Image: The Valley of the Shenandoah The valley of the Shenandoah, c1864. Currier and Ives. Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.

"Shenandoah" (traditional)

The origins of "Shenandoah," perhaps one of America's most recognizable folk tunes, are not so easily deciphered. Like many folk songs, it is impossible to determine exactly when the song was composed, yet the song probably did not originate later than the Civil War. In any case, by the end of the nineteenth century, "Shenandoah" had achieved widespread popularity, both on land and at sea.

American folklorist Alan Lomax suggested that "Shenandoah" was a sea-shanty and that its "composers" quite possibly were French-Canadian voyageurs. Sea-shanties were work songs used by sailors to coordinate the efforts of completing chores such as raising the ship's anchor or hauling ropes. The formal structure of a shanty is simple: it consists of a solo lead that alternates with a boisterous chorus. With the sweeping melodic line of its familiar refrain, "Shenandoah" is the very nature of a sea-shanty; indeed, the song's first appearance in print was in an article by William L. Alden, titled "Sailor Songs," published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1882.

As unclear as the song's origin is, so is the definitive interpretation of its text. Some believe that the song refers to the river of the same name. Others suggest that it is of African-American origin, for it tells the tale of Sally, the daughter of the Indian Chief Shenandoah, who is courted for seven years by a white Missouri river trader. Regardless of these textual discrepancies, "Shenandoah" remains an American classic.

About this Item

Title
Shenandoah
Subject Headings
-  Songs Collections
-  Songs and Music
Online Format
online text
Description
"Shenandoah" (traditional)
Additional Metadata Formats
METSXML Record

Rights & Access

The Library of Congress is providing access to these materials for educational and research purposes and makes no warranty with regard to their use for other purposes. The written permission of the copyright owners and/or other rights holders (such as holders of publicity and/or privacy rights) is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. There may be content that is protected as "works for hire" (copyright may be held by the party that commissioned the original work) and/or under the copyright or neighboring-rights laws of other nations.

Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an item and securing any necessary permission ultimately rests with persons desiring to use the item. Users should consult the bibliographic information that accompanies each item for specific information. This catalog data provides the details known to the Library of Congress regarding the corresponding items and may assist users in making independent assessments of the legal status of these items as related to their desired uses.

Items included here with the permission of the rights holders are indicated as such in the bibliographic record for each item.

In some cases, the Library was unable to identify a possible rights holder and has elected to place some of those items online as an exercise of fair use for strictly non-commercial educational uses. The Library of Congress would like to learn more about these materials and would like to hear from individuals or institutions that have any additional information or know of their history. Please contact:  Performing Arts Reading Room.

Suggested credit line: Library of Congress.

Cite This Item

Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

Shenandoah. Online Text. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200031152/.

APA citation style:

Shenandoah. [Online Text] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200031152/.

MLA citation style:

Shenandoah. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200031152/>.