Go Down Moses

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"Go Down Moses" is an American Negro spiritual. It describes events in the Old Testament of the Bible, specifically Exodus 7:16: "And the Lord spoke 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:

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

Going "down" to Egypt is derived from the Biblical origin, where Egypt is consistently perceived as being "below" other lands, with going to Egypt being "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"

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 the Lockwood, is:


The song was made famous by Paul Robeson whose voice, deep and resonant as it was, was said by some to have attained the status of the voice of God. On February 7, 1958, the song was recorded in New York City, and sung by Louis Armstrong with Sy Oliver's Orchestra.

It is also one of the spirituals used in the oratorio A Child of Our Time by the English composer Michael Tippett.

William Faulkner titled his novel Go Down, Moses after the song.

A Hebrew translation of the song is a common element in the Passover seder in Israel.

A reference is made to the song in the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off when a bed-ridden Cameron sings, "When Cameron was in Egypt land, let my Cameron go!"

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