Camptown Races

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"Gwine to Run All Night, or
De Camptown Races"
Song by Christy's Minstrels
PublishedFebruary 1850
Songwriter(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). (About this soundPlay [1]) It was published in February 1850 by F. D. Benteen of Baltimore, Maryland, and Benteen published a different version with guitar accompaniment in 1852 under the title "The Celebrated Ethiopian Song/Camptown Races". The song quickly entered the realm of popular Americana. In 1909, composer Charles Ives incorporated the tune and other vernacular American melodies into his orchestral Symphony No. 2.[2][3]

First stanza[edit]

Camptown ladies sing dis song, Doo-dah! doo-dah!
Camptown race-track five miles long, Oh, doo-dah day!
I come down dah wid my hat caved in, Doo-dah! doo-dah!
I go back home wid a pocketful of tin, Oh, doo-dah day!

Gwine to run all night!
Gwine to run all day!
I'll bet my money on de bob-tail nag,
Somebody bet on de bay.


"Camptown Races" was introduced by the Christy's Minstrels.

Richard Jackson was curator[4] of the Americana Collection at New York Public Library; he 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."[5][6][7]

In The Americana Song Reader, William Emmett Studwell writes that the song was introduced by the Christy Minstrels, noting that Foster's "nonsense lyrics are much of the charm of this bouncy and enduring bit of Americana", and the song was a big hit with minstrel troupes throughout the country. Foster's music was used for derivatives that include "Banks of the Sacramento", "A Capital Ship" (1875), and a pro-Lincoln parody introduced during the 1860 presidential campaign.[8]

Richard Crawford observes in America's Musical Life that the song resembles Dan Emmett's "Old Dan Tucker", and he suggests that 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 two different musical styles, as well as 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 changing to a "restrained and balanced kind of spectacle".[9]

Keystone Marker for Camptown, 4.2 miles north of Wyalusing, Pennsylvania[10][11]

Historians cite the village of Camptown, Pennsylvania as the basis for the song, located in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. The races were resumed nearby in 1965 as a footrace, without horses. The Pennsylvania Historical Society confirmed that Foster traveled through the small town and afterwards 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 5 miles (8 km) from the racetrack. The current annual running of the Camptown Races was replaced by a 6.2-mile (10 km) track covering rough lumbering trails.[12]

The song was the impetus for renaming Camptown, a village of Clinton Township, Essex County, New Jersey. When the new ballad was published in 1850, some residents of the village were mortified to be associated with the bawdiness in song. The wife of the local postmaster suggested Irvington, to commemorate writer Washington Irving, which was adopted in 1852.[13]


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.[14]

The song was revived on a number of occasions in the twentieth century with recordings by Bing Crosby (recorded December 9, 1940),[15] Johnny Mercer (1945),[16] Al Jolson (recorded July 17, 1950),[17] Julie London (included in her album Swing Me an Old Song — 1959), and Frankie Laine (included in his album Deuces Wild — 1961).[18]

Country music singer Kenny Rogers recorded the song in 1970 with his group, The First Edition, on their album Tell It All Brother under the title of "Camptown Ladies".

In popular culture[edit]



Sung by Tim McManus in Oz Season 4, episode 2

  • In 1963 on The Jack Benny Program (season 13, episode 20), Jack Benny plays Stephen Foster as he tries to write some of his famous songs. The episode features Connie Francis as Foster's wife, who inadvertently helps Foster break his writer's block by commenting on unusual events around their home. "Camptown Races" begins to play on a bullet-riddled player-piano.[21]
  • "Camptown Races" was performed at the end of the television series 30 Rock, season 6, episode 1 by Kara Oates.[22][23]
  • "Camptown Races" was performed in the television series All in the Family, season 4, episode 9 by character Michael "Meathead" Stivic, played by Rob Reiner.
  • Sung in the television series Rawhide, season 4, episode 24 "The Child-Woman", at about 5 minute mark.
  • In Unikitty!, the main characters sing this in a Halloween-themed episode, "Scary Tales".
  • "Camptown Races" was sung in the television series Futurama, season 7, episode 18 by miners trapped in a helium mine on the sun.
  • At the conclusion of the Family Guy Season 17 episode Throw It Away, Peter performs a version of the John Lennon song Imagine to the tune of "Camptown Races".
  • In Cars Toon Guido sings the song in season 1, episode 8.
  • In Tim and Eric's Bedtime Stories, Sauce Boy episode, Mama Pantone sings the song with the help of the Cinco MIDI Organizer.
  • In Bonanza it is heard in the opening of The Lila Conrad Story, season 5, episode 14.
  • In The Andy Griffith Show it is heard at the closing of Three's a Crowd, season 2, episode 27 (1962).
  • Pinky & the Brain sing "Brainstem" in this song's style.
  • SNICK commercializes the song for a promotion.
  • In Family Matters, the song is frequently sung by Steve Urkel.
  • In the iCarly episode "iStakeout", a suspected thief performs a modified version of the song after being asked to provide "cheap entertainment".
  • In the television series iZombie, it was referenced in season 5 of episode 5 "The Fresh Princess".
  • In the Kim Possible episode "The Golden Years", season 1, episode 8, as the episode opens, Kim's family sings the chorus during a road trip to visit Grandma Possible.
  • "What a Baseball Day", sung in Barney & Friends, is a spoof on this song.
  • In Supernatural, season 13, episode 21, Lucifer sings it to annoy his captor.[24]


The tune is a leitmotif of the eponymous character

Home Video[edit]

  • This song is sung in the Disney Sing Along Songs video, "Campout at Walt Disney World".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Humphries, Carl (2010). The Piano Improvisation Handbook, p. 199. ISBN 978-0-87930-977-0.
  2. ^ Georgetown University:"Charles Ives's America"
  3. ^ J. Peter Burkholder, '"Quotation" and Paraphrase in Ives' Second Symphony', 19th Century Music, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 3-25. [accessed 26 July 2013]
  4. ^ "A Century of Music at The New York Public Library". The New York Public Library. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  5. ^ Richard Jackson (ed.). 1974. Stephen Foster Song Book: original sheet music of 40 songs. Courier Dover Publications. p. 174.
  6. ^ "Stephen Foster Song Book". Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  7. ^ Foster, Stephen Collins; Jackson, Richard (7 September 1974). "Stephen Foster Song Book: Original Sheet Music of 40 Songs". Courier Corporation. Retrieved 7 September 2018 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ William Emmett Studwell. The Americana Song Reader. Psychology Press. p. 63.
  9. ^ Richard Crawford. 2001. America's Musical Life: a history. W. W. Norton. pp. 210–11.
  10. ^ "Camptown Races Historical Marker". WITF-TV and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  11. ^ "Bradford County Historical Society". Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  12. ^ "Another 'Doo-dah-day' in Camptown". 10 September 1982. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  13. ^ Siegel, Alan A. "History of Irvington". Township of Irvingon. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  14. ^ ""It's a Joke, Son!"", AFI Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States 1, University of California Press, 1971, p. 1190, ISBN 9780520215214
  15. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved August 5, 2017.
  16. ^ "Johnny Mercer And The Pied Pipers With Paul Weston And His Orchestra — Surprise Party / Camptown Races". Discogs. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  17. ^ "Al Jolson Society Official Website". Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  18. ^ "Frankie Laine — Deuces Wild". Discogs. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  19. ^ Mason, Mark (2005). Bluffer's Guide To Football. Oval Projects Ltd. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-903096-49-9.
  20. ^ "Karmala Police". 2 December 2019. Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  21. ^ "Internet Movie Database". Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  22. ^ "Camptown Races (30 Rock Version)". Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  23. ^
  24. ^ []. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^ "Holiday (1938)". Retrieved 7 September 2018 – via
  26. ^ "Blazing Saddles (1974)". Retrieved 7 September 2018 – via
  27. ^ "The Stepfather (1987) — soundtrack". Retrieved 7 September 2018 – via
  28. ^ "Stepfather II (1989)". Retrieved 7 September 2018 – via
  29. ^ "Passion (1999)". Retrieved 6 October 2018 – via

External links[edit]