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"Camptown Races" - Stephen Foster

History of an American folk song

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Who Wrote "Camptown Races"?

"Camptown Races" (purchase/download) was written by preeminent American songwriter Stephen Foster, who first published the song in 1850. The first recording was made by the Christy Minstrels.

Where is Camptown?

Camptown is in Pennsylvania, near Foster's hometown. Although the phrase "camp town" also refers loosely to the "towns" transients would set up around train tracks to make it easier to hop trains to get from job to job and town to town. These camp towns were also called jungle camps, and were often populated by African-Americans and other migrant workers.

"Camptown Races" and the Minstrel Tradition

The original title, "Gwine to Run All Night," referenced the African-American stereotype dialect in which the song was written. The lyrics talk about a group of transients in a camp town, who bet on horses to try to make some money. The song was intended to be humorous and was written in the minstrel tradition, which had performers painting their faces black to mock African-Americans.

While the minstrel tradition is now considered incredibly racist, this and other songs written during that period have managed to stick around in our national repertory. Read the lyrics for "Camptown Races."

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