“Mourner, You Shall Be Free (Moanish Lady)”


A complex family, with no clear dividing line, known by the key chorus line "You shall be free When the good lord sets you free" (or "calls you home"). Verses can be serious or silly ("Oh! there was a moanish lady Lived in a moanish land...")


This is a complicated group, and the problem is not lessened by the way editors have handled it. The first three text I indexed, for instance, were all messed with by editors. Sandburg, e.g., derived his "Moanish Lady" from the spiritual "Mourner, You Shall Be Free," but printed only one verse because "the music is too superbly serious to have cheap lines."

It appears, however, to be the same as Spaeth's song about a no-count who hangs around rail yards and sponges off his girl, giving us a whole family of knock-offs.

Fred W. Allsop, in _Folklore of Romantic Arkansas_, Volume II, p. 161, says Moanish Lady "has been heard often in negro barber shops." Whatever that tells us. - RBW

"Moanish Lady" is derived from "Mourner, You Shall Be Free," and so is "You Shall," but the latter is quite a different song, with a different melody, having in common only the derivation.... [The hymn] seems to have spawned quite a few [parodies], mostly in African-American tradition, but even Bob Dylan created one. - PJS

For the moment, I'm still lumping the family. It's just too messy. - RBW

Cross references


  • The Blue Chips, "Oh! Monah!" (ARC 6-09-55, 1936)
  • Bill Boyd & his Cowboy Ramblers, "You Shall Be Free, Monah" (Bluebird B-6694, 1936)
  • Carolina Tar Heels, "When the Good Lord Sets You Free" (Victor 20931, 1927)
  • Four Dusty Travelers, "Po' Mourner" (Columbia 14477-D, 1929; on VocalQ2)
  • Lions Quartet, "Moanin' Lady" (Columbia 1167-D, 1927)
  • Uncle Dave Macon, "Shout Mourner, You Shall Be Free" (Vocalion 5007, 1926)
  • Bill & Belle Reed, "You Shall Be Free" (Columbia 15336-D, 1928)
  • Frank Stokes & Dan Sane, "You Shall" (Paramount 12518, 1927; on Cornshuckers2)


  1. Sandburg, p. 11, "Moanish Lady!" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
  2. Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 110-112, "Mona (You Shall Be Free)" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Lomax-ABFS, pp. 254-258, "When de Good Lord Sets You Free" (1 text, 1 tune -- an immense composite containing elements of "Moanish Lady," "Talking Blues," and probably other materials, to the tune of "Mourner, You Shall Be Free")
  4. Scarborough-NegroFS, pp. 163-164, "Old Marse John" (1 text, 1 tune, with this chorus and sundry floating verses: Ole Marse John and the mule he is riding till it dies; the singer standing on the corner doing no harm; the singer in the henhouse hearing the chicken sneeze); p. 172, "Po' Mournah" (1 fragment); p. 176, "Great Big Nigger Sittin' on a Log" (1 text, with this chorus and floating verses: Jakey hunting coons, the Big Nigger shooting at a hog; an humorous description of an ususual girl); p. 194, "Fragment from Pore Mournah" (1 text); p. 197, "There Was an Old Nigger, His Name Was Dr. Peck" (1 text, which uses this chorus); pp. 224-225, (no title), with this chorus and the "My old mistus promised me" and "Some folks say a nigger won't steal" lyrics; p. 235, with a variant on "Ain't no use me working so hard"
  5. Roud #11685
  6. BI, San011


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1926 (recording, Uncle Dave Macon)
Found in: US(Ap,SE,So)