For such a beloved American spiritual, Deep River has a very sparse history. It first appears in print in 1883 in J.B.T. Marsh’s The Story of the Jubilee Singers: With Their Songs, a book about the Fisk Jubilee singers, which included the melody line of Deep River that has differences from the version we accept today. The tune is not in any earlier collections of slave spirituals. Yet this spiritual became one of the most compelling because of its calmness and imagery for those slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad. (“Crossing the River Jordan” was a code phrase used by slaves which meant gaining their freedom.)
This intermediate level arrangement of the classic African-American spiritual uses two basic left hand accompaniment patterns to provide interest and contrast. It is recital-length, and suitable for studio, sanctuary and stage.
Key: F Major
Mood: yearning, weary, hopeful
Pedagogy: “rolling” left hand patterns, dynamics, rubato