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Introduction

Like many traditional songs, the precise origin of Man of Constant Sorrow is mysterious. No one knows who first wrote the words or melody. Most people agree that the song probably originated in the part of the United States known as Appalachia which includes parts of states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia. The Appalachian mountains are in these states. Music from this area is sometimes called old time mountain music, mountain music, bluegrass music and sometimes even hillbilly music.

We do know that Man of Constant Sorrow was published in America at least twice in the early part of the 1900s, and recorded by a man named Emry Arthur in 1928. It is from this first known recording that many other people probably learned the song during the first half of he 20th century. Numerous famous musicians have recorded the song such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Rod Stewart, The Grateful Dead, Patty Loveless and most notably, the Stanley Brothers in 1948. But the song became a huge hit in America in the beginning of the 21st century because of the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? which featured several versions of the song. The recording that became the most popular was by Alison Krauss & Union Station, featuring the singing of Dan Tyminski. In the movie, this was the version that the actor, George Cloony, pretended to be singing. This technique is known as lip-syncing because the actor tries to move his mouth exactly like he is really singing the song. George Cloony did such a good job of lip-syncing that many people thought he actually sang the song.


O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, featured many wonderful American traditional songs and was also influenced by one of the oldest stories in Western Civilization from ancient Greece. The hero of the movie is similar to the hero in Homer’s epic story, The Odyssey, also known as Ulysseus. Man of Constant Sorrow could be about either character! In both, the hero must travel on a long journey with many strange dangers as he tries to return to his wife and children. Many of the characters in the movie are similar to the characters in the ancient story by Homer. For example, in the movie there is an evil man with an eye patch covering his bad eye; in the Greek story there is also a one-eyed monster called the Cyclops. It would be interesting to read Homer’s epic story and then watch the movie to compare as many characters and events as possible.

 

About the recording

This recording features Ann Audrey Phillips singing the vocal chorus.

Vocals, keyboards, bass and drum sequencing by Chuck.

It was recorded at the Mad Mesquite Studio, Arizona. © 2005 Charles L. Phillips