Boatman Dance

TITLE: Boatman Dance
AUTHOR: Daniel Decatur Emmett
EARLIEST DATE: before 1835 (broadside, Bodleian Firth, but reportedly copyrighted 1843)
CATEGORY: Author Known, Public Domain
KEYWORDS: dancing, river, minstrel, ship, sailor, stevedore

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This is a song about the stevedores on the Ohio River in the first half of the 1800s. As more people moved west, but before the railroads were firmly established as purveyors of goods. The first railway connection between the eastcoast of the United States and Chicago did not occur until 1854. Rivers were the highways used to transport materials.

The word “stevedore” originated in Spain and entered the English language through its use by sailors. In the United States, stevedores were a rough crowd who worked and played hard. “Boatman Dance” represents the style of fast songs the stevedores sang while working.

Daniel Decatur Emmett performed in minstrel shows and in blackface. He is credited with writing “Dixie” and “Old Dan Tucker.”

OTHER TITLES AND VARIATIONS:

  • De Boatman Dance
  • Mississippi Boatman’s Song
  • The Boatman
  • Boatman Dance, Boatman Sing
  • Dance, Boatman, Dance

RECORDINGS:

YOUTUBE VIDEO: 

YOUTUBE AUDIO: download
BONUS AUDIO: Stephen Griffith and Friends (Studio Version) download
LYRIC & CHORD PRO CHART:  download
PPT LYRICS FOR THE CLASSROOM: download
BONUS YOUTUBE VIDEO: Smothers Brothers


Boatman Dance

Boatman dance, boatman sing
Boatman do most anything
Boatman sing, boatman play
Boatman dance your life away

Dance boatman dance Dance boatman dance
Dance all night till the broad daylight
Go home with the gals in the morning
Hey, ho, boatman row
Sailing down the river on the Ohio
Hey, ho, boatman row
Sailing down the river on the Ohio

Now when that boatman blows his horn
Look out farmer, your rooster’s gone
He stole my sheep and he stole my goat
Put ’em in a bag and went to the boat

Dance boatman dance Dance boatman dance
Dance all night till the broad daylight
Go home with the gals in the morning
Hey, ho, boatman row
Sailing down the river on the Ohio
Hey, ho, boatman row
Sailing down the river on the Ohio

Four and twenty boatman in a flock
Sitting by the seaside picking on a rock
Pickin on a rock, picking on a fiddle
Pickin a catfish, bones in the middle

Dance boatman dance Dance boatman dance
Dance all night till the broad daylight
Go home with the gals in the morning
Hey, ho, boatman row
Sailing down the river on the Ohio
Hey, ho, boatman row
Sailing down the river on the Ohio

Waterways, rivers, canals and streams
We gotta work to make them clean
We work all day out on the bay
Then we dance the night away

Dance boatman dance Dance boatman dance
Dance all night till the broad daylight
Go home with the gals in the morning
Hey, ho, boatman row
Sailing down the river on the Ohio
Hey, ho, boatman row
Sailing down the river on the Ohio

Hey, ho, boatman row
Sailing down the river on the Ohio
Hey, ho, boatman row
Sailing down the river on the Ohio

SOURCES:

  • Folk Song Index: A Comprehensive Guide to the Florence E. Brunnings Collection, Florence E. Brunnings, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London 1981—Amazon Books
  • Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music, Guthrie T. Meade, Jr. with Dick Spottswood and Douglas S. Meade, Southern Folklife Collection, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, NC 2002—Amazon Books
  • Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore (1952), Volume 3: Folk Ballads from North Carolina. Edited by Henry M Beldin and Arthur Palmer Hudson. Duke University Press. [This volume will be indexed on this site in the weeks to come.]

NOTICE: I’m not the best guitar player or vocalist, but no one loves these songs more than I do. The tune and lyrics are in the public domain unless otherwise noted. The recording © copyright 2013 by Stephen Griffith and may be used by permission of the copyright holder. The variation of the song I’m posting is the version I perform and is not exactly replicating the sources cited, but is always in the same song family. If anyone has more details about this song, or believes I’ve stated something in error, please let me know. I’m also open to suggestions to improve the site. Thanks. sgg

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