A Brief History of “Down to the River to Pray”

While it is hard to pinpoint the exact origins of the song, “Down to the River to Pray” has been referred to as a hymn, a spiritual and an Appalachian song. Some believe it was a Native American Tribal song that was adapted to include Christian lyrics. It is attributed to George H. Allan in the Slave Songbook of 1867, and Alison Krauss popularized it in the 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The song also is known by alternate titles such as “Down in the Valley to Pray,” “Come, Let Us All Go Down” and “The Good Old Way.” Whatever the title might truly be, the deeply spiritual song is about keeping the faith in a time of darkness.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir recorded a rendition of the song, which appears on the 2009 album, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing: American Folk Hymns and Spirituals. The song also appears on another album by the Choir, titled “100 Years: Celebrating a Century of Recording Excellence.”

In the video above the Choir performs “Down to the River to Pray,’ arranged by Mack Wilberg, from episode 4323 of Music & the Spoken Word .