I tried to get her to sing all the song

Posted by | December 8, 2011

John Jacob Niles
John Jacob Niles composed the Appalachian influenced Christmas carols The Carol of the Birds, The Flower of Jesse, What Songs were Sung, Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head, and Sweet Little Boy Jesus.

I Wonder As I Wander, one of his most popular carols, illustrates the working methods of this inveterate collector of homegrown musicality:

I Wonder As I Wander grew out of three lines of music sung for me by a girl who called herself Annie Morgan,” Niles explained. “The place was Murphy, North Carolina, and the time was July, 1933.

“The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police, after having camped in the town square for some little time, cooking, washing, hanging their wash from the Confederate monument and generally conducting themselves in such a way as to be classed a public nuisance.

“Preacher Morgan and his wife pled poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town. It was then that Annie Morgan came out–a tousled, unwashed blonde, and very lovely. She sang the first three lines of the verse of I Wonder as I Wander. At twenty-five cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song.

Duke Park in 1910/1911, Murphy, NCDuke Park in 1910/1911, Murphy, NC, where the Morgan family probably camped.

“After eight tries, all of which are carefully recorded in my notes, I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material–and a magnificent idea. With the writing of additional verses and the development of the original melodic material, I Wonder As I Wander came into being. I sang it for five years in my concerts before it caught on. Since then, it has been sung by soloists and choral groups wherever the English language is spoken and sung.”

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God’s Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

sources: http://johnjacobniles.com/
www.uky.edu/FineArts/Music/Niles/
www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Biographies/john_jacob_niles.htm
www.familychristmasonline.com/music/trad_american_carols/i_wonder_as.htm

Christmas+in+Appalachia John+Jacob+Niles Murphy+NC appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

2 Responses

  • tipper says:

    Even though Murphy is the county seat of my county-Cherokee-I had never heard the Christmas song until I read about it in a book. After I read it was discovered in Murphy-I found a version to listen to-then I made my girls learn it and sing it for me : )

    And now each Christmas I think of the Morgans I know who live here still and I wonder if the little girl was their ancestor.

  • K says:

    I heard this story many times and every Christmas when I hear this song I wonder whatever happened to Annie Morgan and her family.

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