One of the most mournful songs performed in acoustic music today. It has been recorded by many artists. Like many traditional tunes, this one's origins are pretty muddied. It has been claimed by Emry Arthur but this is highly disputed as the tune dates back further than his 1928 recording and his collection published in 1931. Here you can here his version of the song.
Others have accredited the tune to Richard Burnett as it appeared in his song book published in 1913. Burnett, however, when asked in an interview in his advanced age, he was unclear as to where he had gotten the song.
Dr. Ralph Stanley's version is probably the most revered. In fact, it is considered his signature song and it is the title of his autobiography. Ralph continues to perform this tune in all of his shows. Here he performs it in Roanoak, VA in 2008.
Dan Tyminski's tenor vocals are heard on the "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack credited to the Soggy Bottom Boys. It is probably the most recognized version of this tune. Dan performs regularly as a both solo artist and as member of Alison Kraus and Union Station. Here you can see him performing at the Crossroads Festival accompanied by Ron Block also from Alison Kraus' band Union Station.
Jerry Garcia is best known for his work with the Grateful Dead but he had significant roots in Bluegrass through his friendship with Dave Grisman aka "Dawg". Garcia and Grisman recorded the song for what later became know as the Pizza Tapes released in 2000. Here is a version they performed together.
This is an interesting version of the tune, performed with 3 fiddles and a chelo. Bruce Molsky sings this mournful tune accompanied by Darol Anger, Michael Doucet, and Rushad Eggleston at Sherwood Park, Alberta in October 2009. Watch it here
I am a man of constant sorrow,
I've seen trouble all my day.
I bid farewell to old Kentucky,
The place where I was born and raised.
(The place where he was born and raised )
For six long years I've been in trouble,
No pleasures here on earth I found.
For in this world I'm bound to ramble,
I have no friends to help me now.
(He has no friends to help him now.)
It's fare thee well my old lover.
I never expect to see you again.
For I'm bound to ride that northern railroad,
Perhaps I'll die upon this train.
(Perhaps he'll die upon this train.)
You can bury me in some deep valley,
For many years where I may lay.
Then you may learn to love another,
While I am sleeping in my grave.
(While he is sleeping in his grave.)
Maybe your friends think I'm just a stranger
My face, you'll never see no more.
But there is one promise that is given
I'll meet you on God's golden shore.
(He'll meet you on God's golden shore.)
Other covers of the tune include:
Peter Paul and Mary