53 “Little Moses” by The Carter Family


April 14, 2011 by gadaya

The Carter Family recorded “Little Moses”  in February 14, 1929, their third session for Victor. They arrived this time in Camden, New Jersey with a brand new Chevrolet, amazed at the popularity they gained during their three years in the recording business. During this session (that you can hear and download here) they recorded many of their best known songs like “I’m thinking tonight of my blue eyes”, “Sweet Fern”, “My Clinch Mountain Home”, “The Foggy Mountain Top”, “Engine 143”, etc… and the song we’re going to look more closely in this post, “Little Moses”. Sara Carter learned this “religious ballad” from an older relative, Myrtle Bayes and the song was collected in 1905 under the title “Moses in the bulrushes” in “Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folklore Society”. The song tells the story of the founding of baby Moses by Pharaoh’s  daughter  and some other famous scenes of the prophet’s life as told in the Bible book of Exodus. In his form, the song reads like a children’s Sunday school lesson and his simple melody in waltz time with his repetitive last verses in the chorus enhance this lullaby character.

Here are the lyrics:

1. Away by the river so clear,
The ladies were winding their way,
While Pharaoh’s little daughter stepped down in the water
To bathe in the cool of the day.

Before it was dark, she opened the ark
And found the sweet infant was there.
Before it was dark, she opened the ark
And found the sweet infant was there.

2. And away by the waters so blue,
The infant was lonely and sad;
She took him in pity and thought him so pretty,
And it made little Moses so glad.

She called him her own, her beautiful son,
And sent for a nurse that was near. (X2)

3. And away by the river so clear,
They carried that beautiful child,
To his own tender mother, his sister and brother,
Little Moses looked happy and smiled.

His mother, so good, done all that she could
To rear him and teach him with care. (X2)

4. And away by the sea that was red,
Little Moses, the servant of God,
While in Him confided, the sea was divided
As upwards he lifted his rod.

The Jews safely crossed while Pharaoh’s host
Was drownded in the waters and lost. (X2)

5. And away on the mountain so high,
The last one that ever did see,
While in his victorious, his hope was most glorious,
He’d soon o’er the Jordan be free.

When his labors did cease, he departed in peace,
And rested in the Heavens above. (X2)

The Carter Family’s version of “Little Moses” was covered many times during the last fifty years, from Joan Baez to Ralph Stanley… I ‘ve selected 15 recordings of the song that I enjoy and hope that you’ll enjoy too!

Track list:

  1.  Joan Baez (Joan Baez)
  2. E.C. Ball (Land of Yahoe)
  3. Margot Leverett & The Klezmer Mountain Boys (Second Avenue Square Dance)
  4. The Stairwell Sisters (The Stairwell Sisters)
  5. Straight Drive (I’ll Take a Page From Your Book)
  6.  John McCutcheon (Barefoot Boy With Boots On)
  7. Wayne Henderson (Made & Played)
  8. Ralph Stanley (A Distant Land To Roam: Songs Of The Carter Family)
  9. Alex Campbell & Olabelle Reed (Old Time Gospel Singing)
  10. Mac Wiseman (Great Folk Ballads)
  11. Greg Morton (Solo Guitar)
  12. Neal Morris & Jimmy Driftwood (Ozark Folksongs)
  13. Mrs. Iva Haslett (Max Hunter Folk song collection)
  14. The Seekers (The Seekers)
  15. The Carter Family (Anthology Of American Folk Music)
(Click on Harry Smith…)

11 thoughts on “53 “Little Moses” by The Carter Family

  1. David Ramsey says:

    Wonderful post, as usual. I heard Bob Dylan play this song (a solo acoustic version) the first time I saw him live back in March 1992 (in Sydney Australia). It has meant a lot to me ever since. Many thanks!

  2. erwin says:

    Hi My dear Friend,
    I recently discovered your blog, as I have started a blog dedicated to my discovery of the early blues. I’m living in Belgium, and I’m 52 years old. A whole new world has gone open for me since I discovered the traditional (African)-American music.
    I’m glad I get the updates of your blog.

  3. Chris Barry says:

    Another great set of songs. I particularly enjoyed the John McCutcheon version. I had not heard of him before and plan to seek out more of his music. Thank you!

  4. john says:

    Thank you!
    This has been my absolute favorite of the Carter Family tunes for over 50 years!

  5. john says:

    Oh yeah,,,, it’s also somewhat appropriate:

    Happy Passover!

  6. loucollins says:

    This is a great version, too, which can be had for free:


    Great blog, as usual.


  7. John Garst says:

    Published by Thomas Hastings, *The Mother’s Nursery Songs*, “New Edition Revised and Enlarged,” 1848, p 72 (see Google Books) – eight stanzas with music (tune only). Evidently reprinted from the first edition of 1834, which is referenced in *The School Reader: Second Book* (1840), by Charles Walton Sanders (Google Books) – four stanzas with music (tune). Found frequently in print after 1834, frequently with music, sometimes with harmony as well as melody. Four-part harmony: *Youth’s Penny Gazette*, Vol 16 No 23 p 92 (November 10, 1858) (Google Books). Four-part harmony, shaped notes: *Zion Songster No. 2* (1887), A. S. Kieffer (from memory). Four-part harmony: *A Manual of Family Worship: with an Essay on the Christian Family* (1900), by Job Smith Mills and J. H. Ruebush, p 188 – five stanzas, music attr to G. R. Street (Google Books).

  8. Terry McGill says:

    Thanks for including our version of “Little Moses” from our cd. We love the song and do it most every show.

    Terry McGill -Straight Drive

  9. […] For more info and music of the Carter Family, see my other posts about “John Hardy”, “Engine 143″ and “Little Moses”. […]

  10. Barbara Schwarz says:

    since megaupload got busted mediafire and blogspot(google) and all the other “untouchable straights” have gone out of their ways to appear “good”. in reality you are pirating music as defined by US law (also by your Francaise law and my Australian law). I say good on you because I want some of the stuff you are posting, especially the banjo stuff. I can get this Carter family stuff straight off original old discs but finding Ola Belle Reed ain’t so easy.
    Barbie the Plucking Girl.

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