Dem Bones

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"Dem Bones"
Written by James Weldon Johnson
Form Spiritual
For the song by Alice in Chains, see Them Bones.

Dem Bones — also called Dry Bones and Dem Dry Bones — is a well-known spiritual song. The melody was composed by African-American author and songwriter James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938). Some sources also credit his brother, J Rosomond Johnson.[1] First recorded by The Famous Myers Jubilee Singers in 1928. Both a long and a shortened version of the song are widely known. The lyrics are inspired by Ezekiel 37:1-14, where the Prophet visits the "Valley of Dry Bones"[2] and prophesies that they will one day be resurrected at God's command, picturing the national resurrection of Israel.

The song[edit]

The chorus and verses are noted for many variations among performers, but fall into the following style. The second verse reverses the first in a pattern similar to:

The neck bone (dis)connected from the head bone
… etc…


Over the years, the song has been played and recorded by many artists, including:

Comedic versions and parodies[edit]

References in popular culture[edit]

  • The Kinks used the chorus on the song "Skin and Bone" on their 1971 album Muswell Hillbillies.
  • Bob Barner based a children's book of anatomy on this song.[4]
  • In the musical Li'l Abner, the political satire song "The Country is in The Very Best of Hands" contains a long passage which references this song, rewritten to be about politicians sitting around on their "thigh bones."
  • The song "Dry Bones" was also featured as the second track on the Rain Man movie soundtrack.
  • Schoolhouse Rock! has a version of "Dem Dry Bones", in order to teach children about the skeletal system.[5]
  • In a second season episode of The Munsters, entitled "Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?", Herman Munster was playing with Eddie Munster's friend's portable tape recorder by singing and playing back his own version of the song, which includes a mention of Herman's creator.
  • The main chorus and a variation of the verses are featured in the song "Skeletons in the closet", by Kris McKay, used as the theme for the 7th Guest video game.
  • The song appears twice in Evil Ed, first when Ed gets rid of the body of his boss and over the closing credits.
  • In a fifth season episode of Married...with Children, Al Bundy is trying to recall the name of a song from his youth and to that end has the idea of naming "every song that was ever made until we get it." Al's first offer is "Mandy", Jefferson's is "Dem Bones".
  • In Bewitched ("Samantha's Power Failure"), Uncle Arthur changes into a dancing skeleton and starts singing "Dem Bones".
  • The Bone Song is sung by Guybrush's parents in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. The song is a variation of the popular spiritual song "Dem Bones", and works as a hint to solve a randomly generated puzzle later in the game. As a result the lyrics are different every time the game is played.
  • In Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 904, as a scene featuring the bones of a werewolf in a science lab plays, one of the characters dryly comments "We've come to the conclusion: dem bones, dem dry bones, sir".
  • In the Wacky Races short "Mish Mash Missouri Dash", Muttley sings a similar song about bolts while repairing the Mean Machine.
  • In the song "They Want EFX" by Das EFX.
  • In the video game League of Legends by Riot Games (The Champion Sion).
  • In Animaniacs, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot sing a variation of the song called "Bones in the Body".
  • In Monsters University, the children, including the young Mike Wazowski, sing a parody of the song in a school bus.
  • The song is played at the end of the 2013 Pretty Little Liars episode entitled, "Cat's Cradle."[citation needed]
  • The song is sung in the final episode of the British television series The Prisoner.[6]
  • In Kidsongs' "What I Want to Be", the doctors talk about the bones of the skeleton.
  • In King's Quest VI, Alexander plays a xylophone made entirely of bones to play Dem Bones. This causes the skeleton guards, and later a chorus line of skeletons, to dance. The purpose of this is to get one of the guards to dance so that a skeleton key can fall from the key ring attached to one of the guards' belt.
  • In Peanuts, Linus helps Lucy assemble a dinosaur model. He starts fitting bones together and soon breaks into a loud rendition of "Dem Bones", eventually singing nonsense lyrics ("Oh, the knee bone connects to the wrist bone"), all the while dancing joyously around with Snoopy.[7]
  • The "Rainbow Thief" 1990 used this song as well.
  • In Season 6 Episode 1 of Star Trek: Voyager, The Doctor speaks a verse from the song to describe Seven Of Nine's Borg anatomy
  • The fifth episode of the fifth season of Xena: Warrior Princess was titled "Them Bones, Them Bones".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Locust St". Retrieved 1 November 2014. 
  2. ^ "Dry Bones, Valley of," in Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, David L. Jeffery, editor. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, November 1, 1992, pages 216-217, ISBN 0-8028-3634-8
  3. ^ Entry for Decca 23948 on (including image of disc label). Accessed 13 March 2012.
  4. ^ "Bob Barner" Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2005. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2005. retrieved 5 December 2005
  5. ^ "Them Not-So-Dry-Bones". 
  6. ^ Vinciguerra, Thomas (October 19, 2008). "A Spy Trapped in a Nightmare of Psychedelia". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ "Peanuts Comic Strip, June 05, 1960". Retrieved January 17, 2014.