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Most famously heard in the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou", the traditional lullaby "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby" is performed by artists Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, and Gillian Welch. This song appears to be a southern folk song, however and was also previously recorded by Sidney Hemphill Carter in 1959 and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax in 1942..

What is the history, origins and meaning of the lyrics in this song? It appears to be a song born out of the anguish of slavery (as noted by former slave Annie Little in the Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 16, Texas, Part 3).

I have heard however that this may depict a father trying to keep his baby quiet by giving it morphine in order to hide it from a slaveowner, perhaps on the underground railroad, or possibly in order to commit infanticide. Is there any reputable, authoritative evidence that this is the case ?


Other notable threads:

https://www.thecoli.com/threads/origins-of-the-go-to-sleep-little-baby-lullaby.428479/#post-19182971

https://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=44632

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/many-lullabies-murder-ballads

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This is a song that seems to have originated among slaves in the southern US and has has been passed on orally from generation to generation by people who might not even have been able to write, so there is no 'authoritative' version of the lyrics. So, of course, no interpretation of those lyrics is going to be 'authoritative'. There are probably almost as many different interpretations as there have been attempts at interpretation. A recurring theme in these is that the baby has been abandoned by both parents and the singer is preparing to poison it, but there are plenty of other variations.

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