Go, Tell It On The Mountain
Songs of Christmas reflect the many facets of the Christmas story: Mary’s baby, the manger scene, the heavenly host, the shepherds, the wise men, and the star. Some are quiet songs, some rousing, some slow, and some spirited. “Go, Tell It On The Mountain” is a joyful clarion call to proclaim from the mountain that a Savior is born. Messiah is come! It is an expression of joy and ecstasy for the poor, the downtrodden, the lonely, the insignificant. It is a fresh declaration each Christmas that Jesus is in the world - He was born in Bethlehem.
Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, John Wesley Work II, who taught Latin and history at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, heard someone sing this refrain. He shaped the melody, harmonized the tune, and added some original stanzas. In 1907 he published it in a small booklet, Folk Songs of the American Negro. This song and well known versions of “New Born Again,” “Lord, I Want To Be A Christian,” “Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door,” and “Were You There” were also included. Because no copyright was registered, Work lost all claim to his writing.
John H. Work III recalled his Christmas experiences at Fisk when he was a child. Early each Christmas morning around five o’clock, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, directed by his father, walked around the campus singing Christmas songs. Their favorites were “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” and “Glory to That Newborn King.” After the early morning singing, the students and faculty gathered in the dining hall for a brief Christmas service and breakfast amid glowing candles and decorated tables.
Those gathering on chilly Christmas mornings in Nashville before sunrise and filling the sky with this song, little knew that years later this spiritual would sound in many lands and in many tongues during the celebration of the Lord’s birth.