As Christmas approaches, Soul Music leads you through Advent with the Appalachian carol "I Wonder as I Wander".
Written by American folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles, its origins come from a song fragment collected in 1933. Mysterious, inspiring, this traditional Christmas carol reflects on the nativity and the nature of wondering.
While in the town of Murphy in Appalachian North Carolina, Niles attended a fundraising meeting held by evangelicals who had been ordered out of town by the police. He wrote of hearing the song:
“A girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievably dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins. ... she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song”.
The girl, named Annie Morgan, repeated the fragment seven times in exchange for a quarter per performance, and Niles left with "three lines of verse, and a magnificent idea". Based on this fragment, Niles composed the version of "I Wonder as I Wander" that is known today.
This most unusual of carols touches people in different ways. With childhood memories from a 1960s RAF base in Oxfordshire, a Nigerian schoolgirl who found her place in Winchester Cathedral, reflections from a candlelit vigil in an Appalachian town, and a Christmas gift as described by world renowned singer Melanie Marshall.
Guests: Performer Melanie Marshall, Ron Pen (biographer John Jacob Niles), Viva Choir member Louise Sheaves, author Chibundu Onuzo and music scholar John McClain. Featuring music from John Rutter and Burl Ives.
Consultant: Ted Olson.
Producer: Nicola Humphries