Dig My Grave, 1913. Harry Thacker Burleigh, 1866-1949. Music Division, Library of Congress. Call number: M1671.T
In 1914, G. Schirmer published the collection Afro-American Folksongs, edited by scholar and music critic Henry E. Krehbiel (1854-1923). The collection included eleven spiritual arrangements for unison chorus by Burleigh. Dig My Grave was among those arrangements, in a section on funeral music. The four-part, unaccompanied arrangement was published in 1914 along with Deep River by G. Schirmer, New York.
The text and melody of Dig My Grave were taken from Bahama Songs and Stories by Charles L. Edwards. The opening is appropriately somber, marked Grave, and set for four-part men's voices: "Dig my grave long and narrow! Make my coffin long and strong!" At the tempo change to Andante cantabile, the women sing in parallel sixths while the men sustain an open-fifth pedal, "Bright angels to my feet, bright angels to my head, bring angels to carry me when I'm dead." That text paraphrases an old English prayer: "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, guard the bed that I lie on. Four corners to my bed, four angels to my head, one to watch, one to pray, and two to bear my soul away." For the final phrase, the sopranos sing, piu mosso, "Oh my little soul gwine shine like a star." Choral homophony completes the setting, "Lord, I'm bound to Heaven at last."