The origins of this song, like so many in the folk tradition, appear lost in the mists of time. What is clear is that it is an American spiritual / folk song that surfaced in the 19th century, and has been variously adapted since then. There is no definitive version, no definitive set of lyrics (that I can discover). It is clearly of a spiritual nature, a song of life’s journey, of hope and looking to a better future in the light of the the troubles and hardships of today. Whilst there are explicitly religious (Christian) versions of the song (and I would guess that is undoubtedly its roots) the rather less specific / dogmatic nature of the first couple of verses have ensured a universal appeal.
That universality, and the beautiful, haunting nature of the song have ensured myriad versions of the song have been recorded. I was originally aware of the song from versions by Emmylou Harris (probably still my favourite), Eva Cassidy, Johnny Cash and Jack White (from the film “Cold Mountain“), but somebody has also tried to document all the versions out there – good luck to them with that! Of more recent and contemporary note is a version by Ed Sheeran, proving that it is a song that continues to speak to generation after generation.
So why a new ukulele song sheet? Well there are certainly plenty of versions out there, but none really did it for me by themselves. So this is something of a hybrid, culled from a number of sources. It’s in the same key as the Johnny Cash version, but purely because I find it easier to sing in that key. Transpose (or use a capo) if it doesn’t work for you. I’ve included two versions – page 1 I guess you called call the more universalist version, whilst page 2 includes the more explicitly religious verses (I sourced these from here). Take your pick dependent on your predilections. And enjoy! (BTW – if you fancy finger-picking, here is a pattern you might want to try)