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Song of the Day for May 13: When the Saints Go Marching In with Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong
Marty Lederhandler/AP
Jazz artist Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, accompanied by his wife, prepares to take off from Idlewild Airport, New York, October 27, 1957, for a concert tour of five South American countries. They are bound first for Buenos Aires. Satchmo, unofficial goodwill ambassador, holds his brassy portfolio aloft. The couple left by Argentine Airlines. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)

One of the world’s most recognized songs has the murkiest of pasts. The one thing that is for sure, is the song’s trajectory reached a high note after Louis Armstrong recorded it on May 13, 1938.

Music historians believe the song of day originated in the Bahamas. James Black and Katherine Purvis are often incorrectly credited with writing it. It’s easy to see why. They published “When the Saints Are Marching In,” in 1896. However, the words and music are different.

Early versions were more of a slow gospel hymn, often played by bands leading mourners to the cemetery during funerals. Over the years, jazz bands began speeding it up. The title kept changing too. Sheet music in 1908 called it “When the Saints March in for Crowning.” The first known recording, in 1923, was called “When All the Saints Come Marching In” though the lyrics read “when the saints go marching in.” A 1927 recording was called “When the Saints Go Marching Home.”

Today, the song is simply known as “Saints.” And is associated with New Orleans, and its football team, the Saints.

The song remains one of the most popular jazz requests. There isn’t a jazz band that doesn’t know how to play it. According to jazzstandards.org, some bands got so tired of the requests they charged extra to perform it. An old sign in New Orleans’ Preservation Hall advertised: “$1 for standard requests, $2 for unusual requests and $5 for the Saints.”