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How this folk song "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" evolved

“She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain” is essentially a traditional American folk song which is often classified as a part of children’s music. It is also known by the name - “Coming Round the Mountain.” It was categorized in the “List of folk songs” categorized by Roud number at 4204.

Woman on a horse in the mountain

Origin

The song is assumed to be written during the later periods of 1800. The song descends from “When the Chariot Comes,” a classic African-American spiritual. Both tracks utilize a similar melody.  The first official publication of the song dates back to 1899 when William Eleazar Barton included the song in his book “Old Plantation Hymns.”

History 

The apparent reference in the song is towards “the Second Coming” of Jesus Christ and also the “Chariot” that Christ is portrayed to be using. However, there remains a typical conundrum, as the Bible doesn’t depict Christ riding a chariot.

So, like most spiritual songs of the “African-American” community, “She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain” is considered to be a coded hymn of the workers associated with the “Underground Railroad system.” In the 1890s, the railroad workers of the Midwestern states in the USA adapted this classic. The “She” in the song is widely regarded to be a reference to a train coming up the tracks, as there is no official clarification regarding it. Carl Sandburg stated an interesting in his book, stating that “She” is Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, a union organizer who promoted the formation of labor unions at the coal mining camps in Appalachia.

Old train going up the mountain

Musical Overview 

In 1927, Carl Sandburg printed it in his book titled “The American Songbag.” The secularized interpretation of “She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain” has become the standardized version and the eventual point of reference for the children’s song. It is extensively performed by both adults and children, in campfires and sing-alongs.

Most foremen working at that time were chiefly hired for their musical abilities, as singing automatically lifted the spirits of the workers and made the whole process smoother. The melody used draws inspiration from two classic songs - the aforementioned “When the Chariot Comes,” and another classic folk hymn titled “The Old Ship of Zion.” The original melody oozes a certain hillbilly, snappy essence, while the repetitive lyrics are down to its railroad roots.

The structure, the “call & response” style is reminiscent of the classic folk songs, where one individual would sing the first line, while others repeat. The early 1900s saw the song being adapted to new lyrics, making it more suitable for children. The new melody is more nimble, the “yippee yippee aye” incorporating an additional layer of enthusiasm. The repetitive lines are a testament to the best children's music, as kids always insist upon listening to a song again and again. The perky and sped up melody used in the song makes it even more attractive for the younger generation.  

Usage in Popular Culture 

The recordings started flowing from since the mid-1920s, with numerous musicians and pop culture adaptations.

  • The first known recordings of “She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain” can be dated back to 1924. Henry Whitter performed it for “Okeh Records.” In 1925, another recorded version by Vernon Dalhart & Co. was released by Edison Records.
  • In 1941, the character Donald Duck performed this song during the opening and closing scenes of the Disney animated movie “ Timber.” 
  • In 1925, Mickey Katz created her own version of the song titled, “She'll Be Coming 'Round the Katzkills.”
  • In 1977, the song was performed by the “Peanuts” cast in the movie titled, “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown.” In the same year, “The Winans” performed it in another comedy movie titled “This Is America, Charlie Brown.” It was broadcasted in the episode “Building of the Transcontinental Railroad.” 
  • In 1985, a rendition of the song with new words was published in “Reader's Digest Children's Songbook.” The new lyrics were added by Dan Fox, in collaboration with his son. The subtle change in lyrics referred to the new things the protagonist will be doing - “She will be riding on a camel,” or “She will be carving three thick thistles.”  
  • The tune of the song was utilized in a satire titled “Second Term,” which was produced by the digital entertainment studio “JibJab.”
  • In 2012, Neil Young collaborated with the rock band Crazy Horse to create another rendition of the song. The song, titled “Jesus' Chariot,” was released through their album“Americana.” 
  • The tune of the song was also utilized in the German song titled “Von den blauen Bergen kommen wir.” Another song titled “Tante aus Marokko” also shares the same melody, and so does the Dutch version of this song - “Tante uit Marokko.”    
  • Fans attending football matches at “The University of Cambridge” utilize the tune of this song for their famous chant - “we would rather be at Oxford than St John's.”
  • The band “Funkadelic” took inspiration from the tune of “She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain” in their song titled - “Coming 'Round the Mountain.” 
  • A Scottish children’s rhyme titled “Ye Cannae Shove Yer Granny Aff A Bus” uses the same tune. 

“She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain” has numerous other versions, ranging from comedic to iterations instigating adult humor. It has been utilized for political vendettas, and as football chants, to the more simpler children’s’ version. Youth and music are natural partners, and it seems only right that the rich texture of this folk song shares the same infectious enthusiasm.

 

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