"When the Saints Go Marching In" often referred to as "The Saints," is a United States gospel hymn that has taken on certain aspects of folk music. Though it originated as a spiritual, today people are more likely to hear it played by a jazz band. The song is sometimes confused with a similarily titled composition "When the Saints are Marching In" from 1896 by Katharine Purvis (lyrics) and James Milton Black (music).
A traditional use of the song is as a funeral march. In the funeral music tradition of New Orleans, Louisiana, often called the "jazz funeral", while accompanying the coffin to the cemetery, a band would play the tune as a dirge. On the way back from the interment, it would switch to the familiar upbeat "hot" or "Dixieland" style. While the tune is still heard as a slow spiritual number on rare occasions, from the mid 20th century it has been more commonly performed as a "hot" number. The number remains particularly associated with the city of New Orleans, to the extent that it is associated with New Orleans' professional football team, the New Orleans Saints.
Both vocal and instrumental renditions of the song abound. Louis Armstrong was one of the first to make the tune into a nationally known pop-tune in the 1930s. Armstrong wrote that his sister told him she thought the secular performance style of the traditional church tune was inappropriate and irreligious. However, Armstrong was in a New Orleans tradition of turning church numbers into brass band and dance numbers that went back at least to Buddy Bolden's band at the very start of the 20th century.
A true jazz standard, it has been recorded by a great many other jazz and pop artists.
It is nicknamed "The Monster" by some jazz musicians, as it seems to be the only tune some people know to request when seeing a Dixieland band, and some musicians dread being asked to play it several times a night. The musicians at Preservation Hall in New Orleans got so tired of playing it that the sign announcing the fee schedule ran $1 for standard requests, $2 for unusual requests, and $5 for "The Saints". (This was in early 1960s dollars. By 2004 the price had gone up to $10.)
This tune and often the words are often used as a popular theme or rallying song for a number of sports teams (see When The Saints Go Marching In in sport).
The Rhodesian Light Infantry, also known as "The Saints", used it as their regimental march.
In the Southern gospel genre the song is often associated with Luther G. Presley and Virgil Oliver Stamps, whose version copyrighted by the Stamps-Baxter Music Company popularized it as a gospel song. A similar version was copyrighted by R.E. Winsett.
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, second, and fourth lines of a verse are exactly the same, and the third 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:
Often the first two words of the common third verse line ("Lord, how") are sung as either "Oh, Lord" or even "Lord, Lord."
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 4 repetitions to create an AABA form with the verse as the bridge.
One common verse in "hot" New Orleans versions runs (with considerable variation) like thus:
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.:
The song is apocalyptic, taking much of its imagery from the Book of Revelation, but excluding its more horrific depictions of the Last Judgment. The verses about the Sun and Moon refer to Solar and Lunar eclipses; the trumpet (of the Archangel Gabriel) 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 entirely appropriate for funerals.
This is not a comprehensive list, but includes some notable versions.
As mentioned in the article on the song itself, in the 1930s, Louis Armstrong helped make The Saints into a jazz standard.
The tune was brought into the early rock and roll repertory by Fats Domino as one of the traditional New Orleans numbers he often played to rock audiences. Domino would usually use "The Saints" as his grand finale number, sometimes with his horn players leaving the stage to parade through the theater aisles or around the dance floor.
Judy Garland sang it in her own pop style.
It makes a current resurgence on the Bruce Springsteen with The Seeger Sessions Band Tour, as an encore for some shows.
Dolly Parton has also included the song in a gospel medley.
Bill Haley & His Comets recorded the song with different lyrics as "The Saints Rock and Roll." The version performed by Haley (and others) removes most religious imagery in favor of references to musicians ("When that rhythm starts to go/I want to be in that number/When that rhythm starts to go.").
The Oi! band Condemned 84 did a version called "When The Boots Go Marching In."
One of the pub scene in the movie Green Street Hooligan, the song is sung, with lyrics arranged for West Ham United FC supporters, and goes like this: "Oh west London, is wonderful, Oh west London is wonderful, It's full of tits, of fannies and West Ham, Oh west London is wonderful"
Norwegian group, Timbersound's album "Solve et Coagula" also contains a version of the song, and includes a reference to the archangel Gabriel himself.
Woody Guthrie sang a song called "When The Yanks Go Marching In."
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.
The rhythm of "When the Saints Go Marching In" was adapted by Dick Powell's Four Star Television for its legal drama, The Law and Mr. Jones starring James Whitmore, which ran on ABC from 1960-1962.
A techno remix of this song, titled "Saints Go Marching," is a playable song in some versions of Dance Dance Revolution.