Go Down Moses

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
(Redirected from Go Down, Moses)
Jump to: navigation, search
"Go Down, Moses"
Song by Fisk Jubilee Singers
(Earliest attested)
Form Negro spiritual
Composer Traditional

"Go Down Moses" is an American Negro spiritual. It describes events in the Old Testament of the Bible, specifically Exodus 8:1: "And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me", in which God commands Moses to demand the release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. The opening verse as published by the Jubilee Singers in 1872:

When Israel was in Egypt's land:
Let my people go,
Oppress'd so hard they could not stand,
Let my People go.

Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt's land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
Let my people go.

In the song "Israel" represents the African-American slaves while "Egypt" and "Pharaoh" represent the slavemaster.[citation needed]

Going "down" to Egypt is derived from the Biblical origin; Moses was up on the mountain of God when God commanded him to go to Egypt (Exodus 3:1-12). Also, the Bible generally recognizes Egypt as being at a lower altitude than Jerusalem and other core areas of Israelite territory; thus, going to Egypt means going "down"[1] while going away from Egypt is "up".[2] In the context of American slavery, this ancient sense of "down" converged with the concept of "down the river" (the Mississippi), where slaves' conditions were notoriously worse, a situation which left the idiom "sell [someone] down the river" in present-day English.[3]

"Oh! Let My People Go"

"Oh! Let My People Go"
(The Song of the Contrabands)
Cover of sheet music, 1862
Song by Contrabands
Published 1862
Form Negro spiritual
Composer Traditional

Although usually thought of as a spiritual, the earliest recorded use of the song was as a rallying anthem for the Contrabands at Fort Monroe sometime before July 1862. Early authorities presumed it was composed by them.[4] Sheet music was soon after published, titled "Oh! Let My People Go: The Song of the Contrabands", and arranged by Horace Waters. L.C. Lockwood, chaplain of the Contrabands, stated in the sheet music the song was from Virginia, dating from about 1853.[5] The opening verse, as recorded by Lockwood, is:

The Lord, by Moses, to Pharaoh said: Oh! let my people go.
If not, I'll smite your first-born dead—Oh! let my people go.
Oh! go down, Moses,
Away down to Egypt's land,
And tell King Pharaoh
To let my people go.

Sarah Bradford's authorized biography of Harriet Tubman, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman (1869), quotes Tubman as saying she used "Go Down Moses" as one of two code songs fugitive slaves used to communicate when fleeing Maryland.[6] Tubman began her underground railroad work in 1850 and continued until the beginning of the Civil War, so it's possible Tubman's use of the song predates the origin claimed by Lockwood.[citation needed]

In popular culture





  • The NBC television comedy The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air twice used the song for comedic effect. In the first instance, Will Smith's character sings the song after he and his cousin Carlton Banks are thrown into prison (Smith sings the first two lines, Banks sullenly provides the refrain, then a prisoner sings the final four lines in an operatic voice.)[10] In the second instance, Banks is preparing for an Easter service and attempts to show off his prowess by singing the last two lines of the chorus; Smith replies with his own version, in which he makes a joke about Carlton's height ("...Let my cousin grow!").[citation needed]
  • The song is sung in the miniseries The Spies of Warsaw (2013).
  • Della Reese sings it in Episode 424, "Elijah", of Touched by an Angel, which Bruce Davison sings "Eliyahu".


  • The Kelly Family recorded the song twice: live version is included on their album Live (1988) and a studio version on New World (1990). The latter also features on their compilation album The Very Best - Over 10 Years (1993).
  • The Golden Gate Quartet (Duration: 3:05; year and album unknown).[citation needed]
  • "Go Down Moses" was recorded by the Robert Shaw Chorale on RCA Victor 33 record LM/LSC 2580, copyright 1964, first side, second band, lasting 4 minutes and 22 seconds. Liner notes by noted African-American author Langston Hughes.[11]


  1. For example, in Genesis 42:2 Jacob commands his sons to "go down to Egypt" to buy grain
  2. In Exodus 1:10, Pharaoh expresses apprehension that the Hebrews would join Egypt's enemies and "go up [i.e. away] from the land"
  3. Phrases.org.uk
  4. The Continental Monthly, Vol II, pp. 114-113, "We are indebted to Clark's School-Visitor for the following song of the Contrabands, which originated among the latter, and was first sung by them in the hearing of white people at Fortress Monroe, where it was noted down by their chaplain, Rev. L.C. Lockwood."
  5. Lockwood, "Oh! Let My People Go", p. 5: "This Song has been sung for about nine years by the Slaves of Virginia."
  6. Bradford, Sarah. "Docsouth: Bradford". UNC.edu. pp. 26–27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Easy A - Original Sound Tracks". IMDB.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Go Down Moses". Allmusic.com.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Russian Interior Ministry (MVD) Choir Recording. "Go Down Moses". YouTube.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. NBC The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. "Go Down Moses". YouTube.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. The album itself!


  • The Continental Monthly. Vol. II (July–December, 1862). New York.
  • Lockwood, L.C. "Oh! Let My People Go: The Song of the Contrabands". New York: Horace Waters (1862).

External links