Follow the Drinking Gourd:
Follow the Drinking Gourd Timeline
Mary Austin writes in her autobiography Earth Horizon that as a girl of five or six she heard a black man, Moses W. Drakeford, sing "Foller de drinkin’-gou'd!" in her hometown of Carlinville, Illinois.
H.B. Parks reports hearing the song sung by a young black boy in the mountains in Hot Springs, North Carolina (on the Tennessee border.)
H.B. Parks says he heard a negro fisherman, on the wharf in Louisville, Kentucky "singing the same stanza on the same tune."
ca. 1916 to 1920
Lee Hays, living in Forrest City, Arkansas (about 150 miles due west from the source of the Tombigbee) reports hearing Follow the Drinking Gourd sung by his "Aunty" Laura.
In 1918 Parks describes standing on at the Waller, Texas train depot. and hearing two black adolescents sing the Drinking Gourd tune with the lyrics, "Foller the Risen Lawd."
In the decade between hearing the song in Waller and publishing it, Parks meets "an old Negro at College Station, Texas, who had known a great many slaves in his boyhood days" who explained the song to him.
Follow the Drinking Gourd is first published by H.B. Parks in a publication of the Texas Folklore Society.
The Parks version of the account and song are reprinted in American Ballads and Folk Songs by John A. and Alan Lomax.
Frances Gaither publishes Follow the Drinking Gourd, a novel based in part on the song.
Carl Carmer publishes a version of the song in America Sings, oriented towards a young audience. No explanation of the text was included in this book, nor any source information.
An arrangement of Follow the Drinking Gourd runs in People's Songs, with the attribution: "The version is from Lee Hays, who as a child heard it this way from his nurse, Aunty Laura." Hays makes the language considerably more poetic, and adds the line, "The old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom."
B.A. Botkin included the song in his Treasury of Southern Folklore. Botkin reprinted the entire Parks article without most of the original lyrics or any of the original music. Botkin then appended the Hays arrangement – both lyrics and music – to the bottom of the redacted Parks text.
The song's first recording, by the Weavers, is released on Decca album Folk Songs of America and Other Lands in 45 rpm, 78 rpm and LP formats. The Hays arrangement was also published in The Weavers Sing songbook in a version nearly identical to that from People's Songs. (Listen)►
In 1955, singer Randy Sparks hears street singer John Woodum singing the song in Bossier City, Louisiana (near Shreveport.)
The first commercially recorded rendition by black artists, Michel Larue and Alex Foster, is released. (Listen)►
Carlinville, Illinois (reportedly heard by Mary Austin ca. 1873. Also the birthplace and hometown of H.B. Parks)
Hot Springs, North Carolina (collected by H.B. Parks in 1912)
Louisville, Kentucky (collected by H.B. Parks in 1913)
Waller, Texas (collected by H.B. Parks in 1918)
College Station, Texas (local informant explains the song to H.B. Parks, ca. 1918 – 1928)
Forrest City, Arkansas (Lee Hays learns the song from his "Aunty" Laura, ca. 1916 – 1920)
Bossier City, Louisiana (near Shreveport) (collected by Randy Sparks in 1955)
Mobile Bay, Alabama (where the Tombigbee River empties into the Bay. Peg Leg Joe was said to be active just to the north)
Iuka, Mississippi (the site of Woodall Mountain, near the headwaters of the Tombigbee, and possibly one or both of the "two hills" mentioned in the song)
Paducah, Kentucky (confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, where slaves were said to cross into free territory)
Google Maps Gazetteer of Follow the Drinking Gourd
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2008 - 2012, Joel Bresler.