Girish Mahajan (Editor)

When the Saints Go Marching In

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"When the Saints Go Marching In", often referred to as "The Saints", is an American gospel hymn. 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. 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).



The origins of this song are unclear. 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). 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).

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 and Virgil Oliver Stamps, R.E. Winsett, 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. 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. Armstrong was in a New Orleans tradition of turning church numbers into brass band and dance.


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 how 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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:

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.

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.
  • Four Harmony Kings, Vocalion 14941, mid-November 1924.
  • 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
  • Recorded by bluesman Sleepy John Estes accompanied by second guitar and kazoo for Bluebird Records in Chicago, 1941
  • This song is available in the Elvis Presley compilation Peace in the Valley: The Complete Gospel Recordings. Sony BMG/Elvis Music
  • With traditional lyrics

  • Louis Armstrong helped make The Saints into a jazz standard with his 1938 Decca recording.
  • The tune was brought into the early rock and roll repertory by Fats Domino as one of the traditional New Orleans numbers he often played to rock audiences. Domino would usually use "The Saints" as his grand finale number, sometimes with his horn players leaving the stage to parade through the theater aisles or around the dance floor.
  • Judy Garland sang it in her own pop style.
  • Elvis Presley performed the song during the Million Dollar Quartet jam session and also recorded a version for his film, Frankie and Johnny.
  • Other early rock artists to follow Domino's lead included Jerry Lee Lewis and Tony Sheridan (featuring then-unknown band The Beatles as a backing group).
  • In 1990, John Rutter arranged a lively version of the song for the Cambridge Singers, piano or organ accompaniment, and a Dixieland jazz-style clarinet obbligato.
  • Tears For Fears performed the song and on the Live from Santa Barbara CD.
  • Bruce Springsteen with The Seeger Sessions Band Tour includes the song as an encore for some shows.
  • Etta James performed the song during the 1984 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.
  • Dolly Parton has also included the song in a gospel medley, as has Trini Lopez in a mixed gospel/folk medley (Trini Lopez at PJ's)
  • The Rivieras performed a surf music version for their 1964 album Let's Have A Party, titled "When The Saints".
  • Actor Hal Linden performed the song with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem during his guest appearance on The Muppet Show.
  • St. Lawrence University sports teams use it as their theme song.
  • The Weavers
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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" (Southampton FC), "When the Reds Go Marching In (Liverpool FC)", "When the Posh Go Steaming In" (Peterborough United), "When the Spurs Go Marching In" (Tottenham Hotspur) or "When the Stripes Go Marching In", as a rally song during football matches.
  • It is also used within Rugby Union where Northampton Saints sing a traditional 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.
  • With no lyrics

  • The 1958 rock and roll instrumental song "Rebel Rouser" by Duane Eddy was loosely based on this tune.
  • The rhythm of "When the Saints Go Marching In" was adapted by Dick Powell's Four Star Television for its legal drama, The Law and Mr. Jones starring James Whitmore, which ran on ABC from 1960-1962.
  • Big Chief Jazzband recorded the tune in Oslo on May 10, 1953. It was released on the 78 rpm record His Master's Voice A.L. 3307.
  • Al Hirt released a version on his 1963 album, Our Man in New Orleans and was also featured on his greatest hits album, The Best of Al Hirt.
  • Harry James released a version on his 1972 album Mr. Trumpet. (Longines Symphonette Society SYS 5459/LS 217C/LS 217U)
  • It was recorded under the title of "Revival" by Johnny and the Hurricanes. The band's management claimed authorship.
  • A portion of the song was also used in the "boss" music of the "Out of This Dimension" Easter egg stage in the game Star Fox for the SNES.
  • A techno remix of this song, titled "Saints Go Marching," is a playable song in some versions of Dance Dance Revolution.
  • The song has been used as a fight song for many schools, including Providence College and Saint Joseph's University. The Baylor University Golden Wave Marching band plays the song during Baylor football games right after a touchdown is scored. The song is also the inspiration for the nickname of the New Orleans Saints.
  • The musical Urinetown includes a parody homage of "Saints" entitled "Run, Freedom Run" as its protest theme.
  • An arrangement of "When the Saints Go Marching In" is also the official march of the Royal Hälsinge Air Force Wing (F 15 Söderhamn) in Sweden.
  • A New Orleans-style instrumental of this song titled "The Saints Will Never Come" is heard in The Parish level of Left 4 Dead 2, coming from a parade float attached to a tractor.
  • The song was the inspiration for the name of the National Football League team the New Orleans Saints. The version sang 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.
  • 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 actually used from 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.
  • References

    When the Saints Go Marching In Wikipedia