“Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)”


The "darky" remembers the "old folks at home" on "de Swanee ribber." Now forced to wander, he still longs "for de old plantation." He recalls growing up on the plantation, playing with his brother, and listening to the banjo. He hopes to go home.

Supplemental text

Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

Old Folks at Home

From sheet music published 1851 by Firth, Pond & Co.
Title page inscribed
      As Sung by
   Christy Minstrels

Way down upon de Swanee Ribber,
Far, far away,
Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber,
Dere's wha de old folks stay.
All up and down de whole creation,
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation,
And for de old folks at home.

All de world am sad and dreary,
Ebrywhere I roam,
Oh! darkeys how my heart grows weary,
Far from de old folks at home

2d. Verse.
All round de little farm I wandered
When I was young,
Den many happy days I squandered,
Many de songs I sung.
When I was playing wid my brudder
Happy was I
Oh! take me to my kind old mudder,
Dere let me live and die.

3d. Verse.
One little hut among de bushes,
One dat I love,
Still sadly to my mem'ry rushes,
No matter where I rove
When will I see de bees a humming,
All round de comb?
When will I hear de banjo strumming,
Down by my good old home?


The first sheet music version of this piece credits it to E.P. Christy. This was with Foster's consent; he sold Christy the right to claim authorship for $5. (Fortunately, Foster at least got the royalties on the song.) It finally appeared under his name in 1879 when the copyright was renewed.

In Foster's first draft, the river was the "Pedee," but he concluded that that didn't sound right. So he and his brother Morrison scouted an atlas for a better name, finally distorting "Suwanee" (a river in south Georgia and northern Florida) into "Swanee."

Phillips Barry posits that this tune is derived from "Annie Laurie." If so, there was a lot of reworking done along the way. - RBW

Broadside LOCSinging sb30401b: H. De Marsan dating per _Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song_ by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site.

LOCSheet, sm1853 700590, "Old Folks at Home," Firth, Pond & Co. (New York), 1853 does not include words and has the attribution "Composed by Stephen C. Foster"

Another warning about relying on broadsides for anything: Bodleian, Firth b.27(171), "The Old Folks at Home!," unknown, n.d. has the note "AIR -- 'Old house at home'" - BS

Cross references


  • Bodleian, Harding B 11(1232), "The Old Folks at Home!," J.O. Bebbington (Manchester), 1855-1858; also Firth b.26(85), Firth b.26(240), Firth b.26(339), Harding B 20(268), Firth b.27(171), Firth c.16(291), Firth c.12(366), Firth b.26(378), Harding B 11(2797), "The Old Folks at Home[!]"
  • LOCSheet, rpbaasm 0473, "Old Folks at Home," Firth, Pond & Co. (New York), n.d. ["written and composed by E.P. Christy"]; also sm1875 03964, sm1885 23541, "Old Folks at Home" ["by S. C. Foster"] (tune)
  • LOCSinging, sb30401b, "Old Folks at Home," H. De Marsan (New York), 1861-1864; also as110190, "Old Folks at Home"


  • Fiddlin' John Carson, "Swanee River" (OKeh 45139, 1927; on TimesAint02)
  • Monroe Quartet, "Old Folks at Home" (OKeh 45133, 1927)
  • Riley Puckett, "Swanee River" (Columbia 15003-D, c. 1924)
  • Virginia Rea & Elias Breeskin, "Old Folks at Home" (Brunswick 10013, 1920)
  • Paul Robeson, "Old Folks at Home" (HMV [UK] B-3664, 1930)
  • Pete Seeger, "Swanee River" (on PeteSeeger24)
  • Unidentified quartette, "Old Folks at Home" (Imperial [UK] 44961, c. 1906)
  • Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, "Way Down Upon the Swanee River" (Vocalion 04387, 1938)


  1. RJackson-19CPop, pp. 163-166, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Dean, pp. 125-126, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text)
  3. Hill-CivWar, p. 218, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text)
  4. Krythe 5, pp. 74-99, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Fuld-WFM, pp. 407-408, "Old Folks at Home"
  6. PSeeger-AFB, p. 83, "Swanee River" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Pankake-PHCFSB, pp. 268-269, "Old Folks at Home" (1 text)
  8. Silber-FSWB, p. 258, "Old Folks At Home" (1 text)
  10. ST RJ19163 (Full)
  11. Roud #13880
  12. BI, RJ19163


Alternate titles: “Way Down upon the Swanee River”
Author: Stephen C. Foster
Earliest date: 1851
Keywords: home exile family slave
Found in: US(MW)