No song can make me weep as much as the spirtual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. Why is that? My mother is still alive and well, though she’s always been more of a peer and a pal than someone who fits the bill of the great mother archetype. True, I am a long-time expat—I am and will always be part alien here, an eternal Ausländer—but in many ways I feel more at “home” in Berlin than I ever did in California.
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home
When I listen to this song it’s like a door opens somewhere in the basement of my psyche and in the room behind the door is a piece of me: part lost little girl, part wizened crone. She is weary, beaten down, on a fool’s quest for the grail she knows she’ll never find.
Motherless Child is her anthem.
Sometimes I feel like I’m already gone, a long way from home
When the song ends, the door closes and it’s back to the lighter upper world of conciousness.
A couple of years ago I sang and recorded the Motherless Child Project—and when I say “sang and recorded” I mean me alone with a laptop and Audacity in my living room in Mittenwalderstrasse. At the time I was still singing with a dictaphone—I’ve since shelled out 50 bucks for a basic microphone—so the recording quality isn’t great. But I hope I still managed to do at least a little justice to this song I love so much.
Here are some videos of different artists performing the song to perfection: the great operatic contralto Marian Andersen, the blues and folk singer Odetta (who also had classical training), the jazz singer Jeanne Lee and, last but not least, an amazing version by the one-and-only Prince.