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Folklife Festival 2003 > Appalachia> Performers > Occupational Songs
occupational songs
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The Buckingham Lining Bar Gang, from Buckingham County, Virginia, is a group of retired railroad workers. Some of them had worked on the rails for decades, and they reunited in the early 1990s to demonstrate the earlier practices of lining track on railroad lines. Before machines, this back-breaking job was accompanied by rhythmic work songs that helped time the moving of the rails. The group is led by Charles W. White and Eddie Neighbors.

African Americans began to move into Appalachia during the building of the railroad lines. The famous American song "John Henry" tells the story of a railroad worker digging the Big Bend Tunnel near Charleston, West Virginia, in 1872. Along with the banjo, which is based on West African instruments, African-American slaves brought with them the tradition of song as part of daily life and work, and often as a form of social commentary on their conditions. Railroad workers used song to synchronize their work, and lyrics frequently included references to the "captain" or the harshness of the work.

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