About the Gospel Song
“Mary Don’t You Weep” is a Christian music that takes back its origin way before the American Civil War. Many scholars, therefore, call it a “slave song“. In addition, this gospel song describes their “origins among the enslaved“, and also contains “coded messages of hope and resistance“. Hence, it became one of the most important tunes of the Negro spirituals.
In context, “Mary Don’t You Weep” was inspired by an account in the new testament of the Bible. It narrates the Biblical story of Mary of Bethany and her fraught request to Jesus Christ. She wants Jesus to raise her brother Lazarus from the dead and make him well again. Furthermore, the song relates to some of the narratives revealed in the old testament, in The Exodus, and the Passage of the Red Sea. It also tells the story when God promised Noah that He will no longer submerge the earth in water. God then used the rainbow as a sign of promise and a covenant to Noah and his family. With the diverse themes and powerful messages, it contains, “Mary Don’t You Weep” became popular once again during the Civil Rights Movement.
Moreover, the title of the song is alternately called “O Mary Don’t You Weep“, “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep, Don’t You Mourn“, or variations thereof.
Aretha Franklin’s Version and Other Recordings
Sources cite that the very first recording of the song was in 1915 by the African-American a capella ensemble Fisk Jubilee Singers. They were a group of students studying at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, during that time.
This classic gospel tune has been covered and performed by a lot of artists be it by Christian music singers or artists of different genres alike. However, the most notable of all is the rendition performed and recorded by American singer-songwriter Aretha Franklin who is famous for her secular career.
Franklin recorded a live version of “Mary Don’t You Weep” for her album, Amazing Grace, in 1972. As a solo artist, her version was very distinct from that of the group performers. Her soulful voice makes the song tastier with great control and growl of a true diva.
Meanwhile, the other best-known recordings rendered were by the American vocal gospel music groups The Caravans in 1958, and The Swan Silvertones the year after. To note, “Mary Don’t You Weep” later became the greatest hit of The Swan Silvertones with lead singer Claude Jeter interpolating the line:
“I’ll be a bridge over deep water if you trust in my name.”
This served as the inspiration of American singer-songwriter and actor Paul Simon to write his 1970 hit “Bridge Over Troubled Water“.
Listen to Aretha Franklin’s soulful version of the Fisk Jubilee Singers “Mary Don’t You Weep” below:
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Aretha Franklin, Mary Don't You Weep