John Henry (Leadbelly)
Reading time: 3 minutes.
John Henry was a newborn baby
Sitting down on his mama's knee.
Say "that Big Bend Tunnel on that Savannah Road.
It is going to be the death of me, Lord, Lord, it is gonna be the death of me." (2x)
John Henry had two women.
One was named Mary Magdalene.
She would go out on the job and she would sing,
"Can you hear John Henry's hammer ring, Lord, Lord, can you hear John Henry's hammer ring?" (2x)
John Henry had another little woman,
Her name was sweet Polly Ann.
John Henry taken sick, boy, and he had to go to bed.
Polly Ann drove steel like a man, Lord, Lord, Polly Ann drove steel like a man. (2x)
"John Henry was sick, he called Polly Ann to his bedside,
and this is what he asked her":
Baby, who's gonna shoe your little feet?
Baby, who's gonna glove your hand?
Tell me, who's going to kiss your sweet little lips?
Tell me, who's gonna be your man, Lord, Lord, who's gonna be your man? (2x)
"This is what she told him":
My papa's gonna shoe my little feet,
My mama's gonna glove my hand.
My sister's gonna kiss my sweet little lips,
And you know I don't need no man, Lord, Lord, you know I don't need no man. (2x)
Then they take John Henry to the White House,
And they bury him in the sand,
And every locomotive comes a-rollin' by sayin',
"There lie that steel-drivin' man, Lord, Lord, there lie that steel-drivin' man." (2x)
Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:
Source: Leadbelly, "John Henry." From Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, reissue of Negro Folk Songs for Young People, Folkways 7533, 1960, with additional tracks recorded by Moses Asch in New York, 1941-1948. Weblink.
Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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