Oh Mary, Don't You Weep

Album: The Swan Silvertones (1958)
  • A gospel standard that dates back to before the Civil War, "Mary Don't You Weep" was a freedom song sung by enslaved African American containing messages of hope and emancipation. The song draws from both Old and New Testament stories recounting the Israelites' exodus from Egypt and Mary of Bethany's distraught pleas to Jesus to raise her brother Lazarus from the dead, which he miraculously did.
  • The song was resurrected by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, an African American a cappella ensemble consisting of students at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. They performed the spiritual on their worldwide tours and were the first to record it - as "O Mary Don't You Weep, Don't You Mourn" - in New York City on October 23, 1915.
  • The best known recording was made by the vocal gospel group The Swan Silvertones in 1958. Lead singer Claude Jeter's improvised "I'll be a bridge over deep water if you trust in my name" caught the ear of Paul Simon and served inspiration many years later for his song "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
  • The Swan Silvertones' version was recorded just as the Civil Rights Movement was heating up and with liberation as one of its themes, the spiritual became one of the most well-known songs of the campaign.
  • In 2015 it was announced that The Swan Silvertones' version had been selected for induction into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. It was one of 25 new recordings chosen for their "cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation's audio legacy."
  • Aretha Franklin recorded a live version of "Mary Don't You Weep" for her 1972 album Amazing Grace. The Soul Stirrers, Burl Ives and Pete Seeger are among the other artists who have performed the song.
  • Prince took the framework of the tune and put his own lyrics to it. His passionate version was included on his 2018 posthumous Piano and a Microphone 1983 album, a one-take recording made at his home studio back in 1983.
  • Prince's version was used at the end of Spike Lee's 2018 BlacKkKlansman movie, which tells the story of a black Colorado policeman who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s.

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