‘Darlin’ Cora’

Something a little different this time…

Darlin’ Cora’ is an old song. The version you hear on ‘Running Free’ combines those words with a tune written by me.

The song, sometimes known as ‘Darlin’ Cory’ or ‘Darling Corey’, brings together a tale of love, loss and moonshine. The earliest published appearance of the song was as verses in another well-known song, ‘The Gambling Man’, collected in 1918. The earliest known commercial audio recording was made in 1927 by Clarence Gill, but this was rejected by the record company, and so Buell Kazee can claim the earliest known released version (also 1927).

I first heard the song when I was playing in Buxton, Derbyshire. I was at an annual weekend retreat organised by the RMMGA. Debra Cowan was at the event and she asked me to accompany her. The song she chose was ‘Darlin Corey’. Having never heard the song, I improvised the tune – blending my guitar around her voice.

The tune and song stuck in my head. When I got home, I knew I needed to find the words so that I could perform it. The first version I found was by Harry Belafonte and so it is the lyrics he uses that I use. To hear his fast and frenetic version on the album ‘Live at Carnegie Hall’, click here.

My first solo performance of the song took place at my local folk club in Northwich. It was there that Ian MacPherson told me more about the song and its variants. The next week, he bought me a CD that contained more than 15 versions – different singers and different styles. Pleasingly for me, none of these versions sounded like mine.

To this day, it is one of my favourite songs to play, either at home alone or in front of an audience. The special connection I have with the song has been there since the start, but it was made all the stronger when I was contacted by Sheryl Bishop. I’ll let Sheryl finish this story…

“When my daughter Cora was born, she was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. Surprisingly, perhaps, this came as a relief. Throughout the pregnancy we had been told several things about our unborn child and we were constantly worried about her future. Once we heard the diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome, we put that behind us and focused on giving her a great life. We already knew people living with a diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome, and so it wasn’t such an unknown territory for us.

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What we weren’t prepared for was how sleepy she would be. For most people, having a quiet baby is a dream come true. For us, it caused anxiety because she wasn’t feeding. Cora wouldn’t wake at night for feeds and during the day it wasn’t much better. The result was Cora began losing weight.

One night my husband Daniel and I were listening to songs on Spotify. Cora was in my arms as I struggled to feed her with a syringe of milk. Daniel decided to search Spotify for songs with the name Cora. We were very excited when we saw there was a song called ‘Darlin’ Cora’. As the song began, the melody struck me as almost haunting, then suddenly Tom’s voice broke through with the lyrics “Wake up, Darling Cora.” It is almost impossible for me to put into words the way that the music made me feel in that moment. It was like all the past nights of heartache and stress were being played out in that song’s intro. It was like someone else had finally heard our struggles. I was completely overwhelmed, but hearing those words gave me a new strength!

The next few months were difficult for us as we tried to get Cora to the required weight. Through it all, ‘Darlin’ Cora’ was always there in the background. As Cora got older, she would often ask to listen to ‘her song’. Tom’s version of this song will always be part of our lives.

Music is more than a pastime; it can give you hope and strength in ways you’d never expect. Thank you, Tom!”

To hear a segment of ‘Darlin’ Cora’, click here:


‘Running Free’ the album, can be bought directly from me, here, and downloaded on iTunes, here.

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