Jesse Jarnow

“go where i send thee” – golden gate jubilee quartet

“Go Where I Send Thee” – Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet (download here)
from Gospel Music (2006)
released by Hyena Records (buy)

(file expires January 12th)

We can talk all we want about popcraft, but the most genuine hooks are those in folk music — real folk music, that is, the type that existed before recordings. In fact, after a song has been passed from generation to generation and continent to continent, all that’s left is what people can remember: hooks.

Like the Beverly Hills Teens theme song, “Go Where I Send Thee” — performed here by the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet — has been lodged in my head for most of my life without me ever owning a proper recording. I suspect I learned it from a lily-white Pete Seeger rendition, but I’m not really sure. (The 1937 GGJQ version is from Joel Dorn and Lee Friedlander’s awesome Gospel Music mix.)
In Folk Songs of North America, where it is labeled “The Holy Baby,” Alan Lomax traces it as such:

Versions of this ancient mystic song have been recorded everywhere in Europe. Archer Taylor (Journal of American Folklore, LXII, p. 382) suggests that its origin may be found in Sanskrit, but that all European versions are probably derived from a Hebrew chant for Passover (Echod mi Yodea, first printed in Prague in 1526). The earliest known English translation of the Jewish religious folk song appeared in the seventeenth century, but a number of distinct forms soon developed.

To my ears, “Go Where I Send Thee” — the melody at its core, anyway, the specific part that never left me — doesn’t sound particularly like any of these cultures, the American South included. The refrain, the little drop between “send” and “thee,” just sounds like something I remember, everything whittled away except for its exact emotional effect. To paraphrase Frank Zappa: Folk isn’t dead. It doesn’t even smell funny.

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