Down by the Riverside

For the film, see Down by the Riverside (film).
For the short story by Richard Wright, see Uncle Tom's Children.

"Down by the Riverside" (also known as "Ain't Gonna Study War No More" and "Gonna lay down my burden") is a Negro spiritual song. Its roots date back to before the American Civil War,[1] though it was first published in 1918 in Plantation Melodies: A Collection of Modern, Popular and Old-time Negro-Songs of the Southland, Chicago, the Rodeheaver Company.[2] The song has alternatively been known as “Ain' go'n' to study war no mo'”, “Ain't Gwine to Study War No More”, “Down by de Ribberside”, “Going to Pull My War-Clothes” and “Study war no more”. The song was first recorded by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet in 1920 (published by Columbia in 1922). and there are at least 14 black gospel recordings before World War II.[3]

Because of its pacifistic imagery, "Down by the Riverside" has also been used as an anti-war protest song, especially during the Vietnam War.[1]


The song has many lyrical variations, though usually each stanza follows a standard form, with one sentence that differs from one stanza to the next. The song often begins:

Gonna lay down my sleepy head
Down by the riverside (3×)
Gonna lay down my burden
Down by the riverside

With the chorus:

I ain't gonna study war no more
Study war no more
Ain't gonna study war no more

Other lines that can appear in stanzas, in place of "Gonna lay down my burden", include:


The song's central image is of casting off negativity and aggression, and putting on spiritual garb, at the side of a river before crossing it. The image has several meanings: it refers to baptism, which in the Southern Baptist tradition usually involves wearing a white robe and being submerged in a body of water. It also refers to ascending to heaven after death, using the metaphor of the River Jordan, which in the Old Testament was the final passage before the Hebrews entered the Promised Land after their years in the desert.[4] As with many Negro spirituals, the biblical imagery can also be read as a hidden allusion to escaping slavery, with the river representing the Ohio River, which was a border between states where slavery was allowed and prohibited before the American Civil War.[5]

The refrain of "ain't gonna study war no more" is a reference to a quotation found in the Old Testament: "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."[1] This quote occurs twice in the Bible, in Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3, and is part of the swords to ploughshares motif.


Artists who have recorded the song include:

Soundtrack appearances

Down by the Riverside as midi
Down by the Riverside as MIDI File. Chosen instrument is Alto Flute.

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The song was featured as a DLC in the Nintendo Wii game Just Dance 2 and Just Dance 3

It was used as background music in two episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants known as "Survival of the Idiots" and "Selling Out."

Parodies and alternate lyrics

The song was the basis of an Allan Sherman parody called "Don't Buy the Liverwurst". The tune of "Down by the Riverside" was also used in a McDonald's's 1960s jingle, "McDonald's Is My Kind of Place". In episode 72 of the animated television series Animaniacs, this song was parodied as "U.N. Me" about the United Nations Headquarters and was later released on their 2nd album, "Yakko's World". In the UK on some local radio stations (namely Mix 107), a song about eco friendly travel choices (i.e. leaving the car for one day a week) would air during commercial breaks which would be a parody of Down By The Riverside. JibJab also used the melody in a song about the year 2012 in review (called "2012: The End Is Here!").[11] An episode of Liv & Maddie had Liv singing a song about her musical group with senior citizens, "The Golden Chords, " at a retirement home, to the tune of this song.


  1. 1 2 3 Katz, Daniel R. (2003). Why Freedom Matters: Celebrating the Declaration of Independence in Two Centuries of Prose, Poetry and Song. Thomas Allen & Son. p. 155.
  2. Other early prints of Ain't gonna study war no more / Down by the riverside is: Dann, Hollis. Ed.: Fifty-eight spirituals for choral use - Boston, C. C. Birchard & Co., c1924. No notes. Utica Jubilee Singers Spirituals : As Sung at the Utica Normal and Industrial Institute of Mississippi / Taken down by J. Rosamond Johnson. With introduction by C. W. Hyne. Boston : Olivar Ditson Company, nd. Negro Spiritual. Apparently no recordings of Down by the riverside, even though the song vere on the groups repertoire. Boatner, Edward: Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New (Round Note Edition) : National Baptist Convention, Nashville Tennessee Date Published: (1927). No notes. Fisher,William Arms: 1926, Seventy Negro Spirituals, edited for low voice. Oliver Ditson Company, NY, sheet music format, pp. 60-62. Noted as Negro Spiritual. Deas, E. C. 1928: Songs and spirituals of Negro composition:
  3. Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943, 4th ed., OUP, 1997
  4. McMillin, T. S. (2011). The Meaning of Rivers: Flow and Reflection in American Literature. University of Iowa Press. p. 44.
  5. Anti-War song lyrics and notes, compiled by Laurie Marks
  6. Al Hirt, He's the King and His Band Retrieved April 6, 2013.
  7. Al Hirt, Live at Carnegie Hall Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  8. Davies, Chris (1998). British and American Hit Singles. London: BT Batsford. p. 70. ISBN 0-7134-8275-3.
  9. Second Story Garage. "The Dustbowl Revival perform 'Down by the Riverside'". Posted: 11:41 PM; Wednesday, December 17, 2014.
  10. Zielinski, Peter James. "Photo Coverage: Million Dollar Quartet Opens on Broadway". Posted: 12:04 PM; Monday, April 12, 2010.
  11. "2012: The End Is Here!". JibJab. Retrieved 2012-12-21.
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