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#41: I Wonder As I Wander

John Jacob Niles was traveling through a raucous revivalist meeting in North Carolina on July 16, 1933. A group was about to begin street preaching, when a girl stepped out of the entourage. She was unkempt and ragged, but once she started singing she had a beautiful voice. She smiled as she sang a single line of a song: “I wonder as I wander out under the sky…” with the reasons for Christ’s death as the central question and message of the poignant, yet simple tune.

Niles asked the girl to sing the song fragment seven more times over again, paying her a quarter each time she did, while he jotted it down in his notebook. From this, he composed “I Wonder As I Wander,” with four phrases and three stanzas. The song was completed on October 4, 1933, and premiered at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.

Lyrics

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God’s Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

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