Original score of "Motherless Child" by William E. Barton, D.D., 1899.
"Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" (or simply "Motherless Child") is a traditional Negro spiritual.
The song dates back to the era of slavery in the United States when it was common practice to sell children of slaves away from their parents. An early performance of the song dates back to the 1870s by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Like many traditional songs, it has many variations and has been recorded widely (see partial lists of choral arrangements and covers below).
The song is clearly an expression of pain and despair as it conveys the hopelessness of a child who has been torn from his or her parents. Under one interpretation, the repetitive singing of the word "sometimes" offers a measure of hope, as it suggests that at least "sometimes" I do not feel like a motherless child.
Although the plaintive words can be interpreted literally, they were much more likely metaphoric. The “motherless child” could be a slave separated from and yearning for his African homeland, a slave suffering “a long ways from home”—home being heaven—or most likely both.
- Paul Robeson, originally recorded by EMI in the 1930s, on his album Songs of Free Men (1997) as well as on his album Paul Robeson: The Complete EMI Sessions 1928-1939 (2008) and on several previous LPs.
- Elmer Keeton, who arranged a performance by the Northern California Negro Chorus for a radio program commissioned in 1942 by the Federal Music Project, Works Progress Administration. This version was later used in an animated Soviet propaganda film called "Black and White" depicting racism in the United States.
- Louis Armstrong on Louis and the Good Book (1958)
- Lou Rawls and the Pilgrim Travelers for the album The Soul Stirring Gospel Sound of the Pilgrim Travelers (1962).
- Odetta's live performance of the song on April 8, 1960 at Carnegie Hall was released on "Odetta at Carnegie Hall" (1960) and used on the soundtrack to Pasolini's film "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" (1964); she performed it as recently as summer 2008, during her final tour.
- Folk artists The Simon Sisters in the mid 1960's
- Darlene Love covered part of it for the first part of the Gospel Medley in the Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special (1968)
- Jimmy Scott on his album The Source (1969)
- Ike & Tina Turner covered it on their 1969 album Outta Season
- The Les Humphries Singers on their first album Rock My Soul in 1970
- Richie Havens used lyrical elements of this piece in an improvised song at Woodstock Festival in 1969 when he ran out of songs to play after being called back for multiple encores.
- Boney M. on their second album Love for sale (1977)
- Van Morrison on Poetic Champions Compose (1987), also on The Best of Van Morrison Volume Two (1993)
- Martin L. Gore, on Counterfeit e.p. (1989)
- Crime and the City Solution, on Paradise Discotheque (1990)
- Charlie Haden and Hank Jones on Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns, and Folk Songs
- The Kelly Family on Honest Workers (1991) 
- Hootie & the Blowfish, on Cracked Rear View (1994)
- Kevin Eubanks, on Live at Bradley’s (1996, Blue Note) (1994)
- Tom Jones (accompanied by Portishead) on Reload (1999)
- The daughter character, Keesha, sang this piece in the play I Can Do Bad All By Myself, written by Tyler Perry (1999)
- Amy Jo Johnson, for the film "Sweetwater: A True Rock Story" (1999)
- Waterson on Matchbox Selection (2000)
- Under the name Lucky Pierre, Aidan Moffat used an operatic sample of the phrase "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child" on the track of the same name from his 2002 solo album Hypnogogia.
- John Legend on Solo Sessions Vol. 1: Live at the Knitting Factory (2005) and at the Hope for Haiti Now telethon (2010).
- Wishbone Ash on Clan Destiny (2006)
- Ghostface Killah in Ironman (album) (1996)
- Listening to the trumpet-played version of Wynton Marsalis you see that child... Track 14: Traditional Spiritual from Portrait of Wynton Marsalis, SONY Classical, 1989/92
- John Frusciante - live version at the Hollywood Moguls 3/28/97.
- Over the Rhine recorded a live version for Live from Nowhere: Volume Three (2007)
- Eric Burdon, for the film The Blue Hour (2007).
- Matthew Perryman Jones, on Swallow the Sea (2008)
- Beth Nielsen Chapman, the 2008 compilation album, Song of America
- Loren Connors and Suzanne Langille, on 1987-89 (2000)
- John Scofield on Piety Street (2009)
- Arms and Sleepers on "The Motorist" (2009)
- The Wailin' Jennys on "Live At The Mauch Chunk Opera House" (2009)
- Clutch on "Strange Cousins from the West" (2009)
- Mr. Blotto at "Blottopia X" 2009
- Sweet Honey in the Rock on their album ...Twenty-Five... (1998)
- ^ "Blue Gene" Tyranny, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" article, Allmusic
- ^ Barton, Hymns of the Slave and the Freedman, p.17 ("Not very long ago I attended a concert given by a troupe of jubilee singers, whose leader was a member of the original Fisk company. Toward the end of the programme he announced that a recently arrived singer in his troupe from Mississippi had brought a song that her grandparents sang in slave times, which he counted the saddest and most beautiful of song of slavery. It was a mutilated version of Aunt Dinah's song ['Motherless Child' or 'I feel like I'd never been borned.']")
- ^ *"Sweet Chariot: the story of the spirituals" by Arthur C. Jones
- ^ http://ca.music.yahoo.com/release/35930654
- ^ Jocelyn Vena, "'Hope For Haiti Now' Telethon Airs Tonight At 8 P.M.: George Clooney, Wyclef Jean and Hollywood's biggest names help raise money for earthquake relief." MTV News, January 22, 2010, found at MTV News. Accessed January 22, 2010.