Why is Labor Day celebrated?

We all love that day off from school or work, that long weekend to go to the lake house, have a barbeque and visit with relatives, but let’s face it, most of us don’t really know why Labor Day is celebrated, or the history behind the holiday.

Labor Day, which is celebrated on the first Monday in September, honors and recognizes the American labor movement and the role of laborers in the development and achievements of the country. The holiday originated in the late 1800s, after the Industrial Revolution, when trade unions were growing steadily. Unionists thought that there should be a day to recognize labor, so the first parade was organized in New York City, and it became an official holiday in 1894.

You may be wondering, what kind of music did people listen to back then, in the late 19th century? Well, we’ve compiled a short list of historical tunes that are sure to impress your friends and family at your Labor Day celebration!

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad – 1894

With its lyrics about rising early in the morn to go work on the railroad, this American folk song embodies the spirit and history of Labor Day. Railroading was a career that many young men took up at around age 18 to 20. They began as shop laborers with the possibility of being promoted to the positions of skilled mechanic, brakeman, freight conductor and passenger conductor. And not only did the explosion of railways create jobs, but it also transformed many sectors of the U.S. economy, such as manufacturing, agriculture, and finance. 

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – 1872

This African American spiritual song was originally composed in 1865 by Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman, who had probably been inspired by the sight of the Red River, where he worked alongside. The river may have reminded him of the Jordan River and the Prophet Elijah, which are referenced in the song.

A minister at the Choctaw boarding school heard Willis singing the song, so he transcribed the lyrics and melodies, and sent it to the Jubilee Singers of the historically black Fisk University in Nashville, who popularized the song in the early 1900s.

While Strolling Through the Park One Day – 1884

Originally written and published by vaudeville performer Ed Haley, this tune has been featured in many films and was sung by Judy Garland. Interestingly enough, a few bars were also sung by the NASA astronauts when they landed on the moon with the Apollo 17 mission. I was strolling on the moon one day…” 

Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue – Janis Siegel, John Di Martino & Lonnie Plaxico

The oldies are neat and everything, but after the novelty wears off, they’re probably not the type of music you want to listen to for hours on end. After the collective ride down American memory lane, maybe it’s time to change the playlist up and play something a bit more modern, like this 2020 jazz rendition of Crystal Gayle’s country hit!

If you’re looking for more jazzy country tunes to play at your Labor Day party, our new album Cryin’ In My Whiskey is available in our store and on all major music platforms now. And if you’d like to book one of our wonderful musicians for your event, please contact us today.