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When the Saints Go Marching In

"When the Saints Go Marching In", often referred to as "The Saints", is a Black spiritual. Though it originated as a Christian hymn, it is often played by jazz bands. This song was famously recorded on May 13, 1938, by Louis Armstrong and his orchestra.[1] The song is sometimes confused with a similarly titled composition "When the Saints Are Marching In" from 1896 by Katharine Purvis (lyrics) and James Milton Black (music).[2]


The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, a painting by Fra Angelico, 15th century.

The origins of this song are unclear.[2] It apparently evolved in the early 1900s from a number of similarly titled gospel songs, including "When the Saints Are Marching In" (1896) and "When the Saints March In for Crowning" (1908).[3] The first known recorded version was in 1923 by the Paramount Jubilee Singers on Paramount 12073. Although the title given on the label is "When All the Saints Come Marching In", the group sings the modern lyrics beginning with "When the saints go marching in". No author is shown on the label. Several other gospel versions were recorded in the 1920s, with slightly varying titles but using the same lyrics, including versions by The Four Harmony Kings (1924), Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers (1924), Wheat Street Female Quartet (1925), Bo Weavil Jackson (1926), Deaconess Alexander (1926), Rev. E. D. Campbell (1927), Robert Hicks (AKA Barbecue Bob, 1927), Blind Willie Davis (1928), and the Pace Jubilee Singers (1928).[4]

The earliest versions were slow and stately, but as time passed the recordings became more rhythmic, including a distinctly up tempo version by the Sanctified Singers on British Parlophone in 1931. Even though the song had folk roots, a number of composers claimed copyright in it in later years, including Luther G. Presley[5] and Virgil Oliver Stamps,[6] R. E. Winsett,[7] and Frank and Jim McCravy. Although the song is still heard as a slow spiritual number, since the mid-20th century it has been more commonly performed as a "hot" number.[citation needed] The tune is particularly associated with the city of New Orleans. A jazz standard, it has been recorded by a great many jazz and pop artists.

Both vocal and instrumental renditions of the song abound. Louis Armstrong was one of the first to make the tune into a nationally known pop tune in the 1930s. Armstrong wrote that his sister told him she thought the secular performance style of the traditional church tune was inappropriate and irreligious.[citation needed] Armstrong was in a New Orleans tradition of turning church numbers into brass band and dance.[clarification needed]


As with many numbers with long traditional folk use, there is no one "official" version of the song or its lyrics. This extends so far as confusion as to its name, with it often being mistakenly called "When the Saints Come Marching In". As for the lyrics themselves, their very simplicity makes it easy to generate new verses. Since the first and second lines of a verse are exactly the same, and the third and fourth are standard throughout, the creation of one suitable line in iambic tetrameter generates an entire verse.

It is impossible to list every version of the song, but a common standard version runs:

Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the drums begin to bang
Oh, when the drums begin to bang
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the stars fall from the sky
Oh, when the stars fall from the sky
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the moon turns red with blood
Oh, when the moon turns red with blood
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the fire begins to blaze
Oh, when the fire begins to blaze
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in.

Often the first two words of the common third verse line ("Lord, how I want...") are sung as either "Oh how", "Oh, Lord" or even "Lord, Lord" as cue notes to the simple melody at each 3rd line.

Arrangements vary considerably. The simplest is just an endless repetition of the chorus. Verses may be alternated with choruses, or put in the third of 4 repetitions to create an AABA form with the verse as the bridge.

One common verse in "hot" New Orleans versions runs (with considerable variation) like thus[citation needed]:

I used to have a playmate
Who would walk and talk with me
But since she got religion
She has turned her back on me.

Some traditional arrangements often have ensemble rather than individual vocals. It is also common as an audience sing-along number. Versions using call and response are often heard, e.g.:

Call: Oh when the Saints
Response: Oh when the Saints!

The response verses can echo the same melody or form a counterpoint melody, often syncopated opposite the rhythm of the main verses, and a solo singer might sing another counterpoint melody (solo soprano or tenor) as a 3rd part in more complex arrangements.

Analysis of the traditional lyrics

The song is apocalyptic, taking much of its imagery from the Book of Revelation, but excluding its more horrific depictions of the Last Judgment. The verses about the Sun and Moon refer to Solar and Lunar eclipses; the trumpet (of the Archangel Gabriel) is the way in which the Last Judgment is announced. As the hymn expresses the wish to go to Heaven, picturing the saints going in (through the Pearly Gates), it is entirely appropriate for funerals.

Artists who have performed and recorded the song

As gospel hymn

  • First recorded by the Paramount Jubilee Singers on Paramount 12073, mid-November 1923. This group may be related to the Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers.[8]
  • Four Harmony Kings, Vocalion 14941, mid-November 1924.[9]
  • Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers, Okeh 8170. c.November 24, 1924.
  • Bo Weavil Jackson, c. August 1926 in Chicago, IL, under the title "When the Saints Come Marching Home", Paramount 12390 [10][11]
  • Recorded by bluesman Sleepy John Estes accompanied by second guitar and kazoo for Bluebird Records in Chicago, 1941 [12]
  • This song is available in the Elvis Presley compilation Peace in the Valley: The Complete Gospel Recordings. Sony BMG/Elvis Music [13]

With traditional lyrics

With non-traditional lyrics

  • Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye performed a comedy duet version in the 1959 film The Five Pennies, naming composers and musicians who would play "on the day that the saints go marching in".
  • Woody Guthrie sang a song called "When The Yanks Go Marching In" in 1943.
  • Tony Sheridan made a successful Rock-And-Roll arrangement of the song, which he recorded with The Beatles in 1961, significantly deviating some verses from the original lyrics.
  • Abrasive Wheels, a hardcore band from Leeds, Great Britain, came out of the so-called 'UK82' Punk scene with a version called "When the Punks Go Marching In" off their first album of the same name, in 1982. They replaced 'Saints' with 'Punks', 'Skins', 'Pigs', and 'Wheels' respectively, otherwise repeating the same verse four times. All other traditional lyrics remain intact, save in the third verse, which states: "I want to be in that meat van...when the pigs go marching in!" (Leading to the culmination of "Oh when the Wheels...go marching in...[...]..I want to be in that number, when the Wheels!...Go!...Mar!...Ching!...In!" for a self referential climax, complete with echoed call-and-response, ideal for live situation sing-a-longs.).
  • In 1983, Aaron Neville, along with New Orleans musicians Sal and Steve Monistere and Carlo Nuccio and a group of players for the New Orleans Saints American football team, recorded a popular version of the song incorporating the team's "Who Dat?" chant.[15]
  • French group Dionysos's album La Mécanique du Cœur (2007, The Mechanic of the Heart) contains a version of this song, in collaboration with the French singer Arthur H.
  • Many supporters of association football teams sing versions of the song, "Saints" is often replaced with the name or nickname of the club, for example, "When the Saints Go Marching In" (St Mirren F C) and (Southampton F.C), "When the Reds Go Marching In (Liverpool FC)", "When the Posh Go Steaming In" (Peterborough United F.C.), "When the Spurs Go Marching In" (Tottenham Hotspur) or "When the Stripes Go Marching In", "When the blues Go Marching In" (Bengaluru FC), as a rally song during football matches.[16][17][18][19]
  • The fans of the Swedish football team Djurgårdens IF Fotboll commonly uses the song.
  • It is also used within Rugby Union where Northampton Saints sing a traditional version of the song.
  • It is also used in Rugby League where St. Helens RLFC sing a version of the song.
  • The St Kilda Football Club, an Australian rules football club use a variation as their theme song. The main variation being in the chorus 'oh how I want to be in St Kilda'.
  • Bill Haley & His Comets released a rock and roll version (with lyrics referencing the members of the Comets) in 1955 on Decca Records, entitled "The Saints Rock and Roll". The group also recorded new versions of the song for Orfeon Records in 1966 and Sonet Records in 1968, as well as numerous live versions.
  • Japanese voice actress Kotono Mitsuishi performed a cover in 1995.
  • The Rock-afire Explosion of ShowBiz Pizza Place covered the song in the "New Years Eve '82" showtape, sung by Fatz Geronimo (Burt "Sal" Wilson), with new lyrics naming off every member of the band.
  • Abrasive Wheels, an English Punk band from Leeds, part of the so called UK82 scene

With no lyrics

Popular culture

  • The song was the inspiration for the name of the National Football League team the New Orleans Saints. The version sung by Fats Domino is used as the team's touchdown song.
  • The children's television show Barney & Friends has a song called "Walk Across the Street" sung to this tune.[25]
  • In the survival-horror video game Left 4 Dead 2, the song plays when the four survivors ride atop a parade float in New Orleans to cross an overrun street.
  • This song was used in the episode Dr. Horatio's Magic Orchestra in Disney's animated TV series, Goof Troop.
  • Amy Rose sang the song for her audition of Sonic the Hedgehog's sidekick in the debut episode of Sonic Boom.
  • A version by The US Navy Southwest Regional Band was used in the 2006 film Déjà Vu.
  • In the Australian TV show Parallax, the character Martin can be heard singing the song while having a shower.
  • In the second episode of The Flintstones entitled "Hot Lips Hannigan", Fred sings a rendition of the song at The Rockland.
  • Towards the end of the Mrs. Brown's Boys episode "Mammy's Going", the title character sings the song before planning to head down to Foleys to celebrate her birthday, only to learn that her pet dog Spartacus has been put down.
  • In the We Bare Bears webisode Charlie's Opus, Charlie plays the first few bars of the song in F Major with a trombone. [26]
  • In The Simpsons episode One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish, Lisa plays the song on her saxophone to cheer Homer Simpson up, when he believes he is dying after eating a poisonous blowfish. He even starts singing the song with slight altered lyrics such as "When the saints go over there, no over there".
  • In The Real Ghostbusters episode, Play Those Ragtime Boos, the ghost of a trumpet player; Malachi and his jazz band plays the song throughout the episode, causing time to slip backwards back into the past.
  • The song is also used by the West Block Blues the fan club of the Indian football club Bengaluru FC as their team song but with the lyrics " When the Blues Go Marching In".

See also


  • The Book of World Famous Music, Classical, Popular and Folk by James Fuld (1966)
  1. ^ "Music History for May 13 from". 
  2. ^ a b CyberHymnal: []
  3. ^ James J. Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music, Classical, Popular and Folk, Fourth Edition, 1995
  4. ^ Robert M. W. Dixon, John Godrich, & Howard Rye, Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943, Fourth Edition, 1997
  5. ^ "LUTHER PRESLEY COLLECTION". 31 July 2007. Archived from the original on 31 July 2007. 
  6. ^ "When the Saints Go Marching In" arranged by Luther G. Presley & Virgil O. Stamps, Starlit Crown (Pangburn, AR: Stamps-Baxter Music Company, 1937),
  7. ^ Ruth Winsett Shelton, editor. Best Loved Songs and Hymns (Dayton, TN: R. E. Winsett Music Company, 1961), Item 158.
  8. ^ Robert M.W. Dixon, John Godrich, & Howard Rye, Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943, Fourth Edition, 1997.
  9. ^ Tim Brooks, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1890-1919 (2004), 457-458.
  10. ^ "Paramoung 12000 series numerical listing (1922–1927)". Retrieved September 13, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Sam Butler/Bo Weavil Jackson discography". Retrieved September 13, 2015. 
  12. ^ Illustrated Sleepy John Estes discography
  13. ^ Noble, Barnes &. "Peace In The Valley: The Complete Gospel Recordings/I'll Be Home For Christmas". 
  14. ^ SpiritOf84 (6 September 2014). "Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Opening Ceremony Complete" – via YouTube. 
  15. ^ Dave Walker, "'Who dat?' popularized by New Orleans Saints fans when 'everybody was looking for the sign'", Times-Picayune, January 12, 2010, pp. A1, A10 (Saint Tammany Edition).
  16. ^ [1][dead link]
  17. ^ Listen to When The Reds Go Marching In football song. Stoke MP3 FIFA 13 SCFC chant. Retrieved on 2013-07-29.
  18. ^ Listen to Oh When The Spurs Go Marching In football song. Spurs MP3 FIFA 13 THFC chant. Retrieved on 2013-07-29.
  19. ^ "BFC fans give Bangalore football an 'ultra' flavour". 
  20. ^ ClassicTVThemes, The Law and Mr. Jones: []
  21. ^ Al Hirt, Our Man in New Orleans Retrieved April 10, 2013.
  22. ^ Al Hirt, The Best of Al Hirt Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  23. ^ "Johnny and the Hurricanes". 
  24. ^ Sandberg, Bo (2007). Försvarets marscher och signaler - För och nu. Uppsala: Militärmusiksamfundet med Svenskt Marscharkiv. ISBN 978-91-631-8699-8.  Viewed 2012-05-09 (in Swedish).
  25. ^ Gretchen Marie-Goode, "Walk Around The Block With Barney", Hartford Courant, May 6, 1999.
  26. ^ []

External links

[[Category:Gospel songs]