Hymn #154: Go Tell It on the Mountain

            John Wesley Work Jr. (c. 1871-1925) included these three stanzas of this African American spiritual in his collection American Negro Songs and Spirituals (1940).  Another stanza sung prior to Work’s version began “When I was a seeker,” but utilized the same refrain.

            John W. Work Jr. received his education at Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, where he was born.  Although his primary area of study was classical languages, he became increasingly involved in research and the performance of African American spirituals with his brother, Frederick Jerome Work.

           Hymnologists have noted similarities between the melody of this spiritual and other traditional songs, such as Stephen Foster’s “Oh, Susanna.”  It was first published by R. Nathaniel Dett in his Religious Folk Songs of the Negro (1927).

            John W. Work Jr. was a leader in arranging spirituals such as this one. He brought them to wider audiences through his publications and performances by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, whom he directed.  Joyce Finch Johnson (b. 1935), of Spelman College, created this arrangement for The New Century Hymnal.