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When the Saints Go Marching In

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"When the Saints Go Marching In", often referred to as simply "The Saints", is a traditional black spiritual.[1][2] It originated as a Christian hymn, but is often played by jazz bands. One of the most famous jazz recordings of "The Saints" was made on May 13, 1938, by Louis Armstrong and his orchestra.[3]

The song is sometimes confused with a similarly titled 1896 composition: "When the Saints Are Marching In", by Katharine Purvis (lyrics) and James Milton Black (music).[4]

Origins and usage[edit]

The origins of this song are unclear.[4] 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).[5] 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).[6]

The earliest versions were slow and stately, but as time passed, the recordings became more rhythmic, including a distinctly up-tempo 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[7] and Virgil Oliver Stamps,[8] R. E. Winsett.[9] 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:

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.

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, when the moon turns red with blood
Oh, when the moon turns red with blood
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in.

Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in.

Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
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 cue notes 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[edit]

The song is apocalyptic, taking much of its imagery from the Book of Revelation, but excluding its more alarming depictions of the Last Judgment. The verses about the Sun and Moon are often interpreted as Solar and Lunar eclipses; the trumpet 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 sometimes played at funerals.

Bill Haley & His Comets version[edit]

"The Saints Rock 'N' Roll"
Single by Bill Haley & His Comets
ReleasedMarch 1956
Recorded23 September 1955
GenreRock and roll, Gospel
LabelDecca Records

Bill Haley & His Comets recorded a rock and roll version of the song titled "The Saints Rock 'N' Roll". Bill Haley started the song, which he learned through his mother, with the line "Rocking and rolling all the way". The song was recorded on 23 September 1955,[10] and released in March 1956 backed with "R-O-C-K" on Decca Records.[11] It reached No. 18 on Billboard's Best Sellers chart, and No. 5 in the UK chart.[12] A version of the song was included in the soundtrack of the 1956 film Rock, Pretty Baby.[13]


Chart (1956) Peak
UK Singles (OCC)[12] 5
US Best Sellers in Stores (Billboard)[14] 18
US Cash Box Top 100[15] 23

Other versions[edit]

As gospel hymn[edit]

  • First recorded by the Paramount Jubilee Singers on Paramount 12073, mid-November 1923. This group may be related to the Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers.[6]
  • Four Harmony Kings, Vocalion 14941, mid-November 1924.[16]
  • 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.[17][18]
  • Recorded by bluesman Sleepy John Estes accompanied by second guitar and kazoo for Bluebird Records in Chicago, 1941.[19]
  • This song is available in the Elvis Presley compilation Peace in the Valley: The Complete Gospel Recordings. Sony BMG/Elvis Music

With traditional lyrics[edit]

With non-traditional lyrics[edit]

  • Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye performed a comedy duet version in the 1959 film The Five Pennies, naming composers and musicians who would play "on the day that the saints go marching in".
  • Woody Guthrie sang a song called "When The Yanks Go Marching In" in 1943.*(The Weaver's) at Carnegie Hall track 16.1955 VMD-73101.
  • Tony Sheridan made a successful rock and roll arrangement of the song which he recorded in 1961 with the then-unknown band The Beatles as a backing group, significantly deviating some verses from the original lyrics. It was originally released as the B-side of a single coupled with "My Bonnie".
  • In 1983, Aaron Neville, along with New Orleans musicians Sal and Steve Monistere and Carlo Nuccio and a group of players for the New Orleans Saints American football team, recorded a popular version of the song incorporating the team's "Who Dat?" chant.[21]
  • A version was released by John Edmond on his album "All Time Rhodesian Evergreens" entitled "The Saints" with additional verses about soldiers going on parade, doing fireforce, among other things.

As football chants[edit]

"When the Saints Go Marching In" is frequently sung as football chants by fans during association football matches and also rugby league (particularly by fans of St Helens RLFC), often with the name or nickname of the team in place of the word "saints". Examples include "When the Saints Go Marching In" (St Johnstone F.C., Southampton F.C., St Albans City F.C., and St Patrick's Athletic F.C.), "When the Reds Go Marching In (Liverpool FC)", "When the Posh Go Steaming In" (Peterborough United F.C.), "When the Greens Go Marching In" (Plymouth Argyle F.C.), "When the Spurs Go Marching In" or "When the Stripes Go Marching In" (Tottenham Hotspur), and "When the Blues Go Steaming In" (Chelsea FC and Bengaluru FC), “Oh when the beans come oot the tin”.[22][23][24] Liverpool fans may have been introduced the chant when they used it for their star player Ian St John in the 1960s.[25] However, Southampton fans claimed to have used it in the 1950s.[citation needed]

A version with edited lyrics is used as the club song for the St Kilda Football Club that compete in the Australian Football League.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lomax, Alan (1960). "Negro Spirituals". Folk Songs of North America. p. 449.
  2. ^ "When the Saints go marching in". hymnary.org. Retrieved October 8, 2023.
  3. ^ "Music History for May 13". On This Day.
  4. ^ a b Adams, Richard W. "When the Saints Are Marching In". The Cyber Hymnal. Archived from the original on December 6, 2018.
  5. ^ Fuld, James J. The Book of World-Famous Music, Classical, Popular and Folk, Fourth Edition, 1995.
  6. ^ a b Dixon, Robert M. W.; Godrich, John; Rye, Howard. Blues and Gospel Records 1890–1943, Fourth Edition, 1997.
  7. ^ "LUTHER PRESLEY COLLECTION". July 31, 2007. Archived from the original on July 31, 2007.
  8. ^ "When the Saints Go Marching In" arranged by Luther G. Presley & Virgil O. Stamps, Starlit Crown (Pangburn, AR: Stamps-Baxter Music Company, 1937).
  9. ^ Shelton, Ruth Winsett, ed. Best-Loved Songs and Hymns (Dayton, TN: R. E. Winsett Music Company, 1961), Item 158.
  10. ^ Fuchs, Otto. Bill Haley. Wagner Verlag sucht Autoren. p. 355. ISBN 9783862795376.
  11. ^ "Review Spotlight on ... Records". Billboard. March 24, 1956. p. 46.
  12. ^ a b "Bill Haley & His Comets: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  13. ^ Spencer, Kristopher (2014). Film and Television Scores, 1950-1979: A Critical Survey by Genre. McFarland. p. 285. ISBN 9780786452286.
  14. ^ "Best Sellers in Stores". Billboard. April 21, 1956. p. 38.
  15. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles, April 21, 1956".
  16. ^ Brooks, Tim. Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1890–1919 (2004), 457–458.
  17. ^ "Paramoung 12000 series numerical listing (1922–1927)". www.78discography.com. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  18. ^ "Sam Butler/Bo Weavil Jackson discography". wirz.de. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  19. ^ Illustrated Sleepy John Estes discography
  20. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (March 24, 2021). "Janet Jackson and Kermit the Frog Added to National Recording Registry". The New York Times. Retrieved March 24, 2021.
  21. ^ Walker, Dave. "'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).
  22. ^ Listen to When The Reds Go Marching In football song. Stoke MP3 FIFA 13 SCFC chant. Fanchants.co.uk. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
  23. ^ Listen to Oh When The Spurs Go Marching In football song. Spurs MP3 FIFA 13 THFC chant. Fanchants.co.uk. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
  24. ^ "BFC fans give Bangalore football an 'ultra' flavour". Archived from the original on March 30, 2014.
  25. ^ Morris, Desmond (1981). "Chapter 43 Tribal Chants". The Soccer Tribe. Cape. p. 305. ISBN 978-0224019354.
  26. ^ Al Hirt, The Best of Al Hirt Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  27. ^ Bo Diddley / Chuck Berry , Two Great Guitars Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  28. ^ "Johnny and the Hurricanes". www.history-of-rock.com. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  29. ^ "The Law And Mr. Jones". www.classicthemes.com. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  30. ^ "5th Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment; Regimental Marches". www.5rar.asn.au. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  31. ^ Sandberg, Bo (2007). Försvarets marscher och signaler förr och nu (in Swedish) (New ed.). Stockholm: Militärmusiksamfundet med Svenskt marscharkiv. p. 47. ISBN 978-91-631-8699-8. SELIBR 10413065.
  32. ^ "New Orleans Piano Professor". AllMusic. Retrieved March 24, 2019.

External links[edit]