It’s been a while since I just wrote about a song (the others are here and here), and even though this won’t actually get posted for a week or more, tonight is made for a night of meditating on “Wayfaring Stranger”. This weekend was horribly overshadowed by death with an internet/real life acquaintance losing his wife many decades before he should have, and our tech guru, Trevor, losing a pet. I know some of you have no idea how sad losing a pet can be, but anyone who’s ever lost a household pet knows how dark that grieving process can actually be. To both Don and Trevor I offer my deepest condolences, and in my own weird way I’m writing about this song for y’all.
“The Wayfaring Stranger” or “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”, like most traditional folk songs, is of an unknown and oft-disputed origin. Depending on who you ask, the song’s origins are Appalachian Folk, Old Irish, or Catskills Folk, with some even theorizing that its origins rest in the Negro Spirituals and that there was a deliberate concealment of the song’s origins. Based on my own limited knowledge and experience from researching other traditional folk songs, I get the feeling that it either started in the slave fields of the old South or came to the Appalachian people via the Irish. Like most other traditional American folk songs there are thousands of variations of “Wayfaring Stranger”, which take great liberties in title, melody, harmony and lyrics. The version we’re most familiar with now was popularized in the middle of the twentieth century by musical researchers and performers such as Pete Seeger and Burl Ives.
The song tells of a wayfaring stranger’s hardships and struggles on this mortal coil and the final reward of reuniting with their loved ones in the afterlife. It has been covered by more people than you can shake a stick at, but here are some of my favorites:
The Best of the Rest:
16 Horsepower – Wayfaring Stranger
Doc WatsonMerle Watson – Wayfaring Stranger
Emmylou Harris – Wayfaring Stranger
Greenland is Melting – Wayfaring Stranger
Jack White – Wayfaring stranger
Johnny Cash – Wayfaring Stranger
Natalie Merchant – Poor Wayfaring Stranger
Neko Case – Wayfaring Stranger