Behind the Christmas Carol: I Wonder As I Wander

I Wonder as I Wander was written by American folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles.

Niles was attending a fundraising meeting in Murphy, North Carolina when they were

Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem, where the Savior would be born

ordered out of town by the police.

Niles later wrote the following of hearing the song, “A girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievable dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins…. But, best of all, she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song.”

The girl was named Annie Morgan.  Niles paid her a quarter each of the seven times she performed the song for him to copy.

Based on the small fragment he recorded from the girl, he composed the version of I Wonder as I Wander  we know today.

The joy of a new born baby. This is even greater, this is God’s son that has been born.

The origin of the song the girl sung is unknown.  As with many Appalachian songs the song was handed down from one generation to the next.

He completed his composition on October 4, 1933, and performed the song for the first time a little over two months later.

He later wrote: “Preacher Morgan and his wife pled poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town. It was then that Annie Morgan came out–a tousled, unwashed blonde, and very lovely. She sang the first three lines of the verse of I Wonder as I Wander. At twenty-five cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song. After eight tries, all of which are carefully recorded in my notes, I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material–and a magnificent idea.

Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus

With the writing of additional verses and the development of the original melodic material, I Wonder As I Wander came into being. I sang it for five years in my concerts before it caught on. Since then, it has been sung by soloists and choral groups wherever the English language is spoken and sung.”

John Jacob Niles was called the “Dean of American Balladeers”.  He was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1892.  By the 1920s, he was publishing and writing music.  He died in Lexington, Kentucky in 1980.

I Wonder As I Wonder originated from a young girl in the Appalachian Mountains #hymnstory #Christmascarol Click To Tweet

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