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When the Saints Go Marching In

posted Feb 14, 2015, 9:29 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jul 2, 2015, 2:45 PM ]
One of the most requested songs of all time, When The Saints Go Marching In is a tune that has infiltrated many musical genres. Often called simply The Saints, it’s a traditional American gospel hymn, a “jazz standard,” the unofficial anthem of New Orleans and many football teams fight song!

Its origins are as mysterious as its extreme popularity. It’s been incorrectly attributed to several authors, though these versions have turned out to be other hymns. Since this hymn expresses the wish to go to Heaven, picturing the saints going in “through the Pearly Gates,” it became very popular in the early 1900’s at funerals. In New Orleans, it was typically played as a soulful dirge accompanying the coffin to the cemetery and then switching to a livelier “hot” or “Dixieland” style when leaving the place of interment.

The traditional lyrics have many apocalyptic images of solar and lunar eclipses, and the Last Judgment. “I want to be in that number” refers to “those who had been marked with a seal” in Revelation, Chapter 7.

Louis Armstrong is credited with taking it from gospel hymn to mainstream jazz hit when he recorded it in the 1930’s, to the dismay of his sister who thought it sounded too irreligious. Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Haley & His Comets all brought it into early rock and roll repertoire. Elvis Presley performed it during the Million Dollar Quartet jam session and recorded it for his film, Frankie and Johnny. A version appears on the b-side of My Bonnie, the first commercially-released record by Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers, who became better known as The Beatles! Judy Garland and Bruce Springsteen each performed their own renditions, and it’s crossed even more genres from country singer Dolly Parton to new wave artists Tears for Fears. The musicians at Preservation Hall in New Orleans get so tired of playing "The Monster" that they charge $5 - $10 for standard requests and $20 for The Saints!