"Michael, Row that Boat Ashore"

When my daughter tapped "Michael, Row Your Boat" on her clarinet a few weeks ago, I recognized the tune by the first "alleluia." This is a haunting spiritual about crossing the River Jordan--Biblespeak for entering the Promised Land, that place as free of suffering as it is radiant with the light of divine joy.

On a literal level, this is actually a rowing song. In
The Incompleat Folksinger, Pete Seeger mentions slaves who had been brought from Africa who spent their lives on small islands off the coast of Georgia and were out of touch with mainland life. "The only transportation was small boats and strong arms to row them," he writes. The boat crews from different plantations would have their own rowing songs. "Michael" is mentioned in the letters of some teachers who went to the islands in 1862-63.

On a metaphorical level, Michael is the archangel Michael, whom the Bible tells us is responsible for rescuing the souls of the faithful from the power of evil, especially at the hour of death. Michael fights Satan and is the champion of God's people in both the New Testament as well as the Old. It is also his job to bring men's souls to judgment. Seen in this context, the song is as much a commentary on the quality of life for slaves as it is a spiritual song.

Michael, row the boat ashore,
Hallelujah.

Michael, row the boat ashore,

Hallelujah.

Sister, help to trim the sails,

Hallelujah.

Sister, help to trim the sails,

Hallelujah.

River Jordan's deep and wide,

Hallelujah.

Milk and honey on the other side,

Hallelujah.

River Jordan's chilly and cold,

Hallelujah.

Chills the body, but warms the soul,

Hallelujah.

My husband recorded my daughter's playing the song on her clarinet. At the time, my father-in-law was dying, and her learning this song was synchronistic.
I created a little video with my photos and posted it to YouTube, and the YouTube tag brought our video into the company of Bobby Darin's. I hope you'll watch him as he brings this song to you straight from his own soul. God bless.

Comments

  1. Anonymous4:16 PM

    Very nice, and again very inspiring! I'm glad that I was in the Navy AFTER rowing became unfashionable.

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  2. That's a great song. I'll listen tonight at home.

    My #1 favorite song is Amazing Grace played on bagpipes.

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  3. Thanks Sandy! I enjoyed both of those.

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  4. Wow- I had no idea the meanings that are behind that song.

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  5. I really liked your video and your daughter's playing.

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  6. Liked your post about the background of the song, Sandy... But I couldn't stop thinking of Kevin Spacey (he made a movie portraying Bobby Darin) while Bobby Darin was singing the song...not what I expected. :)

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  7. Thank so much for sharing & stopping by my blog.

    Trina

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  8. Hi Sandy, that's a very nice blog. Beautiful legend associated with the song. Alas, I can't see the video since I have a very slow internet connection.

    Have a nice day.

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