Rousseau and Aunt Rhody

The American traditional song Go tell Aunt Rhody originated as a gavotte composed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau for his opera Le devin du village (1752).

An English version of the opera was produced in London in 1766; subsequently the melody attracted various English texts, including Sweet Melissa (ca. 1788), and inspired a set of variations by the London piano virtuoso Johann Baptist Cramer (Rousseau’s dream, 1812).

Around 1825 the tune—identified as Greenville or Rousseau—began appearing in U.S. hymnals. The Aunt Rhody version has appeared in numerous American traditional song anthologies, and is still often found in children’s song collections.

This according to “Go tell Aunt Rhody she’s Rousseau’s dream” by Murl Sickbert, an essay included in Vistas of American music: Essays and compositions in honor of William K. Kearns (Warren: Harmonie Park, 1999, pp. 125–150).

Today is Rousseau’s 300th birthday! Below, the classic Woody Guthrie recording of his immortal gavotte.


Filed under Classic era, Curiosities

3 Responses to Rousseau and Aunt Rhody

  1. Subject: RE: Origins of: History of Go Tell Aunt Rhody From: Dicho Date: 04 Sep 01 – 08:03 PM I am reviving a near-dead thread, but I wondered if anyone thinks there is a coincidence between the spiritual “Go tell it on the mountain” and the song “Go tell Aunt Rhody” (Tabby, Nancy, Rhoda)? Go tell it on the mountain-Go tell aunt Rhody,/ Go tell it everywhere-Go tell aunt Rhody,/Go tell it on the mountain-Go tell aunt Rhody,/ That Jesus Christ is born-That the old gray goose is dead. Both simple, only a few accents differently placed. Or am I stretching so far that my head will be cut off?

    • Dr C W Boyne

      The similarity struck me this morning – hence my search to find this comment. I’m glad I’m not unique in noticing the similarity between these two melodies.

  2. dieta

    Under the title “Old Gray Goose,” “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” or “Go Tell” any of several other aunts, this song was common and widely dispersed in collections by twentieth-century folklore collectors. The “Aunt Rhody” text does not appear in British collections. Krehbiel considered the song “widely distributed” among African Americans.