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John Henry: The Steel Drivin’ Man


John Henry in Song

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No doubt the large family of songs about John Henry have been the most important conduit of his story. The earliest mentions of John Henry occurred in work songs sung by coal miners and railroad workers in the late 19th century. In 1911 folklorist Josiah Combs obtained a complete version of the song in eastern Kentucky that specifically mentioned the Big Bend Tunnel on the C&O Railroad. Folklorists at the Library of Congress have called it the most researched folk song in the United States and possibly the world. Fiddlin’ John Carson (pictured) performed one of the earliest known recordings of a John Henry song in 1924. There are hundreds of recordings in every conceivable musical genre.

Click the image to hear Fiddlin’ John Carson play John Henry.


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