“Lonesome Valley” is a Gospel number written in the early part of the 20th century, or before, that is still used as sacred music in some churches today, and has been recorded by numerous artists in several genres. It gained its widest recognition when it was performed by legendary Gospel group The Fairfield Four as part of the 2000 Coen brothers movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou.
While The Fairfield Four brought it into the 21st century, the song’s authorship may never really be known; it’s usually just listed as “traditional,” but its first known recording is believed to have been in 1925 as a country song by the Jenkins Family, featuring blind evangelist Andrew Jenkins, who himself wrote hundreds of songs. Artistic and lyrical variations notwithstanding, the song has since been cut by everyone from the Monroe Brothers (Bill and Charlie) to Elvis Presley to George Jones. Songwriters Billy Edd Wheeler, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller used part of the chorus for their 1963 song by the Kingston Trio, “The Reverend Mr. Black.”
The song originally had three verses and several repeated choruses, but The Fairfield Four didn’t use any of the verses in their movie version, instead soulfully singing the chorus and adding a couple lines that can be counted as a bridge or a channel that lead to a repeat of the chorus. So they sang:
You got to go to the lonesome valley You got to go there by yourself Nobody else can go for you You got to go there by yourself