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Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, Mildred Bailey sings the spiritual

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[Monday Notes no. 81] The spiritual is the oldest music in the African-American tradition, older than jazz and blues. Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child is one of the most moving and intense examples, a song about loneliness and separation. Let's listen to Mildred Bailey's interpretation.

Mildred Bailey was a minor figure in the scene of great American song, not only because of her premature death but also because of her unpretentious way of singing, rooted in the old Broadway tradition.

Ten years older than Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey had a timbre of voice that somewhat resembles that of the two great jazz singers. Her style, however, lacks Ella's vivacity as much as Billie's intensity. Mildred Bailey sings with a voice that is not powerful but gentle and soft, she is capable of swinging but also of singing the blues and spirituals.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child is an old spiritual dating from 1870 or earlier. The song is a kind of minor blues, as the blues in fact it lingers on the I, IV and V degrees of the key. Let's take a look at the score of the song.

Lo spartito di " Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"
The score of " Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" in the interpretation of Mildred Bailey

Just as in a blues, the song is based on a first repeated phrase [A] "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child" which is followed by a second concluding phrase [B] "A long way from home". The most typical blues form is AAB, in this case we have AAABB instead. The full text follows.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child - lyrics

I

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child [3x]

A long ways from home, a long ways from home

II

Sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone [3x]

A long ways from home, a long ways from home”

III

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child

Feel like a little poor little orphan child

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,

A long ways from home, a long ways from home”

motherless child cover

The song refers to the separation of children from their enslaved parents, a common practice during slavery. On a less literal level, the lyrics also speak of the separation of deportees from their motherland, Africa.

The power of this text, which tells of the lack of the two most reassuring things for a child, mother and home, is enhanced by a melody that expresses hopelessness and loneliness. Mildred Bailey's performance is not particularly dramatic, her mournful simplicity seeming to express a dignified resignation. Paul Baron's orchestra accompaniment is also discreet and elegant.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child has been performed by the greatest American singers, yet Mildred Bailey's interpretation is one of my favourites, even in its simplicity I find it particularly inspired. That is why I am recommending it to the friends who follow my Monday notes, sending a warm greeting along with it.

Until next Monday!

Download the lead sheet of "SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD"

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