we'll be having chicken & dumplings when she comes
July 26, 2012 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Like many other great American folk songs, She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain reaches us through the filter of both religious and secular movements. The music underneath the words has its original genesis in a spiritual sung originally by slaves and later popularized in the black churches of the south; the lyrics we know today – the version which came into the larger cultural vernacular and which spawned various children’s versions – was, originally, a protest song.

At the very beginning – Wikipedia tells us the song initially surfaced in the 1880s – "she" was the chariot the returned Christ drives. The score was published as part of an article by William E. Barton (a minister, prolific author, and authority on the life of Abraham Lincoln), in the New England Magazine, in 1899:

O, who will drive the chariot When she comes? (x2)
O, who will drive the chariot (x3) When she comes?
King Jesus, he'll be driver when she comes, When she comes…
She'll be loaded with bright Angels When she comes…
She will neither rock nor totter, When she comes…
She will run so level and steady, When she comes…
She will take us to the portals, When she comes…

But then, like most folk music, the song left the realm of the spiritual and, with its new popularity, became social commentary, or at least the rallying cry of a social movement (and today it's even more popular principally as a children's song). In some incarnations, it didn't look much like social commentary, certainly, nor did it bear any resemblance to its field chant or spiritual precursor.

Carl Sandburg included the song in his American Songbag in 1927, and wrote that he believed the now-updated lyrics – which became popular in the late teens, just a few years after the titular event(s) – were about Mary Harris “Mother” Jones promoting unionization among the coal miners of Appalachia, and this is accepted today as the song’s truest narrative.

She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes (x2)
She’ll be coming round the mountain (x3) when she comes
She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes…
Oh, We’ll all go out to meet her when she comes…
She’ll be wearing red pajamas when she comes…
She will have to sleep with Grandma when she comes…
We’ll be singing Hallelujah when she comes…
We’ll kill the old red rooster when she comes…
We’ll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes…

Its politicization doesn't begin and end with Mother Jones, though; watch and listen to this Neil Young & Crazy Horse version, which pairs the lyrics with and contrasts their message to footage from Birth of a Nation.

I was a latter-day red-diaper baby myself, born to graduate students at UC Berkeley in 1970; songs like this (most often probably sung by this guy ) were part and parcel of my upbringing. Now that I am a parent, it's enjoying a revival in my household: my four-year-old constantly asks for me to sing her “round the mountain,” the song I calmed her with every night when she was first brought home from Korea at 9 months of age and was inconsolable and scared. We sing it together nowadays.

posted by luriete (3 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Would love to see this re-posted without the self link. Sorry we couldn't work it out. -- taz

And then there's this version.
posted by DaddyNewt at 10:56 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

As much of a P-Funk fan as I am, I left that one out because it was just a song over album cover art - a Youtube trend that really chaps my hide. But it is a great song, so thanks for giving the link.
posted by luriete at 10:57 PM on July 26, 2012

Schleswig-Holstein Mecklenberg-Vorpommern Berlin-Brandenburg
Sachsen Bayern Baden-Wuerttemberg Saarland
Rheinland-Pfalz Nordrhein-Westfalen
Niedersachsen Sachsen-Anhalt
Hessen Thuringen
Und Haupstadt Berlin

15 years later and I still know all the states of Germany (in roughly clockwise order, minus the city-states of Bremen and Hamburg) because my high school German teacher had a song for them to this tune.
posted by kmz at 11:27 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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