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GUEST,Songbob Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad (39) RE: Origins: I've Been Working on the Railroad 09 May 12


"Someone's In De Kitchen Wid Dinah" was a Minstrel Show song of nearly no appeal -- it's almost a cantefable, in that it has spoken parts, and is essentially an argument between two suitors of Dinah, whoever she is. It's full of the N word and the worst stereotypes of African-Americans you can imagine. It's almost as bad as the "coon" songs of the 1880s-90s, when the happy-go-lucky image of contented darkies who lub dem dar massa gave way to chicken-stealin', razor-cutting, dangerous Negro images, which I think are more accurately "these-are-poor-folk-like-us-and-compete-for-our-jobs" images.

In Minstrel show days, African Americans were child-like and nearly innocent. And more or less safe, since they were confined to Massa's keeping. After 1865, and particularly after Reconstruction ended, freedmen were competitors, and much less safe. So the imagery changed to match.

In any case, the original "Someone's In De Kitchen Wid Dinah" does not actually appear in "I've Been Working" as such. There's certainly no repeated chorus lines like in the latter song; it's possible someone found the lyrics to "Kitchen" and, not knowing the tune, incorporated it into "Railroad" -- but just one line. It's even possible that the old Minstrel song was known by some in the college community, and the reference in "Railroad" is just a reference to a shared knowledge; sort of like the references to "the tables down at Morey's" in the "Whiffenpoof Song" -- but this is just speculation on my part.

That's all I know.

Bob Clayton


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