Song lyrics to Old Folks at Home, (1851) aka Swanee River. Music by Stephen Foster.
Old Folks at Home/Swanee River has been performed in:
- Thank Your Lucky Stars
- Babes in Arms
- Swanee River
- Remember the Night
- Babes on Broadway
- Road to Rio
- the TV series The Honeymooners and The Jack Benny Show, and likely many more.
Old Folks at Home was commissioned in 1851 by E. P. Christy for use by his minstrel troupe. He asked to be credited as the song’s creator, and was so credited on early sheet music printings. As a result, while the song was a success, Foster did not directly profit much from it.
Written in the first person from the perspective and in the dialect of an African slave, the song’s narrator states “longing for de old plantation”,which has been criticized as romanticizing slavery. The word, “darkies”, used in Foster’s lyrics, has been amended; for example, “brothers” was sung in place of the offensive word at the dedication of the new Florida state capitol building in 1978. In general, other words are typically substituted for the original, offensive lyrics.
Way down upon the Swanee River,
Far, far away,
There’s where my heart is turning ever,
There’s where the old folks stay.
All up and down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for my childhood station,
And for the old folks at home.
All the world is sad and dreary
Everywhere I roam.
O dear ones, how my heart grows weary,
Far from the old folks at home.
All round the little farm I wandered
When I was young,
Then many happy days I squandered,
Many the songs I sung.
When I was playing with my brother
Happy was I;
Oh, take me to my kind old mother!
There let me live and die.
One little hut among the bushes,
One that I love
Still sadly to my memory rushes,
No matter where I rove.
When will I see the bees a-humming
All round the comb?
When will I hear the banjo strumming,
Down in my good old home?