Summer camp songs - lists, links, lyrics, and rambling thoughts about music meant to be sung by voices joined in imperfect harmony.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
I've Been Working on the Railroad - Song #30
IBWOTR is one of those songs that everyone, even if they have never gone to summer camp or been a member of a youth group, etc. seems to know at least in part. Maybe they learned it in elementary school or heard it in old cartoons. But it's a song everyone seems to sing exactly the same, unlike many songs I've blogged about.
Train songs have a rich tradition and we sang a number of them at Camp Ajawah - at least the boys did.
I've been working on the railroad All the livelong day I've been working on the railroad Just to pass the time away
Can't you hear the whistle blowing Rise up so early in the morn Can't you hear the captain shouting Dinah, blow your horn
Dinah, won't you blow Dinah, won't you blow Dinah, won't you blow your horn Dinah, won't you blow Dinah, won't you blow Dinah, won't you blow your horn
Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah Someone's in the kitchen I know Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah Strumming on the old banjo, and singing
Fie, fi, fiddly i o Fie, fi, fiddly i o Fie, fi, fiddly i o Strumming on the old banjo
I have two questions: who is Dinah? And is this song indeed from the 1800s? Did rail workers sing it? Is it of African American origins? Or was it a commercial composition?
Yes, that's more than two questions, but the last three are variations on the second questions. I just want to find the origins.
Dinah - there is speculation that it's "diner" with a southern accent. Dinah blowing her horn = dining car calling workers to lunch. Or maybe Dinah was the cook. Or "dinner." Maybe blowing her horn was a variation of Gabriel blowing his horn (from The Eyes of Texas are Upon You, which has the same melody as the first part of IBWOTR).
Gargoyle at mudcat.org writes:
"Dinah - short for dynamite.
Kitchen - the engineer's cab of a steam locomotive
Banjo - short handled shovel"
Origins - First appeared in print in 1894 at Princeton, but otherwise the roots are somewhat murky, which is not unusual for folk music. It is likely two or three songs combined - a variation of "I've Been Working on the Levee" and "Dinah."
Strumming on the old banjo may mean stirring food in the frying pan.