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"Oh Freedom"

History of an American folk song


Odetta recorded

Odetta recorded "Oh Freedom" in 1956 as part of her "Spiritual Trilogy"

photo: Paul Hawthorne / Getty Images

History of "Oh Freedom"

"Oh Freedom" (purchase/download) is thought to date back to the newly-post-Civil War era, though no specific author is known. It was recorded by Odetta in 1956 (purchase/download) and became an important anthem during the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th Century. On the morning of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., Joan Baez opened the day's events by singing this classic song of liberty and the inalienable right to freedom (purchase/download).

"Oh Freedom" Lyrics

the lyrics of "Oh Freedom" are empowered and repetitive, making it an easy song to remember and with which to sing along. Each verse repeats "Before I'll be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave / And go home to my Lord and be free." The opening line changes, though, and speaks of refusing to be anything but free:

Oh Freedom...
No more moanin'...
No more weepin'...
No more tommin...
No more shootin'...
There'll be singin'...

("Tommin" refers to the character Uncle Tom from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, implying a certain tendency to bow to the wishes and demands of the slave's white master.)

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