When The Saints Go Marching In – Origins of the Gospel Song

by K-Berens
Black and white photo of Louis Armstrong playing trumpet

“When the Saints Go Marching In” was made popular by Louis Armstrong when he recorded the song in the 1930s.

Arguably one of the most catchiest and well-known pieces in gospel history, “When The Saints Go Marching In” is an example of a song that has penetrated many genres across the musical spectrum. The song itself has been performed by many artists, from country singer Dolly Parton to new wave artists Tears for Fears.

The exact history of the song has not been pinpointed, but this traditionally Christian hymn has wrongly been attributed to lyricist Katharine Purvis and musician James Milton Black in 1896. Purvis and Black had composed a song similarly titled “When The Saints Are Marching In,” a soulful piece.

Traditionally this song has been used in many funeral marches, with a prominent place within jazz funerals in New Orleans, Louisiana. This popularity, as well as the well-known version released by jazz musician Louis Armstrong released in the 1930s, helped the song soar in prominence within the pop music world and turned it into a jazz standard.

When played at a funeral, the song is often played at a slower tempo as the casket is borne to the cemetery, and a reprise of the song is played at a faster, more lively beat when leaving the place of burial.

Although the lyrics of the song vary greatly with every version, the traditional lyrics have many apocalyptic images, refers to solar and lunar eclipses, and deals with the idea of Judgement Day. The lyrics “I want to be in that number” are referring to details of the prophecy in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, in which 144,000 people were said to be redeemed from Earth.

When the Saints Go Marching In

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
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
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
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
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
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
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

Louis Armstrong – When the Saints Go Marching In – YouTube

Read More:

The History of When the Saints Go Marching In | CBS This Morning

When the Saints ARE Marching In

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