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December 20, 2012

“Go, Tell It on the Mountain” — The Story Behind the Song

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John Wesley Work, Jr., may not have originated the Negro spiritual “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” but he can take credit for the fact that we still sing it every Christmas.  As the son of a church choir director, Work grew up in Nashville loving music.  Even though he earned his Master’s in Latin and went on to teach ancient Latin and Greek, his first love continued to be music, and he went on to become the first African-American collector of Negro spirituals.  This proved to be a daunting task for Work because they were passed down orally, from plantation to plantation; very few were ever written down.  But Work proved up to the challenge, publishing his first book, New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, in Songs of the American Negro, six years later.  It was in this second volume that “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” first appeared.  The original singers of the song fulfilled the same important task the angels gave the shepherds that first Christmas night outside of Bethlehem, proclaiming, “that Jesus Christ is born!”  And thanks to John Wesley Work, so can we.

Go, Tell It On the Mountain
John Wesley Work, Jr., 1907

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light.


The shepherds feared and trembled,
When lo! Above the earth,
Rang out the angels chorus
That hailed the Savior’s birth.


Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
That blessed Christmas morn.


Click here to watch a video clip of Lynda Randle singing “Go Tell It On The Mountain”.



This story is an excerpt from the Gaither Homecoming Bible, published by Thomas Nelson Publishing (2012).


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