John A. Lomax tells how he found the song in 1904, when he made his first field trip for Harvard University: "I found Dink scrubbing her man's clothes in the shade of their tent across the Brazos river from the A. & M. College in Texas. Professor James C. Nagle of the College faculty was the supervising engineer of a levee-building company and he had invited me to come along and bring my Edison recording machine. The Negroes were trained levee workers from the Mississippi River.
'Dink knows all the songs,' said her companion. But I did not find her helpful until I walked a mile to a farm commissary and bought her a pint of gin. As she drank the gin, the sounds from her scrubbing board increased in intensity and in volume. She worked as she talked: 'That little boy there ain't got no daddy an' he ain't got no name. I comes from Mississippi and we never saw these levee niggers, till us got here. I brung along my little boy. My man drives a four-wheel scraper down there where you see the dust risin'. I keeps his tent, cooks his vittles and washes his clothes. Some day Ize goin' to wrap up his wet breeches and shirts, roll 'em up in a knot, put 'em in the middle of the bed, and tuck down the covers right nice. Then I'm going on up the river where I belong.' She sipped her gin and sang and drank until the bottle was empty.
The original Edison record of 'Dink's Song' was broken long ago, but not until all the Lomax family had learned the tune. The one-line refrain, as Dink sang it in her soft lovely voice, gave the effect of a sobbing woman, deserted by her man. Dink's tune is really lost; what is left is only a shadow of the tender, tragic beauty of what she sang in the sordid, bleak surroundings of a Brazos Bottom levee camp.
Lomax continues to say: "The lyrics and music of Dink's Song' are to me uniquely beautiful. Professor Kittredge praised them without stint. Carl Sandburg compares them to the best fragments of Sappho. As you might expect, Carl prefers Dink to Sappho.
"When I went to find her in Yazoo, Mississippi, some years later, her women friends, pointing to a nearby graveyard, told me, Dink's done planted up there.' I could find no trace of her little son who 'didn't have no name.'
"Dink's Song" was published in 1934 in John and Alan Lomax's "American Ballads and Folk Songs"
The first artist that recorded "Dink's Song" (as "Fare Thee Well") was Libby Holman with guitar accompaniment by Josh White. Strangely she begins with the last chorus (see lyrics above)
(o) Libby Holman 1942 (Fare Thee Well)
(c) Josh White 1944 (Fare Thee Well)
Libby Holman's and Josh White's "Fare Thee Well" IS NOT TO BE CONFUSED with Georgia White's "Fare Thee Honey Fare Thee Well", recorded in 1937 on the Decca-label, although the label says the composer is ALSTON. And that name also is on the label of Libby Holman's and Josh White's "Fare Thee Well".
The version by Georgia White has different lyrics and the melody is also different.
SEE NEXT LINK for Georgia White's "Fare Thee Honey Fare Thee Well".
But here are some covers of the version originally recorded by Libby Holman and Josh White.
(c) Burl Ives 1951 (Fare Thee Well O Honey)
Listen here (it's at 5 min 29 sec in the next YT)
(c) Burl Ives (1955) (Sad Man's Song (Fare Thee Well, O Honey))
(c) Cisco Houston 1954 (Dink's Song)
(c) Herta Marshall (1957) (Fare Thee Well)
(c) Guy Carawan 1957 (released 1960) (Dink's Song)
(c) Jack Elliott 1958 (Dink's Song)
(c) Pete Seeger 1959 (Dink's Song)
(c) Barbara Dane (1959) (Dink's Blues)
Recorded on location at the Newport Folk Festival, Rhode Island on July 11-12, 1959...
Barbara Dane, vocal; Frank Hamilton, guitar; Bill Lee, bass
(c) Leon Bibb 1959)
(c) Judi Resnick 1961
(c) Dave Van Ronk 1961 (Dink's Song)
(c) Bob Dylan 1961
(c) Carlyn Hester 1962
(c) Jack McDuff 1961 (Dink's Blues)
(c) Jack McDuff 1963 (Dink's Blues)
(c) Bob Gibson 1964 (Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)
(c) Tom Paxton incorporated "Fare Thee Well" in 1964 in his tribute to Cisco Houston: "Fare Thee Well, Cisco"
(c) Limeliters (1963) (Faretheewell (Dink' s Song)
(c) Catherine McKinnon 1965
(c) Benji Aronoff 1965
(c) Carly Simon 1960's (Dink's Blues) (CD: Clouds in my Coffee)
(c) Fred Neil (1966) (Faretheewell (Fred's Tune))
(c) Big 3 (1968) (Nora' s Dove) (Dinks Song)
(c) Leon Bibb 1969
(c) Rick Cunha 1980
(c) John Stewart 1998 (Dink's Blues) (Cassette : Bandera)
(c) Odetta (and Dr.John) (1999) (Dink's Blues)
(c) Roger McGuinn (2001) (Dink's Song)
(c) Jeff Buckley 2003
(c) Gabriel Rios (2007) (Dink's Song)
(c) Oscar Isaac 2013 (Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song))
Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford 2013 (Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song))
Both versions above are from the soundtrack of the Coen Brother's movie "Inside Llewyn Davis".