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- A traditional American folk song which dates back to at least the 1870s, and which is generally believed to be Southern Appalachian in origin (although some think that it has an older Irish history). The first printed version was published in 1917 in a collection compiled by Cecil Sharp.
A version recorded onto phonograph cylinder in 1925 by a folk collector is the first documentation including a stanza about "The longest train I ever saw". This stanza probably began as a separate song that later merged into "In the Pines".
There are three frequent elements: a chorus about being "in the pines, where the sun never shines", a stanza about "the longest train" and a stanza about a decapitation but not all elements are present in all versions. Many variants exist including references to "Joe Brown's Coal Mine" and "The Georgia line", challenging a woman (e.g. "Little girl, where'd you stay last night?" / "Where did you get that dress? And those shoes that are so fine?") and a hobo on the move during the great depression of the 1930s. In some versions the "My Girl" or "Little Girl" gets a "Black Girl".
Researching the song for her 1970 musicology dissertation, Judith McCulloh found 160 different versions.
These days, the song is mainly associated with the American folk musician Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter), who recorded several versions in the 1940s and on more recent versions is often credited as the songwriter.
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