Hallelujah, I'm a Bum

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"Hallelujah, I'm a Bum"
Song by Harry McClintock
Language English
Written 1897?
Published 1908
Songwriter(s) ?
Composer(s) John J. Husband 1815

"Hallelujah, I'm a Bum" (Roud 7992) is an American folk song that responds with humorous sarcasm to unhelpful moralizing about the circumstance of being a hobo.


The song's authorship is uncertain, but according to hobo poetry researcher Bud L. McKillips the words were written by an IWW member. Some verses, though, may have been written by a Kansas City hobo known only as "One-Finger Ellis," who scribbled it on the wall of his prison cell in 1897.[1] There is also a questionable theory that Harry McClintock could have written it in 1897 when he was only fifteen.

Sung to the tune of the Presbyterian hymn "Revive Us Again", the song was printed by the Industrial Workers of the World in 1908, and adopted by its Spokane, Washington branch as their anthem later that year. The success of their Free speech fights of 1909 led to its widespread popularity.

The version published in 1908 goes:

Why don't you work like other folks do?
How the hell can I work when there's no work to do?
Hallelujah, I'm a bum,
Hallelujah, bum again,
Hallelujah, give us a handout
To revive us again.
Oh, why don't you save all the money you earn?
If I didn't eat, I'd have money to burn.
Whenever I get all the money I earn,
The boss will be broke, and to work he must turn.
Oh, I like my boss, he's a good friend of mine,
That's why I am starving out on the bread line.
When springtime it comes, oh, won't we have fun;
We'll throw off our jobs, and go on the bum.

Other versions[edit]

The New Christy Minstrels created another version which added more story to the original. This version goes:

I went to a house and I knocked on the door;
The lady comes out and says, "You've been here before"
She gives a loud whistle and I run for my life!
Well, wouldn't you know, it's the constable's wife.
Hallelujah, I'm a bum,
Hallelujah, bum again,
Hallelujah, gimme a handout
And you'll be my friend
"Now, why don't you settle down and get yourself a wife?"
"I'd rather be a BUM for the rest of me life!"
"If you got a job, then you'd be my honey"
"I wouldn't marry you if I had lots o' money!"
"And shing for my thupper when I'm down and out"

In 1961, the Freedom Riders adapted the song, with these lyrics:

Hallelujah, I'm a-travelin',
Hallelujah, ain't it fine?
Hallelujah, I'm a-travelin',
Down freedom's main line.


Janne Westerlund 2012

Published versions[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

A 1933 musical comedy film is entitled Hallelujah, I'm a Bum.

The music was quoted in the Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times (1936), when Charlie is released from the home for the bewildered and trudges along the street before picking up a red flag that has dropped off the back of a truck.

The song is requested of Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes by a co-prisoner in an early scene of the Elia Kazan movie A Face in the Crowd (1957).

The Porky Pig cartoon Confusions of a Nutzy Spy depicts a spy attempting to plant a bomb on which "Hallelujah, I'm a Bomb!" is written. Used in an episode of television series "Checkmate" where Doug McClure investigates a hobo camp. In 2012, the rock band, Local H, released their seventh studio album, "Hallelujah! I'm a Bum".

The 1928 recording of the song was featured in Bob Dylan's Thanksgiving "leftovers"-themed episode of his Theme Time Radio Hour program.


  1. ^ Milburn, p. 97

External links[edit]