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“Down to the River to Pray”

“Down to the River to Pray” is a beautiful song first published in a 1867 collection of African American songs.  It is classic of various American musical traditions, including African American spirituals and Appalachian music.

You may recall this version by Alison Krauss from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Here is a teaching recording by Christian.

Here are the lyrics.


As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way,
And who shall wear the starry crown,
Good Lord, show me the way.


O sister, let’s go down, 
let’s go down, come on down,
O sister, let’s go down,
Down to the river to pray

As Christian points out in his teaching instructions, the refrains allow any number of substitutions for the bolded word.  One could sing . . . 

O sibling
O brother

O parent
O father
O mother
O family

O people
O dear one

If you lead with a gendered word such as sister, include other genders in further refrains so our singing creates a space that welcomes all, including those of us who are nonbinary.  

Posted in: Songs We Sing

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