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Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad

DigiTrad:
I'VE BEEN RAILING AT THE WORKLOAD
I'VE BEEN WORKING ON THE RAILROAD


Related threads:
(origins) Origins: Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah (88)
Lyr Req: Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah (20)
(origins) Author: I've Been Working on the Railroad (6) (closed)


GUEST,Sheila 31 Mar 01 - 08:47 AM
GUEST,Black Diamond-C 31 Mar 01 - 11:17 AM
CRANKY YANKEE 31 Mar 01 - 11:59 AM
Amos 31 Mar 01 - 12:21 PM
GUEST,Roll&Go-C 31 Mar 01 - 01:03 PM
Joe Offer 31 Mar 01 - 02:56 PM
GUEST,Bruce O. 31 Mar 01 - 03:05 PM
Stewie 31 Mar 01 - 07:40 PM
GUEST,leeneia 31 Mar 01 - 08:00 PM
Stewie 31 Mar 01 - 08:36 PM
GUEST,Bruce O. 31 Mar 01 - 11:02 PM
Joe Offer 31 Mar 01 - 11:16 PM
GUEST,Bruce O. 01 Apr 01 - 10:00 AM
GUEST,Sheila 01 Apr 01 - 10:28 AM
GUEST,Bruce O. 03 Apr 01 - 06:51 PM
GUEST,Bruce O. 03 Apr 01 - 06:55 PM
Chicken Charlie 04 Apr 01 - 06:10 PM
mg 17 Nov 07 - 08:38 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 17 Nov 07 - 10:30 PM
Nick E 17 Nov 07 - 10:39 PM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 13 Jul 08 - 07:51 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 13 Jul 08 - 01:52 PM
John on the Sunset Coast 13 Jul 08 - 06:06 PM
GUEST,Gerry 13 Jul 08 - 08:16 PM
Joe_F 13 Jul 08 - 09:05 PM
peregrina 16 Sep 08 - 11:57 AM
mg 16 Sep 08 - 12:00 PM
meself 16 Sep 08 - 12:01 PM
Joe Offer 16 Sep 08 - 12:57 PM
Nerd 16 Sep 08 - 01:12 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 16 Sep 08 - 02:55 PM
Joe_F 03 Mar 10 - 08:03 PM
masato sakurai 04 Mar 10 - 07:26 AM
GUEST 14 Jul 10 - 02:19 PM
GUEST,cool kid 09 May 12 - 08:33 AM
GUEST,Songbob 09 May 12 - 10:41 AM
PHJim 09 May 12 - 01:10 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 09 May 12 - 01:30 PM
GUEST 19 Mar 16 - 03:09 PM
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Subject: Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Sheila
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 08:47 AM

Who wrote, or might have written, "I've Been Working on the Railroad"? All I can find is "traditional American folk song." Any background information? Thanks, Sheila


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Black Diamond-C
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 11:17 AM

Acording to RISE UP SINGING this song first appeared in print in 1984 1894 in CANNINA CARMINA PRINCETONIA. Hope that helps.
I made the editorial corrections.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 11:59 AM

Sheila, I know the song as "The Levee Song" (also called, "I've been workin' on the levee") First verse goes
I
When I lived down in Mobile town, Workin' on the levee.
All day long roll cotton down, workin' on the levee.
II
But now, I'm workin' on the Railroad,
All the livelong day. etc. etc. etc.

Following is a quote from, "Gonna Sing My Head Off", "American Folk songs for Children" by Kathleen Krull.
" "This Sturdy anthem of the railroad workers may have descended from an old Irish Hymn or "I've been working on the Levee" sung by gangs building levees on the Mississippi River. Dinah was perhaps, a train or , perhaps, a real woman, with "Blow Your Horn" meaning "call me for lunch"
I've looked through about a quarter of my reference music books and can't find it atributed to any one person. I don't know whether or not to accept Ms Krull's assumptions. She doesn't include the first verse, and, My assumptioni, given the accent, would be that Dinah is , "Diner" (dini ng car etc.) Anyone can take a guess at this one.
Did you ever see Tim Conway dressed in a Nazi Uniform with a "Hitler" ventriloquist dummy, torturing an American POW by singing one verse at a time with long pauses in between. You kept thinking that the song was over, when this high pitched german hysterical, but muffled voice came in with another verse. sThis was on the "Carol Burnett TV Show" years and years ago. I'm laughing now just thinking about it. I knew the song, but still kept hoping and thinking that it was over.
Who the hELL KNOWS WHERE IST CAME FROM . My guess would be (if it were a "written Song") Henry Clay Work or Steven Foster would be my prime suspects


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: Amos
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 12:21 PM

Don't see how anyone would want to be in the kitchen with Dinah if she were a train. And the euphemistic expression of being in the kitchen with Dinah strumming on the old banjo, to my dirty old mind, has sexual connotations. It was also perfectly routine for a bell or gong or horn (or a steam whistle) to be used to call gangs in for midday rations in lots of man-labor operations; so anyone tired of swinging a hammer or shovel might be inclined to wish that the kitchen Mother (for whom Dinah is a normal enough name) would call him and the rest of the tarriers in for a break and some chow. Cf. Nelly, the Belle of Blue Lake, in Warner's "Township 19". And the earlier sad Irish tale of getting "six months hard" for "courting in the kitchen", in the song of that name. Kitchens have traditionally been a good place for hired help to make hay because the houseowner or lord of manse or whoever usually don't come by.

Just my $.02. Regards,

A


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Roll&Go-C
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 01:03 PM

Creep Warning!

Ay, yi, yi, yi,
In Chili they do it for China;
Let's have another verse
That's worse than the other verse,
And waltz me around again, Dinah!

I like the "I've been Working on the Levee" theory.


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: Joe Offer
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 02:56 PM

Here's the entry from the Traditional Ballad Index.
-Joe Offer-

I've Been Working on the Railroad

DESCRIPTION: The singer describes working on the railroad "all the live-long day" and waiting for Dinah to blow the horn. He describes someone being "in the kitchen with Dinah, strumming on the old banjo."
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1894 (Carmina Princetonia)
KEYWORDS: railroading work courting
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (8 citations):
Cohen-LSRail, pp. 537-542, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (1 text, 1 tune)
BrownIII 234, "Working on the Railroad" (1 text plus two unrelated fragments, probably of "Roll on the Ground (Big Ball's in Town)"; the "A" text is a jumble starting with this song but followed up by what is probably a "Song of All Songs" fragment)
Scarborough-NegroFS, p. 248, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (1 text, with the first verse being this and the second being probably some sort of courting song)
MHenry-Appalachians, p. 81, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (1 text)
Opie-Game 130, "Dinah" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 103, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (1 text, including some parody verses)
Fuld-WFM, p. 209, "I've Been Working on the Railroad -- (The Eyes of Texas)"; p. 513, "Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah"
DT, WORKRAIL

Roud #12606?
RECORDINGS:
Blankenship Family, "Working on the Railroad" (Victor 23583, 1931)
Art Mooney, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (Vogue R-713-32, n.d. but prob. 1930s)
Sandhills Sixteen, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (Victor 20905, 1927)
Pete Seeger, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (on PeteSeeger21) (on PeteSeeger32)

SAME TUNE:
We've Enlisted in the Navy (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 151)
ALTERNATE TITLES:
Levee Song
NOTES: Although this is surely a composed song, Fuld cannot find any references to the "Railroad" verses prior to 1894 (when it was twice published as "The Levee Song," and in both instances associated with Princeton). No composer is listed in the extant materials.
The "Dinah" verses are dated by Fuld to the period before 1850. How they came together is a mystery; they don't fit all that well -- but as I've never heard the halves done separately (though Scarborough's text consists only of the first part, and the Cohen text, from the Blankenship family omits the"Dinah Won't You Blow" stanza, substituting something Cohen thinks is a school rouser), I keep them together here.
Cohen cites Theodore Raph as claiming the song became popular in 1881. But Cohen himself agrees with Fuld's 1894 date. Probably it will take a much more detailed study than any undertaken so far to finally settle the matter. - RBW
Opie-Game: "'Someone's in the House with Dinah' was sung by Ethiopian minstrels in the 1840s and 1850s, but with a different tune from that known today." - BS
Last updated in version 2.6
File: FSWB209

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2015 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Bruce O.
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 03:05 PM

Norn Cohen, 'Long Steel Rail', notes Theodore Raphs compendium of American popular songs as saying 1881 is the year it gained widespread popularity, and was modified from an older black railroad worker's levee song.


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: Stewie
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 07:40 PM

Bruce, Cohen goes on to say, however, that there is 'no evidence for the song's currency prior to its first publication' in 1894 and that of 'its assumed earlier existence in oral tradition among black laborers we know nothing'. Further: 'If it circulated orally before its appearance in print, then the generally accepted derivation of the railroad song from the levee song may be correct'.

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 08:00 PM

Y'all are saying old familiar musicology things and ignoring how unique this song is. Can you think of any workingman's song that has three entirely different tunes strung artfully together, as occurs in "I've Been Working..."

Also, what about Carmina Princetonia? Isn't that a strange name for a folk song collection? There must be a connection to Princeton and to an editor who was cultivated enough to use the term "Carmina" for a song collection.

I think the song was cobbled together to be used in a show at Princeton. The folk original probably stopped at "Dinah blow your horn."

Finally, that strange word "livelong" Have you ever heard it used anywhere else? I haven't. I suspect the unknown editor made it up to substitute for "goddamn" or some other unacceptable term.


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: Stewie
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 08:36 PM

'Carmina Princetonia' was a college songbook. The 1894 one was its 8th edition. Since the song did not appear in the 7th edition in 1890, Cohen suggests that it probably became widely popular in the early 1890s - 'at least among the college crowd'. 'Livelong' is a perfectly respectable word that dates back at least to the 12th century (according to my dictionary).

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Bruce O.
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 11:02 PM

Perhaps Norm Cohen will turn up an older version. He's working on a bibliography of American songbooks now. He's no longer a chemical kineticist (his real job, that few folklorists knew about).


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: Joe Offer
Date: 31 Mar 01 - 11:16 PM

Hi, Bruce - I spent my last three weeks of full-time employment on assignment at the same place, and I kept thinking how cool it was that Norm Cohen had also worked there - the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Bruce O.
Date: 01 Apr 01 - 10:00 AM

Norm Cohen was head of the Chemical Kinetics there, while secretary of the John Edwards Folklore foundation, and writing lots of articles and reviews for the Journal of American Folklore.


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Sheila
Date: 01 Apr 01 - 10:28 AM

Thanks, one and all, for erudition and enlightenment. Sheila


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Bruce O.
Date: 03 Apr 01 - 06:51 PM

Got a look at Theodore Raph's book today. OK if song is well known, but otherwise his notes are garbage first class! I wouldn't take anything from him.


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Bruce O.
Date: 03 Apr 01 - 06:55 PM

The absolutely worst book on songs is S. J. Adair Fitz-gerald's 'Stories of Famous Songs'.


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Subject: RE: Working on the Railroad
From: Chicken Charlie
Date: 04 Apr 01 - 06:10 PM

I had a dog, his name was Bill, A-workin' on the levee. My dog is gone, but I'm here still, A-workin' on the levee.

Anybody else heard that verse??

Now Leeneia--OED (Oxford English Dictionary) traces "livelong" back to the year 1578, which makes it a nice Elizabethanism to be fossilized in the Sunny South. On my way upstairs to retrieve that tome, I remembered that the word also occurs in Shakespeare--very early on in "Julius Caesar." Alas, poor supposition; I knew it well.

Also, "Shortnin' Bread" works as a counter-melody to the "Dinah won't you blow" part. When was such erudition last exchanged? Not since Thomas Jefferson talked to himself.

But Dinah as a train?? I can't relate.


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Subject: RE: Origin: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: mg
Date: 17 Nov 07 - 08:38 PM

The Chinese tended to come from west to east, hitting the mountainous areas. They were so good at the mountain blasting from one section of China that they kept bringing them over...Irish, including my grandfather and great-uncles were heavily involved coming west. Many groups, including African American, Slovak..I almost want to say Cuban..some group you wouldn't think of..I am not sure..anyway, I am sure there were Poles and Greeks and almost everyone you could think of who just landed on the shores of America. mg


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Subject: RE: Origin: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 17 Nov 07 - 10:30 PM

More information on the song in thread 65298: Railroad Dinah

Levee Song from Carmina princetonia posted in thread 50253:
Masato post


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Subject: RE: Origin: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: Nick E
Date: 17 Nov 07 - 10:39 PM

It seems to me the eastern railroads may have been built by a very different group, and in a different time than the western rails.ANd the SOngs may have migrated with the work. Sounds like a question for ANTHROPOLOGY MAN! Anthropologist will stick their noses into anything.


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Subject: RE: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 07:51 AM

Dinah's horn is not a locomotive horn, which would be a whistle in any case.
It is a dinner horn, similar to a boat horn, traditionally used by cooks to call workers in from distant fields. Loud and raucous, and when you hear it, you know dinner's on.

In answer to Chicken Charlie (wherever he may be after these seven years) I'm going to start a new thread on "Workin On the Levee."    It is a distinct song, though it seems to have gotten entangled with "I've Been Working on the Railroad" back in late minstrel days.

Bob


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Subject: RE: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 01:52 PM

Workin' on the levee- waitin' for the Robert E. Lee-

Sorry- I'll go back to my hidy-hole now.

Masato posted "Working on the Levee" in thread 50253. A song that has got lost in the shuffle.


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Subject: RE: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: John on the Sunset Coast
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 06:06 PM

I always thought it was 'standing on the levee, waitin' for the Robert E Lee.'


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Subject: RE: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 08:16 PM

I thought it was, "standing on the levee, watching all the girls go by."


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Subject: RE: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: Joe_F
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 09:05 PM

"Old Black Joe" also harmonizes, more or less, with "I've Been Working...", with the feature that "Dinah, won't you blow" coincides with "I'm coming".


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Subject: RE: Origin: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: peregrina
Date: 16 Sep 08 - 11:57 AM

Isn't it 'railway'.. to rhyme with 'day'? (And that's a big clue about origin?)


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Subject: RE: Origin: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: mg
Date: 16 Sep 08 - 12:00 PM

Everyone sings railroad that I ahve heard. mg


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Subject: RE: Origin: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: meself
Date: 16 Sep 08 - 12:01 PM

Doesn't sound remotely like an African-American work song to me - more like a minstrel-show-vaudeville-music-hall type of thing ... but then, what do I know?

(And I've always heard 'road' rather than 'way' ... )


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Subject: RE: Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: Joe Offer
Date: 16 Sep 08 - 12:57 PM

If you look above you'll see that the best guess as to the origin of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" is that it was published as "Levee Song" in the 1894 edition of Carmina Princetonia - although portions of the song came earlier. Masato posted the 1894 lyrics in this thread. Take a look at the crosslinked threads listed at the top of this page.
I guess you could say this is three songs linked together: "I've Been Working on the Railroad," "Someone's In the Kitchen With Dinah," and "Dinah Won't You Blow Your Horn." Another interesting aspect of the song is that it's a relatively complex song, and yet everybody seems to know it with exactly the same lyrics and melody. I wonder when and how it achieved such universality.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: Nerd
Date: 16 Sep 08 - 01:12 PM

Peregrina:

It's a weak ABAB rhyme scheme. "Day" in the second line rhymes with "away" in the fourth line, not with the first and third lines.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 16 Sep 08 - 02:55 PM

Gee! I always knew it as "The Eyes of Texas."
(OK, back to my cage).

Nothing found earlier than "The Levee Song," 1894, as noted by Joe.
In addition to the printing in Carmina princetonia, sheet music to "The Levee Song" was published by Hinds, Noble and Eldridge, 1900 (note in Scarborough).

Most of the verses sung with it are add-ons, from "Down on the Ohio," "Down Went Maginty," "In the Evening by the Moonlight," "Hear dem Bells," etc. (Noted in no. 234, Work Songs, The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, vol. 3).
Neither Newman I. White, American Negro Folk Songs, nor Dorothy Scarborough, On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs, considered it to be of Negro origin.
Scarborough recorded an add-on verse, from minstrel shows-

Sing me a song of the city,
(Roll dem cotton bales)
Darky ain't half so happy
As when he's out of jail.
Mobile for its oyster shells,
Boston for its beans,
Charleston for its cotton bales,
But for yaller gals- New Orleans!


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Subject: RE: Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: Joe_F
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 08:03 PM

Q: The following version of that appears in The New Song Fest:

Sing a song of cities,
Roll that cotton bale.
Roustabout am happy,
Long's he out of jail.
Norfolk for its oyster shells,
Boston for its beans,
Charleston for its rice and corn,
But for lassies, New Orleans.

I like to sing that as the refrain with "Only an old beer bottle" & "Man on top of woman" as stanzas -- a melange for which there is no warrant whatever.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: masato sakurai
Date: 04 Mar 10 - 07:26 AM

See Carmina Princetonia (1900 edition). "Levee Song" is on pp. 24-25.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST
Date: 14 Jul 10 - 02:19 PM

I have heard the verse about the dog named bill, as a matter of fact a posted the complete lyrics to a version I have on another thread.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,cool kid
Date: 09 May 12 - 08:33 AM

im still alittle confused but i can deal with it


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Subject: RE: Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: GUEST,Songbob
Date: 09 May 12 - 10:41 AM

"Someone's In De Kitchen Wid Dinah" was a Minstrel Show song of nearly no appeal -- it's almost a cantefable, in that it has spoken parts, and is essentially an argument between two suitors of Dinah, whoever she is. It's full of the N word and the worst stereotypes of African-Americans you can imagine. It's almost as bad as the "coon" songs of the 1880s-90s, when the happy-go-lucky image of contented darkies who lub dem dar massa gave way to chicken-stealin', razor-cutting, dangerous Negro images, which I think are more accurately "these-are-poor-folk-like-us-and-compete-for-our-jobs" images.

In Minstrel show days, African Americans were child-like and nearly innocent. And more or less safe, since they were confined to Massa's keeping. After 1865, and particularly after Reconstruction ended, freedmen were competitors, and much less safe. So the imagery changed to match.

In any case, the original "Someone's In De Kitchen Wid Dinah" does not actually appear in "I've Been Working" as such. There's certainly no repeated chorus lines like in the latter song; it's possible someone found the lyrics to "Kitchen" and, not knowing the tune, incorporated it into "Railroad" -- but just one line. It's even possible that the old Minstrel song was known by some in the college community, and the reference in "Railroad" is just a reference to a shared knowledge; sort of like the references to "the tables down at Morey's" in the "Whiffenpoof Song" -- but this is just speculation on my part.

That's all I know.

Bob Clayton


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Subject: RE: Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: PHJim
Date: 09 May 12 - 01:10 PM

Dinah's Railroad - Steph Yates
My brother Bob wrote a song with the same changes as I've Been Working on the Railroad and here's his daughter Steph singing it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 May 12 - 01:30 PM

The verses-
Dinah won't you blow,
Dinah won't you blow,
Dinah won't you blow your horn (ho-or-n)-

Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah,
Someone's in the kitchen I know, I know,
Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah,
Strummin' on the old banjo.

Were often played by the band and sung as an upbeat addition after "The Eyes of Texas" at football games at the University of Texas, 1940s-1950s.

Alum. 1953


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Subject: Old Joe, or Somebody in the House with Dinah
From: GUEST
Date: 19 Mar 16 - 03:09 PM

Old Joe, or Somebody in the House with Dinah


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