93

Go, Tell It on the Mountain

Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

The refrain theme comes from Old Testament passages in which praise to God for his acts of deliverance was often shouted, both literally and metaphorically, from the mountaintops (Isa. 42:11). While the three stanzas tell the essence of the Christmas story, the refrain underscores the missionary impetus of the Christian church: "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19). The "go, tell," which initially applied to the singers caroling on the university campus, is a signal for us to leave the comfortable confines of Christian worship and "go, tell" the message of Christ's redemption to the whole world.

Tune Information

Name
GO TELL IT
Key
F Major or modal
Meter
7.6.7.6 refrain 7.8.7.6

Recordings

Hymn Story/Background

The text of this beloved spiritual was first published in Folk Song of the American Negro (1907), a study of African American folk music by John Wesley Work, Jr. The song may date back to earlier sources, but evidently the original text was lost. According to Edith McFall Work, widow of John Wesley Work, III,
the verses of these songs were published by John Work, II, in place of the original ones which could not be found. In 1940 John Work, III, had the songs copyright­ed and published in his book American Negro Songs.
-Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, p. 360
 
In American Negro Songs and Spirituals (1940), John Wesley Work, III, attributes the newer text to his uncle Frederick J. Work. "He may have composed it" [the tune], wrote J. W. Work, III. "I know he composed the verses." John, III, recalled that when he was a child, the students at Fisk University began singing this before daybreak on Christmas morning, going from building to building. Later, his arrangement for use in choral concerts by the Fisk Jubilee Singers helped to popularize the spiritual.
 
The refrain theme comes from Old Testament passages in which praise to God for his acts of deliverance was often shouted, both literally and metaphorically, from the mountaintops (Isa. 42:11). While the three stanzas tell the essence of the Christmas story, the refrain underscores the missionary impetus of the Christian church: "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19). The "go, tell," which initially applied to the singers caroling on the university campus, is a signal for us to leave the comfortable confines of Christian worship and "go, tell" the message of Christ's redemption to the whole world.
Because of the spiritual's oral tradition, variants in text and melody exist. Some scholars have discovered similarities between GO TELL IT and white folk songs from the Civil War era. A textual variant for "Go, Tell It" is an Easter version with the following refrain text:
Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus lives again.
— Bert Polman
Hymnary.org does not have a score for this hymn.