My Songs by Roland Hayes

This is one of a series of posts about books used as source material for Art Song Central.

Book Title: My Songs; Aframerican Religious Folk Songs Arranged and Interpreted
Author and Arranger: Roland Hayes (1887-1977)
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Copyright: 1948 (not renewed)


I was born just twenty-four years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The atmosphere of the slave days was still strong at my place of birth and the religious folk songs of my people were being born out of religious experience at white heat. I have seen them being born in our religious services at the community Mount Zion Baptist Church at “Little Row” (now Curryville), Gordon County, Georgia. Here I heard great ritual sermons preached and prayers prayed, and I sang the Aframerican religious folk songs as a child with my parents and the church folk. Later, I was for four years a music special student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and I acquired additions to the knowledge I already had of our folk songs from their pioneer collections.

In London and Paris, where I lived for twelve years, I made my home with some highly intelligent native Africans, mostly from the West Coast of Africa, who were taking university studies under government auspices. Discussions of the music of African peoples in Africa and Aframerican folk music were mutually enlightening. Aframerican folk songs forgotten since childhood sprang to my lips, and to my astonishment my native African audience joined in the music while expressing what they felt in their own language idiom. This pointed out to me the African characteristics in Aframerican folk songs, and in the heat of discovery the dross was separated from pure metal, to borrow a figure from the iron foundry in Chattanooga where I worked as a youth.

Eventually, I obtained recordings of African music, and a collection of musical instruments used in them, which I learned to manipulate well enough to understand them. From my African friends in London, and later from African visitors to my home, I learned how instrumental effects are sometimes implied in the vocal characteristics of the older Aframerican folk songs. These and other studies I have drawn upon in some of my accompaniments.

The term “Negro” is a misnomer when taken to mean that in anything but color the slaves within the borders of the various Southern states, or the various plantations — or even anywhere — were of one universal type. But for those Africans who were transplanted to the United States the term “Aframerican” seems fitting.

While compiling the thirty songs of this collection for general public interest, I have not by any means overlooked the solo performing artists who may wish to make one or more groups of songs for their concert or other programs. From each of the three panels of ten songs of this collection may be chosen two groups of four and more songs, well contrasted and diversified as to mood and key. For the church soloist who may wish to give an Easter program of Aframerican songs, I direct attention to the third panel of ten songs that deal with the Life of Christ. There you will find “Passion Music” specially arranged with instrumental prelude and connecting interludes so that a continuous performance (from the “Last Supper” through the “Ascension”) may be given without a break in the music, if you choose to do so.


Brookline, Massachusetts
February 17, 1948


  • Foreword
  • My Songs

Panel One; Events of The Old Testament
PDF: My Songs (Panel 1, unedited)

  • I’ll Make Me a Man
  • Let My People Go!
  • Deep River
  • Ezekiel Saw de Wheel
  • Lit’l David Play on Your Harp
  • Dry Bones
  • Give-a Way, Jordan
  • Two Wings
  • Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?
  • A Witness

Panel Two; Abstractions from the Teachings of Both Old and New Testaments
PDF: My Songs (Panel 2, unedited)

  • You’re Tired, Chile
  • In-a-dat Mornin’
  • Plenty Good Room
  • I’m Troubled
  • Heaven
  • Steal Away
  • Po’ Pilgrim
  • Good News
  • You Mus’ Come in By an’ Thro’ de Lamb
  • Roun’ About de Mountain

Panel Three; The Life of Christ
PDF: My Songs (Panel 3, unedited)

  • Prepare Me One Body
  • Christ’s Birth, Boyhood and Ministry

  • Sister Mary Had-a But One Child
  • Lit’l Boy
  • Live a-Humble
  • Hear de Lambs a-Cryin’?
  • The Passion of Our Lord

  • The Last Supper
  • They Led My Lord Away
  • He Never Said a Mumberlin’ Word
  • Did You Hear When Jesus Rose?
  • Were You There?

It would seem that even in today’s relatively enlightened climate, it is useful to add a note about singing spirituals. They are an important part of our heritage as human beings, and they belong to all of us who embrace them, just as do German Lieder, Italian arias, or French chansons. There are some who would see them consigned to being sung only by people descended from those who created them. Roland Hayes’ own comments would be well considered concerning his own experience with language and cultures foreign to his birth: “When I began my career I realized that if I would speak to all men, I must learn the language and the ways of thought of all men. What good could I do if I knew only my own ways and the thoughts of my own people? So I learned to sing the songs of all people…. The song I sing is nothing. But what I give through the song is everything.”1

The songs from this book are reproduced here under rather unusual circumstances for this site. As mentioned in the FAQ, all non-original materials hosted on the site are carefully vetted to see that they are in the public domain in the United States. Usually, that is determined using Project Gutenberg’s Rule 1, meaning the work was first published in 1922 or before. This book has been cleared using PG’s Rule 6, meaning it was not renewed within 28 years of its publication. I have searched the copyright renewal records and found no evidence that this work was renewed. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, please let me know via the contact form, or by leaving a comment here.

Update: I am strengthened in my confidence of this work’s copyright status now that I’ve found that Dover republished it, albeit with a new title. Since I don’t know when I’ll get to posting individual songs, I’ve posted each panel as a separate PDF file above.

Songs from this source will be added as individual posts are created for them. If you would like priority to be given to any specific song, please leave a comment on this page (registration required) or use the contact form.

1 From a Christian Science Monitor interview, as referred to here.