the backstory: “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow”

A. P., Sara, and Maybelle Carter

There have been a number of times in the history of this blog that I’ve mentioned how “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow” is my favorite bluegrass song. The song has always been a popular one, but with its release on the Chris Thile and Michael Daves album this year and on Rosanne Cash’s The List last year, I got curious about where the song came from.

In a nutshell, it’s a sad song about a desperate girl who wants to die and be buried under a weeping willow tree so that her former fiancé, who cheated on her and is now with someone else, will perhaps weep for her under the tree. The genders vary depending on the singer and I’ve heard a ton of different variations of each of the verses, but that’s pretty standard for an old song like this one.

The song was first archived in 1906 by an English professor at the University of Missouri who joined a club that collected old folk songs.  The Carter Family wasn’t the first to record it, but they were the folks that made it popular, releasing it in 1935. In a 1970 interview, Mother Mabel was asked about it.

“That was a song we had sang all our lives. We first heard the song at a family get-together and decided to learn it. We did learn the words and sang it at all our family parties and get-togethers. The song became quite popular so when we recorded for RCA Victor in 1927–we recorded “Bury Me Beneath The Willow ” on our first recording session in Bristol , Tennessee. The original version of the song was written by Bradley Kincaid.”

Here’s some more background by the Bluegrass Messengers & Bluegrass now. Here’s the recording of The Carter Family singing the song, along with lyrics.

Bury Me Beneath the Willow
The Carter Family

My heart is sad and I’m in sorrow
For the only one I love
When will I see him, no, no, never
Till I meet him in heaven above.

CHORUS: Then bury me beneath the willow
Beneath the weeping willow tree
Where he may know where I am sleeping
And perhaps he will weep for me.

He told me that he dearly loved me
How could I believe him untrue
Until an angel softly whispered
He has proven untrue to you. CHORUS:

Tomorrow was their wedding day
But alas, oh, where can he be
He’s gone, he’s gone to wed another
And he no longer cares for me. CHORUS: