Nobody Knows the Trouble I See

Title: Nobody Knows the Trouble I See

Artist: Ruth Starr Rose

Date: 1943

Size: 16.625″ x 12.8″

Medium: Print

Technique: Lithograph

Credit: Gift of the Harmon Foundation

Description: In the foreground, a man in a military uniform is looking in disbelief at a house burning in the background. Behind him is a young child hiding, and kneeling next to him on his left is a woman who is holding the child with the man’s arm wrapped around her. In the background, a house burns and two donkeys, two pigs, and a chicken are running from the building towards the bottom left of the image. Above the house, situated in the clouds coming from the smoke of the fire, is a woman in a white/light colored dress sitting on a chair as if it is a throne, looking down at the family. On opposite sides of her are two angels, each with a hand on the back of the chair, also looking down at the family. Behind them are more angels in the background.

Beyond the Image

Another well-known song in the same vein of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, Nobody Knows the Trouble I See is based on an African American spiritual called “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”. The song has varying titles including “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See” (similar to Ruth Starr Rose’s title) and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Had.” The song carries a sorrowful tune, lamenting the troubles the singer has gone through, while praising God and Jesus for being there for them.


“Nobody Knows the Trouble I See” was among the songs performed by the Hampton Students on their tour around the nation in order to raise funds to build Virginia Hall. The song is recorded in an 1874 book titled Hampton and Its Students by two Hampton teachers, Mary Frances Armstrong and Helen Wilhelmina Ludlow, along with 49 other “Cabin and Plantation Songs.” Reverend Theodore L. Cuyler attended a concert by the Hampton Students at his Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York in April of 1873. He wrote about it in the New Jersey Evangelist, mentioning that among the songs the Hampton Students performed, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” was one.


In his article praising the Hampton Students’ performance in front of an audience that was “hushed to silence and melted to tears under the music of nature,” Reverend Cuyler argues that African American spirituals are the only real national music of the United States. He wrote, “Import as much of Italian and German as we may, the negro music is our only real national music. It was born on the soil. It is interwoven with our national history, and especially with our grandest historical epic, the late war of Freedom. No music rouses and melts an audience like these plantation melodies, sung by the rich negro voices.”

A page from the 1873 book, "Hampton and Its Students", with music and lyrics for "Nobody Knows de Trouble I've Seen". (Library of Congress)
  • "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" by Louis Armstrong and The Decca Mixed Chorus, 1938, Internet Archive. 00:00

Resources & further reading

Armstrong, Louis, and The Decca Mixed Chorus. “NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN.” Internet Archive, 1938.

Armstrong, M. F. , -1903, Helen W. Joint Author Ludlow, Thomas P Fenner, and Rouben Mamoulian Collection. Hampton and Its Students. New York, G. P. Putnam’s sons, 1874. Pdf.

[Newspaper clipping labeled “N.J. Evangelist, April 10, 1873”]. “Singing Up” Virginia Hall. Hampton University Archives, Hampton, Virginia.

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