March 19th, 2009
Take me back to the place where I first saw the light
To the sweet sunny south take me home
Where the mockingbirds sing me to rest every night
Oh, why was I tempted to roam?
I think with regret of the dear home I left
Of the warm hearts that sheltered me there
Of wife and of dear ones of whom I’m bereft
For the old place again do I sigh
Take me back to the place where the orange trees grow
To my plot in the evergreen shade
Where the flowers from the river’s green margins did grow
And spread their sweet scent through the glade
Oh the path to our cottage they say has grown green
And the place is quite lonely around
I know that the smiles and the forms I have seen
Now lie in the dark mossy ground
Take me back, let me see what is left that I knew
Can it be that the old house is gone?
Dear friends of my childhood indeed must be few
And I must face death all alone
But yet I’ll return to the place of my birth
Where the children have played round the door
Where they gathered wild blossoms that grow round the path
They’ll echo our footsteps no more
Take me back to the place where my little ones sleep
Poor Massa lies buried close by
By the graves of my loved ones, I long for to weep
And among them to rest when I die
This song is titled “The Sweet Sunny South”. This song dates back to sometime in the 19th century. There is no evidence of exactly where or when this song was first played. According to Chalres Wolfe some sheet music indicates that it could have been written in the 1840’s (Wolfe 24). If that is the case, there is a good chance is was written for a minstrel show, which was very popular at that time. It is mostly thought of as a traditional song though there are different early copyrights on it. John C. Schreiner and Raymond are two names that have copyright claims (Wolfe 24).
According to Paul Cohen this song is sung from the viewpoint of a slave, though that is not apparent from the lyrics (Cohen 7). When looking at the lyrics from the viewpoint of a slave, this song is very similar to may other minstrel songs at the time, which would justify slavery by portraying slaves who were happy with their situation.
During the folk revival of the 1950’s and 1960’s this song began to regain it’s popularity. The lyrics were interpreted as a song about Southern pride despite the few lines that mention death. This version of the song The Sweet Sunny South was sung by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman in 1991.
Cohen, Paul. “Shady Grove” San Rafael: Acoustic Disc, 1996
Wolfe, Charles. ”Masters Of Old-Time Country Autoharp” Washington: Smithsonian Folkways, 2006