Dolly Parton‘s rendition of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is absolutely among the best you’ll ever hear.
The country superstar recorded this Christmas carol for her second Christmas album, Home for Christmas, which she released in 1990. The album was composed of ten Christmas standards and came along with a television special brought by ABC titled Dolly Parton: Christmas at Home.
The Story Behind The Christmas Carol
Compiled and published by John Wesley Work Jr., “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is a spiritual song with African-American origin that dates back to at least 1865. It was considered a Christmas carol because of its original lyrics, which celebrates Jesus’ nativity.
“Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. While shepherds kept their watching, over silent flocks by night. Behold throughout the heavens, there shone a holy light,” the song goes.
According to other scholars, slaves had been singing this American folk carol ever since the 1860s, so there’s no way Work could have composed it. John Wesley Work Jr. was actually an African-American composer, a professional musician, and a professor at Fisk University. He also taught Latin and Greek, but music has always been Work’s first love. So, collecting, writing, and recording spirituals that were passed down orally was a major undertaking for him – this includes “Go Tell It on the Mountain” in 1907.
Over a decade later, the Fisk Jubilee Singers started performing the Christmas song; however, it saw little traction. “Go Tell It on the Mountain” did not attain its widespread popularity until the mid-20th century. By then, genres such as blues, jazz, as well as early rock ‘n roll had taken the United States by storm. The lyrics and lively, driving rhythm of this Christmas carol made it a favorite among young Americans.
In 1963, the American folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary, together with their musical director Milt Okun, adapted and rewrote some of the lyrics. Off their 1963 album In The Wind – with its new title “Tell It on the Mountain” – the lyrics specifically referred to the Exodus and used the phrase “Let my people go.” At the same time, it indirectly referred to the civil rights struggle of the early 1960s. This version turned out to be a moderately successful single for the trio as it hit No. 33 on U.S. pop.
Ever since then, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” has been recorded by several artists, including Frank Sinatra, CeCe Winans, Anne Murray, Garth Brooks, and Dolly Parton – which is one of our favorite versions. You can listen to it in the video below.