I'm Working on a Building

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"I'm Working on a Building" is a song in both the African American spiritual and southern gospel traditions. The song has become a standard of the genres. It has been recorded many times, by artists such as The Carter Family,[1] Bill Monroe,[2] Elvis Presley,[3] the Oak Ridge Boys,[3] B. B. King,[4] and John Fogerty.[5]


One version of the song is credited to Lillian Bowles and Winifred O. Hoyle,[3] though it existed as a traditional folk song for longer than that, likely a negro spiritual of indeterminate origin. An early version of the song was collected in a 1929 book, Old Songs Hymnal by Dorothy G. Bolton; the song is described has having a calypso feel to it, leading to speculation that it may have originated in Florida or the Caribbean.[6]

The song became popularly associated with Southern gospel music when The Carter Family recorded in 1934 for Bluebird Records; this version is copyrighted to A. P. Carter. Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, added it to his regular set-list due to numerous requests from fans, and because he appreciated the construction metaphor in the song's lyrics. It is believed that the Carter version was itself based on a much older version which the folklorist John Wesley Work III later included in his 1940 collection American Negro Songs and Spirituals.[7][8]

Blues legend B. B. King first learned the song as a young street musician, and it became a regular part of his repertoire during his early career.[9] John Fogerty included the song in his first solo project, The Blue Ridge Rangers.[5]


  1. ^ Zwoniter, Mark; Hirschberg, Charles (2002). Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone: The Carter Family and Their Legacy in American Music. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 137. Retrieved 2011-09-22.
  2. ^ "Track details: I'm Working on a Building". Smithonian Folkways. Retrieved 2011-09-22.
  3. ^ a b c "I'm Working on a Building". Southern Gospel History. Retrieved 2011-09-22.
  4. ^ "B. B. King Sings Spirituals". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 2011-09-22.
  5. ^ a b "The Blue Ridge Rangers". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 2011-09-22.
  6. ^ Erbsen, Wayne (2008). Hymns of the Old Camp Ground. Native Ground Books and Music. p. 69. Retrieved 2011-09-22.
  7. ^ Rosenberg, Neil V.; Wolfe, Charles K. (2007). The Music of Bill Monroe. University of Illinois Press. p. 94. Retrieved 2011-09-22.
  8. ^ Nemerov, Bruce (2009). "Field Recordings of Southern Black Music". A Tennessee folklore sampler: selections from the Tennessee folklore society. Univ. of Tennessee Press. pp. 323–324. Retrieved 2011-09-22.
  9. ^ McGee, David (2002). B.B. King: There is Always One More Time. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 24. Retrieved 2011-09-22.