Come By Here / Kum Ba Ya / Kumbaya transcribed by the United States Library of Congress from a 1926 recording.
The origins of the song are disputed. Research in Kodaly Envoy by Lum Chee-Hoo has found that sometime between 1922 and 1931, members of an organization called the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals collected a song from the South Carolina coast. "Come By Heah", as they called it, was sung in Gullah, the creole language spoken by the former slaves living on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. Between 1926 and 1928, four more versions of traditional spirituals with the refrain "Come by Here" or "Come by Heah" were recorded in South Carolina and Georgia on wax cylinder by Robert Winslow Gordon, founder of what became the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. In May 1936, John Lomax, Gordon's successor as head of the Library of Congress's folk archive, discovered a woman named Ethel Best singing "Come by Here" with a group in Raiford, Florida.
These facts contradict the longstanding copyright and authorship claim of Reverend Marvin V. Frey. Rev. Frey (1918–1992) claimed to have written the song circa 1936 under the title "Come By Here," inspired, he claimed, by a prayer he heard delivered by "Mother Duffin," a storefront evangelist in Portland, Oregon. It first appeared in this version in Revival Choruses of Marvin V. Frey, a lyric sheet printed in Portland, Oregon in 1939. Frey claimed the change of the title to "Kum Ba Yah" came about in 1946, when a missionary family returned from Africa where they had sung Frey's version and slightly changed the words. This family toured America singing the song with the text "Kum Ba Yah". This account is contradicted by the fact that a nearly identical Gullah version of the song was recorded almost two decades earlier. According to Samuel Freedman (The New York Times, November 20, 2010), the metamorphosis to the "African" word Kumbaya was explained in liner notes to a 1959 Pete Seeger album, but "no scholar has ever found an indigenous word 'kumbaya' with a relevant meaning.". Freedman goes on to discuss the usage of kumbaya as a term of political rhetoric. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumbayah
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