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The weather is changing. The days are lengthening. My thoughts are returning to the outdoors after a long hibernation away from Portland, Oregon’s rainy days of winter.

Let’s go camping!

We’ve got our tent, our sleeping bags, hotdogs, s’mores, and everything else we’ll need. The camp is set up around the fire pit and now, as the sun sets, what comes to mind but that old campfire classic; “Kumbaya”.

As it turns out, its controversal history is tied to Portland.

Reverend Marvin V. Frey, (1918-1992) claimed to have composed the song, originally entitled “Come By Here”, in 1936 after hearing a prayer delivered by a storefront evangelist named “Mother Duffin” in Portland. This contradicted research showing that sometime between 1922 and 1931 the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals added the song, under the name “Come By Heah”, to its catalog. It was sung in Gullah, a creole pidgin dialect that was spoken by the former slaves of the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. The first four recordings of the song were made on wax cylinder by the founder of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center, Robert Winslow Gordon, between 1926 and 1928.

In 1939 Rev. Frey included the song in his collection of lyric sheets, Revival Choruses of Marvin V. Frey (printed in Portland, OR) and later claimed the change in the title to “Kum Ba Ya” came through a missionary family returning from Africa in 1946 but “no scholar has ever found an indigenous word ‘kumbaya’ with a relevant meaning” to the song, according to the liner notes to a 1959 album by a singer named Pete Seeger.

So, when you’re strumming your guitar around the campfire this summer don’t picture the happy hippies of the 1960’s who popularized it as a peace-loving anthem. Instead, picture the good Rev. Frey capitalizing on a slave’s song of hope.

Pete Seeger’s version of Kumbaya:

Comments on: "Kumbaya, I’m Stealing Your Song" (8)

  1. Diana, your last link about Two Fish, I couldn’t open.No sure why. Thanks.

  2. You’re so good at writing history and making it interesting!

  3. I love that song and have so many memories as a kid of singing it with my neighborhood buddies! You are just a fountain of interesting fact, Dena girl!!! 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on tinawagnermattern and commented:
    Betcha y’all didn’t know this! “….Oh Lord, Kumbaya…”

  5. Genell said:

    Oh.. that takes me back to playing the organ at my grandma’s house many years ago! Yep, that was the first song I learned to play!! Thanks for sharing the history of that song..a very interesting read! 🙂

  6. Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wished to mention that I’ve truly loved browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing in your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  7. Slave’s song of hope, sound interesting even I think, but actually, I never go camping. I wish I could do it some time.

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