Traditional Spiritual

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

    Description by "Blue" Gene Tyranny

    This deeply moving song -- recreated in the twentieth century by vocalists as diverse as Harry Belafonte, Leontyne Price, and the magnificent Mahalia Jackson, and performed in the nineteenth century by the legendary Fisk Jubilee Singers of the 1870s who toured to raise money for Fisk College in Nashville, TN -- is a wonderful example of the rarer blues spiritual in both feeling and structure.

    The melody is almost entirely pentatonic in the minor mode, except for the use of the II step and the raised VII on the final lines.

    "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child/sometimes I feel like a motherless child/sometimes I feel like a motherless child/A long ways from home (true believer)/A long ways from home (optional repeat of the last two lines)/Sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone/sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone/sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone/a long ways from home/a long ways from home (optional repeat of the last two lines)."

    It is difficult to imagine a more direct outpouring of pathos and helpless despair than that expressed here. The poignant phrase "almost gone" or as a modern person might say "completely done in," is a state of utter resignation.

    The simplest country blues harmonization of the tune would be (four beats per measure/eight beats per line) I/I/ IV/I/I/I/VI-I (2nd pos.)/V-I/VI-VI-I (2nd pos.)-V/I.

    An exquisite setting of the song was composed in 1918 by H.T. Burleigh, with the first verse utilizing rich and somewhat impressionistic modal harmonies, mostly in the relative major key (F major). This creates an atmosphere of a past age. The second verse is set in a melodic minor (raised and lowered VI and VII steps), suggesting more passion and struggle.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Cedille Records CDR 181
    2017 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186571
    2017 Audite 97725
    2015 MJ Productions
    2015 Acis Productions APL 08685
    2015 Roméo Records / Romeo Records RR 7311
    2014 Albany Music Distribution TROY 1489
    2014 Opus Arte OACD 9027BD
    2013 Summit Records SMT 600
    2013 Lechateau Earl Records 5638124736
    2013 Michael Kurth / Riverside Chamber Players
    2013 Opus Arte OACD 9015
    2012 Hesed / Hesed Music HMICD 4
    2012 Erato 2564666373
    2011 Tenet 5637840816
    2011 John Brown University
    2011 MSR Classics 1374
    2011 Albany Music Distribution 1244
    2011 Harmonia Mundi HMU 807525
    2011 EMI Classics 5099908293923
    2010 Longhorn Music 2009001
    2010 Sony Music Distribution 88697642632
    2010 Preiser Records 93462
    2009 Gothic Records 49263
    2008 Elite Special / Zebralution
    2008 EJD Records 166
    2008 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution 346641
    2008 London/Decca / Decca 001089302
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921558
    2007 Urania 328
    2007 Angel Records 57591
    2007 Clarion 930
    2007 Sepia Records 1085
    2006 Cuneiform Records RUNE 241
    2006 Living Era 5622
    2006 Deja Vu 20
    2006 Sain 2520
    2006 Deutsche Grammophon 000673602
    2006 MSR Records MS 1144
    2005 Telarc Distribution 80656
    2005 Symposium 1270
    2005 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243586323
    2004 ASV 2062
    2003 Gvc GVC 2004
    2003 Lucy Kinchen Chorale
    2002 Hearts Of Space 11408
    2002 JaanSing / JaanSing Productions
    2001 Erato 85772
    2001 VAI Audio 1200
    2001 ASV / ASV/Living Era CDAJS 244
    2001 Phoenix USA 134
    2000 EtCetera Records 1208
    1999 Opera D'Oro 2011
    1999 Frémeaux & Associés FA 168
    1999 Philips 412631
    1997 RCA 132
    1997 Intermezzo Media 132
    1997 Nimbus NI7882
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 562259
    1997 Pearl GEMMCD 9264
    1996 Collector's Edition 17
    1995 Flapper 7073
    1995 DSB 1041
    1995 Turtle Creek Chorale 5
    1994 Pavane 7267
    1993 Centaur Records 2060
    1993 Marquis Classics 81115
    1992 Channel Classics 2991
    1991 EMI Music Distribution 54098
    1990 Sony Music Distribution 44726
    1988 Sony Classical 44726
    1987 Columbia 42137
    1987 CBS Records 42137
    1984 Angel Records / EMI Music Distribution CDC-47026
    Monitor Classics 71760
    Quilisma 403
    UWM School of Music 9095
    Richardson Records 70006
    Brioso Recordings 126
    Real Music Records RM-1109
    RCA 61960
    Dorian 90299
    Marquis Classics 89010
    Measure for Measure
    Erato 47765
    EMI Music Distribution
    EMI Classics 14128
    Nona Music
    CBS Records 44726
    Finlandia 500312
    Sony Music Distribution 48297
    DRG 5196
    Pro-Arte Records 3447