I first learned “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” when I was around six years old, from another little girl in my neighborhood, who said she’d learned it at church. She was a Catholic, so for a long time I assumed it was a Catholic song. I’ve always loved the melody, but listening to it years later, I still didn’t understand what the lyrics meant.
Turning to Wikipedia, where I learned that the song originated as an African-American spiritual during the American Civil War. The article notes that “the River Jordan” is a metaphor for death, and by folk tradition, the archangel Michael was tasked with ferrying souls across the river into Heaven (“milk and honey on the other side”).
This version by The Highwaymen has a very 1960s-easy-listening vibe. You can almost smell the patchouli floating on the breeze. Another, earthier version was recorded by folk legend Pete Seeger.
I love how the crowd joins right in. I miss the days when there were songs that everybody could sing along to. It seems we’re fast losing our common musical language.
Hope you have a Sparkling Vintage Sunday!