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Noon Edition

Workin': The Work Song In Jazz And Popular Music

Work songs go back at least as far as the beginning of recorded human history. Whether farming or hunting, cultivating, sailing, or hammering, we have often chanted and sung to help us carry out our tasks. Even today, many employees listen to music in their places of work. Work songs gave laborers a way of transforming their toil into something more meaningful, of enriching their everyday lives through music. How was the influence of the work song expressed in the recordings of jazz artists Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Nat Adderley, Dave Brubeck and others?

Jazz historian Ted Gioia, author of Work Songs, joins Night Lights for a Labor Day look at the work song's relationship to jazz and popular music. In addition to those named above, featured artists include:

  • Louis Armstrong (his ode to Pullman porters, "Red Cap")
  • Cassandra Wilson (her cover of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman")
  • Sting (with saxophonist Branford Marsalis joining him for the tribute to English coal-miners, "We Work the Black Seam"


Watch Cannonball Adderley and Nat Adderley perform "Work Song" on Oscar Brown Jr.'s Jazz Scene U.S.A.:

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