|Published February 1850||Writer(s) Stephen Foster|
"Gwine to Run All Night, or De Camptown Races" (popularly known as "Camptown Races") is a minstrel song by Stephen Foster (1826–1864). ( Play ) It was published in February 1850 by F. D. Benteen of Baltimore, Maryland. Benteen published a different version with guitar accompaniment in 1852 under the title, "The Celebrated Ethiopian Song/Camptown Races".
Richard Jackson writes,
Foster quite specifically tailored the song for use on the minstrel stage. He composed it as a piece for solo voice with group interjections and refrain ... his dialect verses have all the wild exaggeration and rough charm of folk tale as well as some of his most vivid imagery ... Together with "Oh! Susanna", "Camptown Races" is one of the gems of the minstrel era."
In The Americana Song Reader, William Emmett Studwell writes that the song was introduced by the Christy Minstrels, and noting that "[Foster's] nonsense lyrics are much of the charm of this bouncy and enduring bit of Americana ... [The song] was a big hit with minstrel troupes throughout the country." Foster's music was used for derivatives that include "Sacramento", "A Capital Ship" (1875) and a pro-Lincoln parody introduced during the 1860 presidential campaign.
In America's Musical Life, Richard Crawford observes that the song resembles Dan Emmett's "Old Dan Tucker", and suggests Foster used Emmett's piece as a model. Both songs feature contrast between a high instrumental register with a low vocal one, comic exaggeration, hyperbole, verse and refrain, call and response, and syncopation. However, Foster's melody is "jaunty and tuneful" while Emmett's is "driven and aggressive". Crawford points out that the differences in the two songs represent not only two different musical styles, but a shift in minstrelsy from the rough spirit and "muscular, unlyrical music" of the 1840s to a more genteel spirit and lyricism with an expanding repertoire that included sad songs, sentimental and love songs, and parodies of opera. Crawford explains that by mid-century, the "noisy, impromptu entertainments" characteristic of Dan Emmett and the Virginia Minstrels were passé and the minstrel stage was evolving into a "restrained and balanced kind of spectacle". He writes, "In that setting, a comic song like 'De Camptown Races', with a tune strong enough to hold performers to the prescribed notes, proved a means of channeling unruliness into a more controlled mode of expression."
Its tune has also been adopted for use in football chants, most notably in England's Two World Wars and One World Cup chant.
Historians cite the village of Camptown, Pennsylvania as the basis for the song. It is located in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. The races were resumed nearby in 1965. The Pennsylvania Historical Society confirmed that Foster traveled through the small town and afterwards and wrote the song. The Bradford County Historical Society documents Foster attending school in nearby Towanda and Athens in 1840 and 1841. The schools were located five miles from the racetrack. The current annual running of the Camptown Races was replaced by a 6.2-mile track covering rough lumbering trails. The village of Camptown has changed from having three general stores, three churches, a grist mill and a creamery, to one store and one church.
In one of the most widely familiar uses of "Camptown Races" in popular culture, the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn frequently hums the tune to himself (breaking into song only for the "Doo-Dah" refrain) in most of the 28 cartoons the character appears in, produced between 1946 and 1963. Notably, Leghorn was not based on a minstrel character, but on Kenny Delmar's popular radio character, the overbearing Southerner Senator Claghorn.
The song was recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1959. An instrumental version in polka form can also be found on the album Sliabh Luachra Fiddle Master, which features recordings of the famous Irish fiddler Padraig O'Keeffe from the 1940s An interesting version of this song is used in Disney's Sing-Along 1994 home video "Campout at Walt Disney World". In The Wiggles' "Yummy Yummy" and "Big Red Car" videos, this song and "Long, Long Ago" are played in a mash-up melody during Greg's magic show scenes.
An off-the-cuff version of the song can be found (although not listed or credited) as a lead-in to folk-rock British artists Steeleye Span's song "The Drunkard" on their 1976 album Rocket Cottage.
It is sung by Carol Connors in the X-rated fim Sweet Savage. Burton Gilliam sings it in Blazing Saddles.
It is also sung by Basil Fawlty in the Fawlty Towers episode Communication Problems whilst celebrating winning £75 on a horse.