San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival, Nov 23rd, 2012. Chloe Feoranzo, saxophone, leading her friends, Stephanie Trick piano, Katie Cavera string bass, John Reynolds guitar, promotes young Alvin Paige tenor saxophone in this very well-known hymn. Quoted from Wikipedia: "When the Saints Go Marching In", often referred to as "The Saints", is an American gospel hymn. The precise origins of the song are not known. Though it originated as a Christian hymn, it is often played by jazz bands. This song was first recorded on May 13, 1938 by Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra. The song is sometimes confused with a similarly titled composition "When the Saints are Marching In" from 1896 by Katharine Purvis (lyrics) and James Milton Black (music).
Luther G. Presley, who wrote the lyrics, and Virgil Oliver Stamps, who wrote the music, popularized the tune as a gospel song. A similar version was copyrighted by R.E. Winsett. Although the song is still heard as a slow spiritual number, since the mid 20th century it has been more commonly performed as a "hot" number. The tune is particularly associated with the city of New Orleans.
A jazz standard, it has been recorded by a great many jazz and pop artists. Both vocal and instrumental renditions of the song abound. Louis Armstrong was one of the first to make the tune into a nationally known pop tune in the 1930s. Armstrong wrote that his sister told him she thought the secular performance style of the traditional church tune was inappropriate and irreligious. Armstrong was in a New Orleans tradition of turning church numbers into brass band and dance numbers that went back at least to Buddy Bolden's band at the start of the 20th century.
In New Orleans, the song is traditionally used as a funeral march at "jazz funerals". While accompanying the coffin to the cemetery, a band plays the tune as a dirge. Returning from the interment, the band switches to the familiar upbeat "hot" or "Dixieland" style of play. The tune was brought into the early rock and roll repertory by Fats Domino and (as "The Saint's Rock and Roll") by Bill Haley & His Comets. Haley's version eschewed the traditional lyrics in favor of verses that introduced the members of his band (who then performed instrumental breaks). It is nicknamed "The Monster" by some jazz musicians, as it seems to be a frequent request for Dixieland bands, and some musicians dread being asked to play it several times a night. The musicians at Preservation Hall in New Orleans got so tired of playing the song that in the 1960s a sign announcing the band's fee schedule ran $1 for standard requests, $2 for unusual requests, and $5 for "The Saints". By 2012 the price had gone up to $20. This tune is a popular rallying song for sports teams. It is the anthem of Southampton F.C., St Patrick's Athletic, St Kilda Football Club, St George Illawarra Dragons, Northampton Saints, Christies Beach Football Club, St Johnstone Football Club and the St Helens RLFC. The song is played after every home goal scored by the St. Louis Blues. The Rhodesian Light Infantry, also known as "The Saints", used it as their regimental march.