Wade in the Water

The Bird Sings Oral Tradition Song Library

Wade in the Water

A traditional African-American spiritual. Can be sung at the same time as “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “I Wanna Die Easy”, an arrangement I learned from Ysaye Barnwell, and have her blessing and encouragement to share.

Composer & Copyright

Public domain.


This recording is by Lisa G. Littlebird.

Standalone track:

With the other two spirituals:


Wade in the water
Wade in the water children
Wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water

Teaching Notes

*Important Note!* When sharing spirituals in song circles, I make a point of acknowledging that I am a white woman who has learned the songs from well-respected African-American songleaders, and received their blessing and encouragement to share them. When sharing songs from other cultures, and especially those deeply tied to complex histories and stories of people of color, there are a variety of things worthy of paying care-filled attention to. I do my best to study and share the histories of these songs along with the songs themselves, to use them as an opportunity to educate those present and more deeply connect with the very real and painful history of slavery in my country of origin. I deeply believe in the sharing these songs as a tool for cultural healing. And there are some environments when sharing them may not be appropriate, such as a song circle where another songleading person of color is present and can share the song instead. These are complex, current and ongoing conversations without easy answers. We are actively engaged in these conversations in Flight School – I welcome you to take the course and join us!

This is great song to encourage a little body movement/ sway. Most Americans are familiar with this song and it requires little or no teaching – you may be able to just jump in. Not everyone knows the words of the last line. This will be new to most non-Americans.

A note about this song history: some spirituals contained veiled messages about escaping slavery and this is one of them. It is cited by some that this song was a message that if an escapee took the rivers, the search dogs wouldn’t pick up their scent.


Level of teaching speed/ difficulty (1 = very easy, 10 = very challenging)



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