“I toted the barge, lifted the bale”

RORY: How was work?
JESS: I toted the barge, lifted the bale.

Jess refers to the show tune “Ol’ Man River”, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein III, from the 1927 musical Showboat. The song contrasts the struggles and hardships of African Americans with the endless, uncaring flow of the Mississippi River. It is sung from the point of view of a black dock worker on a showboat, and is the most famous song from the show.

Jules Bledsoe sang the song in the original stage version, and William Warfield in the 1951 film version. In 1928, Paul Robeson recorded the most famous version, which was sung at dance tempo; Robeson’s recording was recorded into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2006.

The lyrics say, Tote that barge! Lift that bale!, to indicate the hard work undertaken on the river by black workers.

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