chorus. With the sweeping melodic line of its familiar refrain, “Shenandoah” is the very nature of a sea-shanty; indeed, the song’s first appearance in print was in an article by William L. Alden, titled “Sailor Songs,” published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1882.

    As unclear as the song’s origin is, so is the definitive version and interpretation of its text. Some believe that the song refers to the river of the same name. Others suggest that it is of African-American origin, for it tells the tale of Sally, the daughter of the Indian Chief Shenandoah, who is courted for seven years by a white Missouri river trader. Regardless of these textual mysteries, “Shenandoah” remains an American classic.

    –Library of Congress

    Text

    Version by Stephen White

    Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you,
    Away, you rolling river
    Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you,
    Away, I’m bound away, across the wide Missouri.

    Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter
    Away, you rolling river
    Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter
    Away, I’m bound away, across the wide Missouri.

    Oh, Shenandoah, I’m bound to leave you,
    Away, you rolling river
    Oh, Shenandoah, I’m bound to leave you,
    Away, I’m bound away, across the wide Missouri.

    Related Information

    Videos

    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


    View recording

    Sheet Music

    American Folksongs and Spirituals

    Composer(s): Traditional

    Buy via Hal Leonard

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