I got curious about the song “Step by Step,” a song that Waldemar Hille and Pete Seeger put together — it’s hymn number 157 in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal. Hille found a poem in the “Constitution and Laws for the Government and Guidance of the American Miners’ Association” (1864), and he and Seeger made a song out of it. But Seeger said they changed some of the words, so I got curious about the original wording. I found a digitized copy of the poem online, and it reads like this:
Step by step, the longest march
Can be won, can be won,
Single stones will form an arch
One by one, one by one,
And by union, what we will
Can be all accomplished still.
Drops of water turn a mill—
Singly none, singly none.
I decided I liked the original words better than Hille and Seeger’s rewrite — the original second stanza feels more positive to me. Then I realized I’ve always disliked Hille and Seeger’s tune; it sounds like a dirge, better suited to a funeral than to a union marching song.
Worst of all, Hille and Seeger slapped a copyright on their song. Maybe while they were alive they would have given permission to use it freely, but they’re both dead now. Besides, who wants to have to write for permission to sing the song?
So here’s my version of this grand old union song. It has the original public domain words, paired with a tune licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License: