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Camptown Races

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Title: Camptown Races  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Bing Crosby – Stephen Foster, Foghorn Leghorn, Blackface minstrel songs, 1850 songs, Doodah
Collection: 1850 Songs, American Folk Songs, Blackface Minstrel Songs, Songs Written by Stephen Foster
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Camptown Races

"Gwine to Run All Night, or
De Camptown Races"
Song by Christy's Minstrels
Published Baltimore: F. D. Benteen (February 1850)
Form Strophic with chorus
Composer Stephen Foster
Lyricist Stephen Foster
Language English
"Camptown Races" was introduced by the Christy Minstrels.
Keystone Marker for Camptown, 4.2 miles north of Wyalusing, Pennsylvania.[1]

"Gwine to Run All Night, or De Camptown Races" (popularly known as "Camptown Races") is a minstrel song by Stephen Foster (1826–1864). (About this sound Play  [2]) It was published by F. D. Benteen of Baltimore, Maryland, in February 1850. Benteen published another edition in 1852 with guitar accompaniment under the title, "The Celebrated Ethiopian Song/Camptown Races".

Richard Jackson writes,

Foster quite specifically tailored the song for use on the minstrel stage. He composed it as a piece for solo voice with group interjections and refrain ... his dialect verses have all the wild exaggeration and rough charm of folk tale as well as some of his most vivid imagery ... Together with "Oh! Susanna", "Camptown Races" is one of the gems of the minstrel era."[3]

In The Americana Song Reader, William Emmett Studwell writes that the song was introduced by the Christy Minstrels, and noting that "[Foster's] nonsense lyrics are much of the charm of this bouncy and enduring bit of Americana ... [The song] was a big hit with minstrel troupes throughout the country." Foster's music was used for derivatives that include "Sacramento", "A Capital Ship" (1875) and a pro-Lincoln parody introduced during the 1860 presidential campaign.[4]

In America's Musical Life, Richard Crawford observes that the song resembles Dan Emmett's "Old Dan Tucker", and suggests Foster used Emmett's piece as a model. Both songs feature contrast between a high instrumental register with a low vocal one, comic exaggeration, hyperbole, verse and refrain, call and response, and syncopation. However, Foster's melody is "jaunty and tuneful" while Emmett's is "driven and aggressive". Crawford points out that the differences in the two songs represent not only two different musical styles, but a shift in minstrelsy from the rough spirit and "muscular, unlyrical music" of the 1840s to a more genteel spirit and lyricism with an expanding repertoire that included sad songs, sentimental and love songs, and parodies of opera. Crawford explains that by mid-century, the "noisy, impromptu entertainments" characteristic of Dan Emmett and the Virginia Minstrels were passé and the minstrel stage was evolving into a "restrained and balanced kind of spectacle". He writes, "In that setting, a comic song like 'De Camptown Races', with a tune strong enough to hold performers to the prescribed notes, proved a means of channeling unruliness into a more controlled mode of expression."[5]

Its tune has also been adopted for use in football chants, most notably in England's Two World Wars and One World Cup chant.


The song was recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1959. An instrumental version in polka form can also be found on the album Sliabh Luachra Fiddle Master, which features recordings of the famous Irish fiddler Padraig O'Keeffe from the 1940s [6] An interesting version of this song is used in Disney's Sing-Along 1994 home video "Campout at Walt Disney World". In The Wiggles' "Yummy Yummy" and "Big Red Car videos, this song and Long, Long Ago are played in a mash-up melody during Greg's magic show scenes.

In one of the most widely-familiar uses of "Camptown Races" in popular culture, the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon character Foghorn J. Leghorn sings the "Dooh Dah" refrain repeatedly as a kind of theme songs throughout most of the 28 cartoons the character appears in, produced between 1946 and 1963. But while the character sings other parts of the song's melody, he does not sing any other lyrics. Notably, the Foghorn Leghorn character was not based on a minstrel character, but on a caricature of an overbearing white Southern politician.[7]

It was sung by Carol Connors in the X rated Movie Sweet Savage.


  1. ^ "Camptown Races Historical Marker".  
  2. ^ Humphries, Carl (2010). The Piano Improvisation Handbook, p. 199. ISBN 978-0-87930-977-0.
  3. ^ Richard Jackson (ed.). 1974. Stephen Foster Song Book: original sheet music of 40 songs. Courier Dover Publications. p. 174.
  4. ^ William Emmett Studwell. The Americana Song Reader. Psychology Press. p. 63.
  5. ^ Richard Crawford. 2001. America's Musical Life: a history. W. W. Norton. pp. 210–11.
  6. ^
  7. ^ ""It's a Joke, Son!"", AFI Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States 1, University of California Press, 1971, p. 1190, ISBN 9780520215214

External links

  • "Camptown Races" sung in the minstrel style by Billy Murray and chorus (1911)
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