[ Archival Image ] Alabama Gandy Dancers

Image courtesy Alabama State Council on the Arts


"The African-American musical legacy includes a rich worksong tradition. One of these traditions is that of the railroad "gandy dancers." Gandy dancers were those men teamed in groups of 8 to 14 whose responsibility it was to lay or care for the tracks of the southern railroads.

"All-black gandy dancer crews used songs and chants as tools to help accomplish specific tasks and to send coded messages to each other so as not to be understood by the foreman and others. The lead singer, or caller, would chant to his crew, for example, to realign a rail to a certain position. His purpose was to uplift his crew, both physically and emotionally, while seeing to the coordination of the work at hand.

"It took a skilled, sensitive caller to raise the right chant to fit the task at hand and the mood of the men. Using tonal boundaries and melodic style typical of the blues, each caller had his own signature. The effectiveness of a caller to move his men has been likened to how a preacher can move a congregation."

Text courtesy: Alabama Center for Traditional Culture