Origin of a song: By fours and fives and sixes (with video)

Yes, the inspiration photo of folks arriving at Ellis Island in 1907 is perfectly evocative of my own family history.

But this was a song I felt I needed to write because of current events.

And I wanted to do a live recording as a shout-out to my colleagues who may be worried about immigration status, work authorization, and travel right now.

You’re welcome here. Your presence is a gift. We’ll get through this.


With what little he had my great granddad bet big on a new country
When he stepped on a ship from a stone staircase in Southern Italy
To first set foot on what he hoped would be his family’s new homeland
Fresh off the boat at Ellis with nothing but his hat in hand
              Like the hopeful and the hard done by
              Of a hundred nationalities
              He came from overseas
She couldn’t tell all would be well when grandma got the hell out of Eastern Germany
Running ahead of a tide turning read toward the Land of Liberty
She never made much working factory and field, but she didn’t cross the pond for greed
She wanted American dreams for my generation, her labor nurtured the seed
              If you’re like me there’s foreign soil
              On the roots of our family trees
              Transplanted from overseas
We’re the nation we are ‘cause we opened the door to the tired the hungry the wretched and poor
The world’s huddled masses taking their chances to do right by their families
              By fours and fives and sixes
              And in ones and twos and threes
              They came from overseas
Some would say things are different today, so when the ragged come knocking we should turn them away—
As much now as then you couldn’t be wronger to betray what’s always made America stronger
So many hands and hearts and minds
That built our prosperity
              Came from overseas

I originally called this song "Overseas." But I came to feel "By Fours and Fives and Sixes (and Ones and Twos and Threes) was the right way to represent how there were so many different stories and experiences.

(There's a little bit of  async between the audio and video - apologies for that--still working out the optimal recording set up.)