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“Run Old Jeremiah”: Echoes of the Ring Shout

Spirituals and work songs, rooted in both the slavery era and the West African societies from which most African-American slaves were originally taken, provided cultural sustenance to African Americans in the midst of intense racial oppression. Folklorists first began collecting traditional southern music in the late-19th century. By the 1920s and 1930s, John and Alan Lomax were recording southern musicians (African-American, white, and Mexican-American) for the Library of Congress. “Run, Old Jeremiah,” sung by Joe Washington Brown and Austin Coleman in Jennings, Louisiana, in 1934, was a ring-shout, a religious song using a West African dance pattern, where the performers shuffled single file, clapping out a complex counter-rhythm. The ring-shout was common during slavery and remained popular well into the 20th century as a means of emotional and physical release during religious worship. The lyrics of the ring-shout spoke of escape from the travails of the present.

Listen to Audio:

“Run Old Jeremiah”

By myself. (5)

You know I’ve got to go.

You got to run.

I’ve got to run.

You got to run.

By myself. (3)

I got a letter, (2)

Ol' brownskin.

Tell you what she say.

"Leavin' tomorrow,

Tell you goodbye."

O my Lordy. (6)

Well, well, well. (2)

O my Lord. (2)

O my Lordy. (2 )

Well, well, well. (2 )

I’ve got a rock.

You got a rock.

Rock is death.

O my Lordy.

O my Lord.

Well, well, well.

Run here, Jeremiah. (2)

I must go

On my way. (4)

Who’s that ridin' the chariot? (2)

Well, well, well . . .

(New Leader:)

One mornin'

Before the evening

Sun was goin' down (3)

Behind them western hills. (3)

Old number 12

Comin' down the track. (3)

See that black smoke.

See that old engineer.

See that engineer. (2)

Tol' that old fireman

Ring his ol' bell

With his hand.

Rung his engine bell. (2)

Well, well, well. (2 )

Jesus tell the man,

Say, I got your life

In My Hand;

I got your life

In My Hand. (2 )

Well, well, well.

0l' fireman told,

Told that engineer,

Ring your black bell,

Ding, ding, ding,

Ding, ding, ding, ding.

0l' fireman say

——?—- -

——?—- -

——?—- -

That mornin',

Well, well, well, (2)

0l' fireman say,

Well, well,

I’m gonna grab my

Old whistle too.

Wah, wah, ho,

Wah, wah, wah, wah, ho,

Wah, wah, ho,

Wah, wah, wah, ho. (etc.)


Soon, soon, soon,

Wah——— -o.

Well, well, well,

0l' engineer,

I’ve got your life

In my hands. (2)

Tol' your father, (2)

Well, well, well,

I was travellin', (2)

I was ridin' (3)

Over there. (2)

Ol' engineer.

This is the chariot. (2)

Source: Afro-American Spirituals, Work Songs, and Ballads, ed. Alan Lomax (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress Archive of Folk Song, AFS L3). Sung by Joe Washington Brown and Austin Coleman at Jennings, Louisiana, 1934. Recorded by John A. and Alan Lomax.

See Also:"It's a long John": Traditional African-American Work Songs
"Trouble So Hard": Singing of Slavery and Freedom