I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray

Title: I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray

Artist: Ruth Starr Rose

Date: 1943

Size: 16.375″ x 12.5″

Medium: Print

Technique: Lithograph

Credit: Gift of the Harmon Foundation

Description: The lower half of the image portrays a soldier kneeling on the ground next to a radio with the jungle around him. He kneels in front of a tent with his gun (and attached bayonet) leaning against the tent. The soldier has headphones on and is trying to dial in a signal on the radio that he kneels in front of. In the background there are five demons parachuting down with two spotlights in the sky.

Beyond the Image

I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray is based on an African American spiritual by the same title. The haunting song expresses the feeling of being alone, whether literally or metaphorically. The singer talks about being alone in a valley, on their knees, possibly praying to God for salvation or freedom from the burdens they’ve been laden with. In the same vein of Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel, there’s almost a pleading for the situation they’ve been tossed into and a longing question of why freedoms can be found for others but not for them.


However, the song gives hope to the singers. Though they may be unable to hear anyone praying for them, and they feel alone, the implication is that God walks with them. By the end of the song, the singer realizes that there’s nothing to worry about because their faith has guided them to the salvation that they were seeking:


I couldn’t hear nobody pray
Troubles am over
I couldn’t hear nobody pray
In the Kingdom
I couldn’t hear nobody pray
With my Jesus
I couldn’t hear nobody pray
O Lord O way down yonder by myself
I couldn’t hear nobody pray”

"I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray" lyrics from a 1925 book, "The Book of American Negro Spirituals". (The New York Public Library Digital Collections)
  • "I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray" by Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, 1909, Internet Archive. 00:00

Resources & further reading

Fisk University Jubilee Quartet. “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray.” Internet Archive, 1909. https://archive.org/details/78_i-couldnt-hear-nobody-pray_fisk-university-jubilee-quartet-j-w-work-n-w-rider_gbia0054040b.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. “The Book of American Negro Spirituals” New York Public Library Digital Collections.  https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/6a771c60-bbff-0134-7046-00505686a51c

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