Camptown Races

TITLE: Camptown Races
AUTHOR: Stephen C. Foster
CATEGORY: Author Known, Public Domain
KEYWORDS: racing, money, horse
EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: written 1849, published by F. D. Benteen, Baltimore (February 1850)
SOME CONSIDER THIS SONG OFFENSIVE: This was written by the American songwriter Stephen Foster, who first published it in 1850. Like Foster’s “Oh! Susanna,” it’s a minstrel song, making fun of black people in America. While this seems horribly racist, songs like this were common at the time and were usually performed at minstrel shows with performers in blackface, notably by The Christy Minstrels. In modern times, any racial overtones have been stripped from the song and it remains a popular tune, especially with children.

camptown racesThere really is a Camptown; it’s in Bradford county, Pennsylvania, and isn’t too far from the Pittsburgh area where Foster grew up. The song, however, refers to “Camp Towns,” which were hobo communities. In the song, the people in these transient communities bet on horse races to try and make some money. The original title was “Gwine to Run All Night,” which mocks the southern black dialect.  (from song facts

[I can’t agree with this last statement about “gwine.”. It may have originated in a mocking way, but the statement is not proven. Also, song collectors such as Carl Sandburg and John Lomax kept dialects for the purity of the song, so perhaps Foster was merely pandering.  And finally, Pete Seeger recorded the song singing “Gwine,” and there was not a racist bone in his body. sgg]

OTHER TITLES AND VARIATIONS:
  • Gwine to Run All Night

RECORDINGS: (mp3’s available through Amazon.com)

YOUTUBE VIDEO: 

YOUTUBE AUDIO: download
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BONUS YOUTUBE VIDEO: Johnny Cash

Camptown Races

Oh, the Camptown ladies sing this song,
Doo-da, doo-da,
The Camptown race track’s two miles long,
Oh, de doo-da day.

Goin’ to run all night,
Goin’ to run all day,
I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag,
Somebody bet on the bay.

Oh, the long tailed filly and the big black horse,
Doo-da, doo-da,
Come to a mud hole and they all cut across,
Oh, de doo-da day.

Goin’ to run all night,
Goin’ to run all day,
I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag,
Somebody bet on the bay.

I went down South with my hat caved in,
Doo-da, doo-da,
I come back North with a pocket full of tin,
Oh, de doo-da day.

Goin’ to run all night,
Goin’ to run all day,
I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag,
Somebody bet on the bay.

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

SONGBOOKS:

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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