This is a traditional African-American spiritual, often known as Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child. Spirituals were religious songs born out of the bitter experience of slavery in the United States. The children of enslaved women were often sold off as chattels, leaving both mother and child bereft. This moving song bears witness to this terrible practice and the heartbreak it caused.
As with many other songs in this tradition, the great baritone (and political activist) Paul Robeson more or less made the song his own. This video is a rare chance to hear him singing it with a backing chorus; more often he sang it with just a piano accompaniment. Robeson's recordings of the song have an emotional depth that few others have been able to come near, save perhaps Robeson's contemporary, the contralto Marian Anderson.
Nonetheless, there are other good and different vocal performances. Around the 1940s, The Harmonising Four made a fantastic close-harmony gospel recording of the song. Later, O.V. Wright made it into a good 1960s Southern soul number with some different verses. And there are many more, with the better performances almost invariably coming from black American artists.
The song has also worked well in an instrumental setting. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), an English composer of Creole descent, made a beautiful piano trio arrangement; and the jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has recorded a fine version of the tune.
Of course we always try to bring you a good heavy metal version of the Lush’s songs, so here are Danny Farrant and Paul Rawson, complete with a splendidly inappropriate graphic.
3 March 2018
CoMA, The Festival of Contemporary Music for All
2 - 6 May 2018
Calella Festival, Costa de Barcelona
7 July 2018
Summer Spectaular featuring WWI Suite, St Georges