I've always found this song very moving. Something about the simplicity of it strikes very near my heart. It was written, both words and music, by a remarkable man named Jester Hairston. An African-American, Hairston was a Julliard-trained musician, principally a choral director. His work with musical ensembles on Broadway led him to become an actor, both on the stage and the screen. He played Tom Robinson's father in To Kill a Mockingbird and also composed the famous, "Amen" song. He was born in 1901 in North Carolina and died in L.A. in 2000. Can you imagine the changes this man saw in his life? The things he overcame? Really remarkable to me.
Wikipedia (my source for this--yes, I'm lazy) notes that this is perhaps the only major, frequently-recognized Christmas carol to be written by an African-American.
Harry Belafonte's vocal gives this song both beauty and emotional depth.
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