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David’s Lamentation

[ Roud 15055 ; Sacred Harp 268 ; Ballad Index FSWB412B ; William Billings]

The Watersons sang the hymn David’s Lamentation in 1977 on their album Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy. A.L. Lloyd noted:

William Billings (1746-1800), author of this piece, was a Boston tanner, singing school teacher and amateur composer important in the musical life of early America. The legend is that he sketched out some of his compositions in chalk on hides. Doubtful, even if they sometimes sound like it. His specialities were patriotic and sacred anthems and “fuguing tunes” involving rough-and-ready imitation of parts, exciting to sing and to hear. Always exuberant, Billings described his compositions thus: “The audience is entertained and delighted, their minds surpassingly agitated and extremely fluctuated sometimes declaring for one part and sometimes for another. Now the solemn bass demands their attention; next the manly tenor; now the volatile treble. Now here, now there, now here again. O ecstasis! Rush on, you sons of harmony!” Once enormously popular, Billings’s compositions survive nowadays only among users of the old vernacular hymnbooks such as Southern Harmony and Sacred Harp.


The Watersons sing David’s Lamentation

David the King, was grieved and moved
He went to his chamber, his chamber and wept
And as he wept, he wept and said

Chorus (after each verse):
Oh, my son, oh, my son
Would to God I had died
Would to God I had died
Would to God I had died
For thee, oh Absalom, my son, my son

Victory that day was turned into mourning
When the people did see how the king grieved for his son
He covered his face and in a loud voice cried


Transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Garry Gillard.