"Ol' Man River" (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) is a song in the 1927 musical Show Boatthat expresses the African American hardship and struggles of the time with the endless, uncaring flow of theMississippi River; it is sung from the point-of-view of a black dock worker on a showboat, and is the most famous song from the show. Meant to be performed in a slow tempo, it is sung completely once by the dock worker "Joe" who travels with the boat, and, in the stage version, is heard four more times in brief reprises. Joe serves as a sort of musical one-man Greek chorus, and the song, when reprised, comments on the action, as if saying, "This has happened, but the river keeps rolling on anyway."
The song is notable for several aspects: the lyrical pentatonic-scale melody, the subjects of toil and social class, metaphor to the Mississippi, and as a bass solo (rare in musicals, solos for baritones or tenors being more common).
Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra had a no. 1 hit recording of the song in 1928 sung in a much faster tempo than Kern and Hammerstein intended, and featuringBing Crosby on vocals and Bix Beiderbecke on cornet. A second version, by Paul Whiteman with Paul Robeson on vocals and sung in a dance tempo, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2006.
Dere's an ol' man called de Mississippi Dat's de ol' man dat I'd like to be! What does he care if de world's got troubles? What does he care if de land ain't free? Ol' man river, Dat ol' man river He mus'know sumpin' But don't say nuthin', He jes'keeps rollin' He keeps on rollin' along. He don' plant taters, He don't plant cotton, An' dem dat plants'em is soon forgotten, But ol'man river, He jes keeps rollin'along. You an'me, we sweat an' strain, Body all achin' an' racket wid pain, Tote dat barge! Lif' dat bale! Git a little drunk An' you land in jail. Ah gits weary An' sick of tryin' Ah'm tired of livin' An' skeered of dyin', But ol' man river, He jes'keeps rolling' along. Colored folks work on de Mississippi, Colored folks work while de white folks play, Pullin' dose boats from de dawn to sunset, Gittin' no rest till de judgement day. Don't look up An' don't look down, You don' dast make De white boss frown. Bend your knees An'bow your head, An' pull date rope Until you' dead. Let me go 'way from the Mississippi, Let me go 'way from de white man boss; Show me dat stream called de river Jordan, Dat's de ol' stream dat I long to cross. O' man river, Dat ol' man river, He mus'know sumpin' But don't say nuthin' He jes' keeps rollin' He keeps on rollin' along. Long ol' river forever keeps rollin' on... He don' plant tater, He don' plant cotton, An' dem dat plants 'em Is soon forgotten, but ol' man river, He jes' keeps rollin' along. Long ol' river keeps hearing dat song. You an' me, we sweat an' strain, Body all achin an' racked wid pain. Tote dat barge! Lif' dat bale! Git a little drunk An' you land in jail. Ah, gits weary An' sick of tryin' Ah'm tired of livin' An' skeered of dyin', But ol' man river, He jes'keeps rollin' along!