"Ol' Man River" (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) is a song in the 1927 musical Show Boat that contrasts the struggles and hardships of African Americans with the endless, uncaring flow of the Mississippi River; it is sung from the point of view of a black stevedore on a showboat, and is the most famous song from the show. Meant to be performed in a slow tempo, it is sung complete once in the musical's lengthy first scene by the stevedore "Joe" who travels with the boat, and, in the stage version, is heard four more times in brief reprises. Joe serves as a sort of musical one-man chorus, and the song, when reprised, comments on the action, as if saying, "This has happened, but the river keeps rolling on anyway."
The song is notable for several aspects: the lyrical pentatonic-scale melody, the subjects of toil and social class, metaphor to theMississippi, and as a bass solo (rare in musicals, solos for baritones or tenors being more common).
Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra had a hit recording of the song in 1928 sung in a much faster tempo than Kern and Hammerstein intended, and featuring Bing Crosby on vocals and Bix Beiderbecke on cornet. A second version, by Paul Whiteman with bass singer Paul Robeson on vocals and sung in a dance tempo, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2006. Also, in 2004, Robeson's version finished at #24 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.
James Anthony performs a beautiful rendition of Old Man River fronting a agent convention in Orlando, Fl.