"When the Saints Go Marching In", often referred to as "The Saints", began as an American spiritual, has been played in musical forms from gospel to folk to jazz.


Some video performances of "When the Saints Go Marching In." For more videos, see The Saints Videos:


The Saints has been performed by countless bands and sololists, from jazz legends to high school marching bands.

Methods of Performing the SaintsEdit

Jazz Funeral Tradition of New OrleansEdit

A traditional use of the song is as a funeral march in the funeral music tradition of New Orleans, Louisiana. A "jazz funeral" is one where a band, usually a brass band, would play the tune as a dirge while accompanying the coffin to the cemetery, with the mourners marching behind solemnly. On the way back from the interment, the band would switch to the familiar upbeat "hot" or "Dixieland" style. The dirge mourns the loss of the loved one. The up-tempo version celebrates their life, and reminds the mourners that life should go on with happy memories.


Up-Tempo Celebration from Bourbon Street to the NFLEdit

While the tune is still heard as a slow spiritual number on rare occasions, from the mid 20th century it has been more commonly performed as a "hot" number.

The song remains particularly associated with the city of New Orleans, to the extent that it is associated with New Orleans' professional football team, the New Orleans Saints.

Too Popular A Pop TuneEdit

The Saints is one of the most performed songs in the world, right up there with "Happy Birthday." Both vocal and instrumental renditions of the song abound. It has been both a blessing for its familiarity, and a curse to musicians who tire of playing it.

Louis Armstrong was one of the first to make the tune into a nationally known pop-tune in the 1930s. Armstrong wrote that his sister told him she thought the secular performance style of the traditional church tune was inappropriate and irreligious.

Armstrong followed a New Orleans musicians' tradition of turning church numbers into brass band and dance numbers that went back at least to Buddy Bolden's band at the very start of the 20th century.

The tune was brought into the early rock and roll repertory by Fats Domino and (as "The Saint's Rock and Roll") by Bill Haley & His Comets.

A jazz standard, it has been recorded by a great many other jazz and pop artists.

The Saints is nicknamed "The Monster" by some jazz musicians, as it seems to be the only tune some people know to request when seeing a Dixieland band, and some musicians dread being asked to play it several times a night.


The tip suggestion hung on the back wall of the Preservation Hall in New Orleans is a funny reminder of how much musicans don't like to take requests for The Saints

The musicians at Preservation Hall in New Orleans got so tired of playing it that a sign announcing the fee schedule for tips for "requests" ran $1 for standard requests, $2 for unusual requests, and $5 for "The Saints". (This was in early 1960s dollars. By 2004 the price had gone up to $10.)

This tune and often the words are often used as a popular theme or rallying song for a number of sports teams. It is the main anthem of Southampton F.C., St Kilda Football Club, St George Illawarra Dragonsand the St Helens RLFC

The Rhodesian Light Infantry, also known as "The Saints", used it as their regimental march.

In the Southern gospel genre the song is often associated with Luther G. Presley,[1] who wrote the lyrics, and Virgil Oliver Stamps, who wrote the music, whose version copyrighted by the Stamps-Baxter Music Company popularized it as a gospel song.[2] A similar version was copyrighted by R.E. Winsett.[3]


As with many numbers with long traditional folk use, there is no one "official" version of the song or its lyrics. This extends so far as confusion as to its name, with it often being mistakenly called "When the Saints Come Marching In". As for the lyrics themselves, their very simplicity makes it easy to generate new verses. Since the first, second, and fourth lines of a verse are exactly the same, and the third standard throughout, the creation of one suitable line in iambic tetrameter generates an entire verse.

It is impossible to list every version of the song, but a common standard version runs:

We are trav'ling in the footsteps
Of those who've gone before,
And we'll all be reunited,
On a new and sunlit shore,
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
And when the sun refuse to shine
And when the sun refuse to shine
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the sun refuse to shine
And when the moon turns red with blood
And when the moon turns red with blood
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the moon turns red with blood
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the trumpet sounds its call
Some say this world of trouble,
Is the only one we need,
But I'm waiting for that morning,
When the new world is revealed.
Oh When the new world is revealed
Oh When the new world is revealed
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the new world is revealed
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

Often the first two words of the common third verse line ("Lord, how") are sung as either "Oh, Lord" or even "Lord, Lord."

Arrangements vary considerably. The simplest is just an endless repetition of the chorus. Verses may be alternated with choruses, or put in the third of 4 repetitions to create an AABA form with the verse as the bridge.

One common verse in "hot" New Orleans versions runs (with considerable variation) like thus:

I used to have a playmate
Who would walk and talk with me
But since she got religion
She has turned her back on me.

Some traditional arrangements often have ensemble rather than individual vocals. It is also common as an audience sing-along number. Versions using call and response are often heard, e.g.:

Call: Oh when the Saints
Response: Oh when the Saints!

An Upbeat Song for the ApocalypseEdit

The song is apocalyptic, taking much of its imagery from the Book of Revelation, but excluding its more horrific depictions of the Last Judgment. The verses about the Sun and Moon refer to Solar and Lunar eclipses; the trumpet (of the Archangel Gabriel) is the way in which the Last Judgment is announced. As the hymn expresses the wish to go to Heaven, picturing the saints going in (through the Pearly Gates), it is entirely appropriate for funerals.

Non-Related SongsEdit

The song is sometimes confused with a similarly titled composition "When the Saints are Marching In" from 1896 by Katharine Purvis (lyrics) and James Milton Black (music).[4]


  • The Book of World Famous Music, Classical, Popular and Folk by James Fuld (1966)
  1. [1]
  2. "When the Saints Go Marching In" arranged by Luther G. Presley & Virgil O. Stamps, Starlit Crown (Pangburn, AR: Stamps-Baxter Music Company, 1937).
  3. Ruth Winsett Shelton, editor. Best Loved Songs and Hymns (Dayton, TN: R. E. Winsett Music Company, 1961), Item 158.
  4. CyberHymnal:

External linksEdit