“On the Banks of the Old Tennessee”


If the singer were a bird, he would fly to his love; if a fish, he would take her hook. But now she is dead and buried, and he is no longer willing to stay "on the banks of the old Tennessee."


Randolph's four texts are rather confused, and not one tells the full story. The only common element is the line "on the banks of the old Tennessee." The chorus varies (one even borrows lines from "My Sweet Sunny South"!), as do the presence of the floating-verse-like stanzas about being beast or bird. Cohen thinks the "A" and "D' texts are one song, and "B" and "C" another, probably related to "Free Little Bird."

The Grayson & Whitter recording doesn't help much; the verses are stereotyped: "I have no (brother/sister/true lover/mother) in this world (x2), (He's) sleeping tonight where the moon shines so bright, On the banks of old Tennesee (x3), He's sleeping tonight... On the banks..."

Wheeler's version is just a fragment, and adds nothing to the discussion.

In other words, it's possible that this is more than one song. But I think it all goes back to one piece, with a lot of importation and forgetfulness along the way. - RBW


  • [G. B.] Grayson & [Henry] Whitter, "On the Banks of Old Tennessee" (Victor V-40235/Bluebird 7072/Zonophone 4329, 1929; on GraysonWhitter01)


  1. Randolph 700, "On the Banks of the Old Tennessee" (4 texts, 1 tune)
  2. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 515-516, "On the Banks of the Old Tennessee" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 700A)
  3. MWheeler, p. 117, "On the Bank uv the Old Tennessee" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Roud #7374
  5. BI, R700


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1928 (Randolph)
Found in: US(So)