"Sinner Man" or "Sinnerman" is accepted as an African American traditional spiritual song that has been recorded by a number of performers and has been incorporated in many other of the media and arts. The song has been dated to the turn of the 20th century[citation needed] but most modern recorded versions derive from the 1956 recording by Les Baxter.[1][2] Further changes and additions were codified in 1959 by the folk music group the Weavers. The Weavers' performance of the song appears on their compilation albums Gospel and Reunion at Carnegie Hall Part 2.


 [hide*1 The Nina Simone recording

The Nina Simone recording[edit]Edit

"Sinnerman" (spelled as one word) is one of Nina Simone's most famous songs and she recorded her definitive 10-minute-plus version on her 1965 album Pastel Blues. Simone learned the lyrics of this English song in her childhood when it was used at revival meetings by her mother, a Methodist minister, to help people confess their sins. In the early days of her career during the early sixties, when she was heavily involved in the Greenwich Village scene, Simone often used the long piece to end her live performances. An earlier version of the song exists, recorded live at The Village Gate, but was never used on the 1962 Colpix album Nina at the Village Gate.

Simone's version of Sinnerman has been sampled by Kanye West for the Talib Kweli song "Get By", by Timbaland for the song "Oh Timbaland", and by Felix da Housecat for Verve Record's "Verve Remixed" series. It has also been covered by 16 Horsepower on their album Folklore, and by Zegota on their self-titled 7". French rapper Abd al-Malik sampled Simone's version for the title track of his 2006 album "Gibraltar". He also sampled Simone's version of "See Line Woman" for the track "Le grand frère" from the same album.

Versions of "Sinnerman" were featured in 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair, in the 2004 film Cellular by David R. Ellis, and in three 2006 films: Michael Mann's Miami ViceThe Golden Door by Emanuele Crialese, in the closing scene of David Lynch's Inland Empire, and during a chase scene midway through the 2007 documentarySharkwater by Rob Stewart. On TV, the song was heard in episode 10 of season 6 of Homicide: Life on the Street, at the end of episode 6 of season 4 of Entourage, in episode 11 season 1 of Scrubs,[3] at the end of episode 7 of season 1 of Person of Interest, and in the first part of British TV film The Great Train Robbery. An instrumental section is used by Australian Network Ten during its Australian Football League broadcasts. The song can also be heard in season 2, episode 3 ofSherlock.

Peter Tosh and the Wailers versions[edit]Edit

"Sinner Man" has also been recorded as ska and reggae versions several times by the Wailers.

It was first recorded by the group at Studio One in Kingston, Jamaica in early 1966; Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer shared lead vocals.

A different version entitled "Downpressor" was recorded by Peter Tosh & The Wailers in 1970 ("downpressor" meaning "oppressor" in Rastafarian vocabulary). The song featured Tosh on lead vocals and Bunny Wailer on background. An instrumental version was also released. Songwriting credit for this version is sometimes given to Tosh.

Another version was recorded in 1971 as Oppressor Man. This version was billed as a Peter Tosh solo single, and the B Side of the single featured an instrumental version. It was one of the rarer songs from the period before being included, along with its version, on JAD's Black Dignity compilation in 2004.

Tosh recorded the song again as "Downpresser Man" for his 1977 solo album Equal Rights and released a live recording of the song in a medley with "Equal Rights" on his 1983 album Captured Live.

The Tosh solo version was covered by Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor on her 2005 album Throw Down Your Arms, and by the ska-punk band Goldfinger.

Other versions[edit]Edit

A number of other versions of the song have been recorded by performers such as The SeekersThree Dog NightJohn P. Kee16 Horsepower, Soda & His Million Piece Band, Nina and Frederik, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Lauryn Hill and 1960s Spanish folk group "Nuestro pequeño mundo".

An interpretation was recorded by Yoko Kanno as a background track for an episode of Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG entitled "Vegetarian Dinner".

A hard rock version was recorded by the band Extra Fancy in 1996, which was also the name of their debut album. It was a minor hit on MTV2, and was also featured on the cartoon series, Mega Man, which is based on the best-selling video game series and character of the same name by Capcom.

An instrumental variation titled "Guru / Sinnerman" was recorded by indie-rock band Plants and Animals for their 2007 EP With/Avec.

The Canadian section of the Ukrainian youth orgranization Plast has adapted a translated version, sung regularly at campfires. It is unknown when it was first sung.

The Von Trapp Children have recorded a version for their A Capella CD.

"Spot Light on Bud and Travis" Liberty Records side one LRP3138

Gordon Lightfoot and Terry Whelan recorded Sinnerman in 1962 as the Two Tones. The song appears on their live "At The Village Corner" record.

Tribe After Tribe recorded the song for inclusion on their single, "Ice Below," in 1993.

Sinnerman (Heavenly House mix) by Felix Da Housecat, from the 2003 CD entitled Verve Remixed 2.

American blues duo Black Diamond Heavies recorded a version for their 2008 album, "A Touch of Someone Else's Class".

Brazilian musician Zé Ramalho recorded a version in Portuguese, entitled Oh! Pecador, as bonus for his 1985 album De Gosto de Água e de Amigos.

Justin Bond performed the song several times as part of an April 2011 US tour to promote V's solo album, Dendrophile. The song does not feature on the album, but followed topical stage banter regarding Harold Camping's well publicized prediction of the rapture, set to occur on May 21, 2011. The song was later featured on V's 2012 album, Silver Wells.

Blues singer Eric Bibb released a version on February 2012, on his album "Deeper In the Well".

16 Horsepower an American alternative country music band did a version of the song on their album "Folklore"

New Orleans singer Esquerita recorded two versions in June 1966 that appear on the album "Sinner Man: The Lost Session".

"Sinner Man" in other media[edit]Edit

Nina Simone's "Sinnerman" has been featured in various films and commercials. Her version has also been used in a number of fashion show soundtracks, includingDior's Ready-to-Wear Fall/Winter 2004 and Valentino Ready-to-Wear Fall/Winter 2008.




  • Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure (video game)
  • The Absinthe Films snowboarding video Futureproof
  • "Sinner Man" is featured in Ben Bova's short story "Stars, Won't You Hide Me?" and the title is a lyric from the song. (The story can be found in his 1990 "Future Crime" anthology and in his book "Notes to a Science Fiction Writer" as an example of storytelling.)
  • "Sinnerman" is referenced though not by name in Ray Bradbury's short story "And The Rock Cried Out", which takes its title from one of the lyrics.
  • Dance 8. for male solo of Alvin Ailey's ballet "Revelations"
  • Sinnermen Productions (Production Company)
  • The Felix Da Housecat remix is featured in the mobile phone maker HTC Corporation "You" campaign commercials.
  • "Sinnerman" is featured in the novel Night of Thunder by Stephen Hunter (2008). The lyrics are partially quoted and a character takes on the persona of The Sinnerman.
  • "Sinnerman" is featured in the novel Sinnerman by mystery and thriller writer Cheryl Bradshaw (2011). The serial killer who abducts and kills women in the book gives himself the name of Sinnerman.
  • "Sinnerman" is used as the title (stylized as SINNERMAN) of Jonathan M. Cook's second novel (2013). The song itself figures into the novel thematically, and Nina Simone's version in particular is used by the protagonist in a discussion of aesthetics.[4]
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