Down in the Valley is a popular request when I go to nursing facilities to perform.
The ballad is set to a sweet and serene tune, however upon really noticing the lyrics, the singer will realize that this is actually a much sadder song. The lyrics describe a condemned prisoner pinning for the woman he loves.
Down in the Valley first appeared in print collections in the 1910s. However, it may have been passed down aurally for decades before hand.
The song is also known by the following titles “Bird in a Cage,” “Birmingham Jail,” and “Down on the Levee.”
Often the lyrics vary depending on the version used.
Kurt Weill and Arnold Sundgaard were inspired by the song. The duo wrote Down in the Valley, an opera, in which they combined other folk songs into the storyline. Originally designed for radio, the 35 minute opera appeared on stage in July 1948 at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. In January 1950, NBC Opera Theater broadcast a television version. Down in the Valley became Weill’s most performed American work.
Author David M. Pierce used the lyrics from the songs for the titles of his detective novels written in the 1990s.