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“I’ve Been Workin’ on The Railroad”

Black laborers

Black laborers carrying and laying railroad ties for a spur line into a coal storage space for the federal
government, ca. 1942. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

The exact origins of this song are unknown, but it is thought to be pre-civil war. The song is an adaptation of the “Levee” song which was sung by the Louisiana French around 1830. Negro labourers eventually took over the building of levees in the 1830’s and 1840’s, and as fitting, took over the song which accompanied that construction.

Negro labour was later recruited to help construct the railroads of America. The song was then adapted to suit the work. As the track spread across the country, so did the song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

The Song

I’ve been working on the railroad, all the live long day
I’ve been working on the railroad, to pass the time away
Don’t you hear the whistle blowin’. Rise up so early in the morn
Don’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

Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah
Someone’s in the kitchen I know
Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah
Strummin’ on the old banjo

Fee fie fiddle-i-o, f ee fie fiddle-i-o
Fee fie fiddle-i-o, f ee fie fiddle-i-o
Strummin on the old banjo

Inducted 2006

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