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On the Folklife Today Podcast: “Kumbaya”

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A group of musicians with various instruments led by Cathy Fink playing banjo and Marcy Marxer playing guitar.
Cathy Fink (banjo) and Marcy Marxer (guitar) lead AFC’s old-time jam in singing “Kumbaya” on July 7, 2018. The audio is exclusive to the podcast! Photo by Stephen Winick.

Episode four of the Folklife Today Podcast is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on iTunes, or with your usual podcatcher. Or, hear it in the player below!

Our latest podcast episode, “Kumbaya: Stories of an African American Spiritual,” presents some of the background to this classic old song, along with many field recordings of spirituals.  In this blog post, I’ll present the full versions of most of the songs and a lot of other background links.  There is other audio in the podcast, such as an interview with Joe Hickerson, a clip of The Folksmiths (courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways) and a singalong with Grammy-winners Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, which is exclusive to the podcast.

The episode was based on a 2018 post at this very blog. The blog version has a lot of interesting photos and visual documents in it, which we can’t present in a podcast, so it complements the podcast very well. You can find that blog post at this link!

That 2018 blog post was itself based on a 2010 article in Folklife Center News, which you can download here.

Early in the podcast, we refer to a New York Times article, in which John Eligon interviewed me and quoted from the 2010 article. You can find that here, on the New York Times site.

Bessie Jones head-and-shoulder portrait.
Bessie Jones sang “Kumbaya” for Alan Lomax in the 1960s. The audio is in the podcast. Photo by Alan Lomax, AFC Alan Lomax Collection.

The podcast includes the 1926 cylinder recording of “Kumbaya” by Henry Wylie, which is available at this link.

It has an excerpt of the 1936 recording of “Come by Here” or “Kumbaya” by Ethel Best, which is available at this link.

It features two different versions of “Come by Here” by Bessie Jones, which you can find at the Association for Cultural Equity site at these links:

Bessie Jones’s “Come by Here” version 1.

Bessie Jones’s “Come by Here” version 2.

Freddie Palmer, arms outstretched, singing.
Freddie Palmer appeared with the McIntosh County Shouters at the Library of Congress on December 2, 2010. Among the Gullah singing group’s many spirituals is the well known “Kumbaya.” Audio of a different song is in the podcast. Photo by Stephen Winick.

It includes an excerpt from our concert of the McIntosh County Shouters, which is available at this link.

We took a snippet of Pete Seeger’s speech from a webcast of a singalong from 2007, which is at this link.

We took a snippet of Paul Williams’s speech from the 2015 ASCAP We Write the Songs concert, which is at this link.


  1. It was a privilege and an honor to work with the officials from the Library of Congress, including Todd Harvey, I remember several years ago, when Todd Harvey encourage and supported me, Griffin Lotson to continue my grassroots research of the song “Kumbaya”.
    Yes Stephen, I did listen to all of the podcast of “Kumbaya” and as usual you did a super job, America and the world should be grateful for some one like you Stephen for all of your historical knowledge. Thanks to the United states of America Library of Congress for letting my research play a major part in the history of this song “Kumbaya”. From: Federal Government, Gullah Geechee Commissioner & Mayor Pro Tem, Griffin Lotson, City of Darien, Georgia.

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