When the Saints Go Marching In – Piano

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"When the Saints Go Marching In," often referred to as simply "The Saints," is a black spiritual.[citation needed] 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]

Origins and usage

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 uptempo 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] The tune is particularly associated with the city of New Orleans. A jazz standard, it has been recorded by many jazz and pop artists.


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:


Hey! We are following the footsteps of those who've gone before and we'll all be reunited on that new and sunlit shore.

Oh, when the saints go marching in, [Repeat]
oh, Lord, I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.

And when the sun refuse to shine, [Repeat]

oh, Lord, I want to be in that number when the sun refuse to shine.

Oh, when the trumpet sound its call, [Repeat]

oh, Lord, I want to be in that number when the trumpet sounds that call.

Oh, when the new world is revealed, [Repeat]
oh, Lord, I want to be in that number when the new world is revealed.

Oh, when the saints go marching in, [Repeat]

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 brother Charles you are my friend, Oh brother Charles you are my friend,

Yea you gonna 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 to the simple melody at each third 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 four repetitions to create an AABA form with the verse as the bridge.

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.

Other versions

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

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.
  • Connee Boswell recorded the number with the Original Memphis Five in 1957.
  • Elvis Presley performed the song during the Million Dollar Quartet jam session and also recorded a version for his film, Frankie and Johnny.
  • Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album 101 Gang Songs (1961)
  • Other early rock artists to follow Domino's lead included Jerry Lee Lewis.
  • Donna Hightower recorded the song in 1962 for Barclay Records as a swinging Twist number, complete with a scat vocal and imitation of Louis Armstrong.
  • 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.
  • Etta James performed the song during the 1984 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.

With non-traditional lyrics


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. ^ 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).
  14. ^ Listen to When The Reds Go Marching In football song. Stoke MP3 FIFA 13 SCFC chant. Retrieved on 2013-07-29.
  15. ^ Listen to Oh When The Spurs Go Marching In football song. Spurs MP3 FIFA 13 THFC chant. Retrieved on 2013-07-29.
  16. ^ "BFC fans give Bangalore football an 'ultra' flavour".
  17. ^ Morris, Desmond (1981). "Chapter 43 Tribal Chants". The Soccer Tribe. Cape. p. 305. ISBN 978-0224019354.
  18. ^ Al Hirt, The Best of Al Hirt Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  19. ^ "Johnny and the Hurricanes". Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  20. ^ "The Law And Mr. Jones". Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  21. ^ "5th Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment; Regimental Marches". Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  22. ^ Sandberg, Bo (2007). Försvarets marscher och signaler förr och nu: marscher antagna av svenska militära förband, skolor och staber samt igenkännings-, tjänstgörings- och exercissignaler (in Swedish) (New ed.). Stockholm: Militärmusiksamfundet med Svenskt marscharkiv. p. 47. ISBN 978-91-631-8699-8. SELIBR 10413065.
  23. ^ "New Orleans Piano Professor". AllMusic. Retrieved 2019-03-24.

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