West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature

Learn to Sing "John Henry"


Ballads are usually sung without an accompanying instrument. Once you can sing the song without the accompaniment (a musical background for the melody), add the rest of the verses. Remember to keep the flow of the lyrics (the words).

Folk music is passed on by "word of mouth." Try teaching John Henry to another person. This will help to keep the ballad alive.
Echo each line after you hear it sung.

 Listen and echo.

John Henry was a little bitty baby,
Sittin' on his daddy's knee,
Said,"The Big Bend Tunnel on the C. and O. road
is bound to be the death of me Lord, Lord,
is bound to be the death of me."


Now try singing the whole first verse.

 Sing along.

John Henry was a little bitty baby,
Sittin' on his daddy's knee,
Said,"The Big Bend Tunnel on the C. and O. road
is bound to be the death of me, Lord, Lord,
is bound to be the death of me."


Now try singing along with the piano accompaniment. As you sing the song, keep in mind the work of the "steel drivers." They often sang as they worked to keep the rhythmic flow of their hammer swings.

You can add a motion of a hammer swing or the sound of metal hitting metal.

 Sing along.

There are many variants of the ballad "John Henry." E-mail us if you know another version.


      
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Henry" Menu

  "Meet John Henry"
Activity

West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature is a self-contained teaching unit by Avis Caynor and Reneé Wyatt (1997), reprinted with permission in 2003 in the larger web site AppLit.

Complete list of AppLit pages on folklore
AppLit Folktale Index page on John Henry

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