Monday, December 2, 2013

"More Work For The Undertaker" Song (sound file, lyrics, & examples)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post is part of an ongoing series on English language songs and rhymes that include the name "Sambo".

This post focuses on the song "More Work For The Undertaker". That song is also known as "Sambo Got A Job At The Railroad",
"Sam Got A Job At The Railroad" and other similar names.

The content of this post is presented for historical and folkloric purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

From At the Music Hall: More Work for the Undertaker
..."This rather macabre and grim song predates this recording. It had a long life in the Nineteenth Century as a British music hall favorite. As was often the case, the song found its way to America, where, as always, it was Americanized with different lyrics. The newer lyrics are those printed above and those you’ll hear in Quinn’s recording.

The original version seems to have been by Fred W. Leigh with words by “Burton and Brooks.” The British Music Hall version concerned the dangerous misadventures of a youth named Sambo (yes, Sambo—fill in the blanks). The refrain of “another little job for the casket maker” seems to have originally been “another little job for the tombstone maker.” Like all of these popular songs which pre-date major efforts at recording, their original versions all differ slightly."
Editor's Comment:
Versions of "More Work For The Undertaker" are documented in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and in other English speaking nations. One person wrote on a Mudcat folk music discussion thread about this song that "my mom sang [this song] to me when I was little, in the early 1960's. What's interesting is that my mom is Jamaican, so the song was not "Sammy" (or Sambo, as I've seen elsewhere) but "Jumbo" (or Jambo?). Guest, "Sam got a job on the railroad", 06 Aug 08 - 08:02 PM

In addition to its performance in British music halls and in United States vaudeville theatre, versions of "More Work For The Undertaker" have been taught as a "fun, nonsense" song in schools, in Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, and other children's groups. This song is also documented as having been sung by Yale University Glee Clubs, and other university Glee club. MWFTU is also documented as being chanted as a playground skipping rhyme in the United Kingdom. (For example, read the comment posted by
cobber on ,19 Apr 03 - 04:40 AM

In some versions of "More Work For The Undertaker", although not the Dan Quinn version, the character who worked on the railroad and met his death in various ways was named "Sambo". The character's name was "cleaned up" in other versions, resulting in the title "Sam Worked On The Railroad", "Sam Got A Job On The Railroad", and similar titles. The character's name is also given as "Soloman Levi".

The name "Sambo" is intricately tied in the English speaking world to a depiction of Black men as childish, happy go lucky, lazy, and irresponsible. However, it appears from reading online blogs about this song [including at least two discussion threads on the Mudcat folk music forum, and a Google Answers page] that a number of people still have nostalgic feelings about the "More Work For The Undertaker" song - regardless of whether it includes the Sambo name or not.

This song and songs like "The Crazy Old Man From China" which has at least two active Mudcat discussion threads are evidence of how difficult it is to stop the transmission of songs to new generations of children when people have fond childhood memories of those songs, and when they either don't know or don't care about what other people consider to be socially offensive and socially problematic lyrics in those songs.


"Coon songs were a genre of music that presented a racist and stereotyped image of Blacks. They were popular in the United States and around the English-speaking world from 1880 to 1920.

More Work for the Undertaker (F W Leigh) [hereafter given as Mudcat MWFTU] for more information about this song & for the lyrics of the Dan Quinn version of that song.

Also, click The Jim Crow Encyclopedia: Racial Stereotypes for more information about the Sambo caricature.

Example #1:
This is a song my Mum sang to me when I was a little nipper; she had learned it when she was young. Unfortunately, this is all I can remember (it was a long time ago). Hope it is the one you are looking for.

By the way, for those of you not from the UK, two-and-six refers to two shillings and sixpence - a lot of money back when Mum was a young girl.

Sambo had an auntie, an auntie very rich,
One day she said to Sambo, "I'll give you two-and-six."
Sambo feeling thirsty, went inside a shop;
Six Lemonades, Two Ginger Beers
And Sambo went off, Pop!

More work for the undertaker,
Another little job for the tombstone maker,
There in the local cemetery, on a tombstone you will see;
"Sambo the Brave and Free."

Sambo had an auntie, an auntie very poor,
One day she said to Sambo, "Go and clean the floor."
Sambo feeling tired tried to go to bed,
Tried to climb the banister and fell down on his head!
Crash! Bang!

More work for the undertaker,
Another little job for the tombstone maker,
There in the local cemetery, on a tombstone you will see;
"Sambo the Brave and Free."
- GUEST,Minstrel, Mudcat: MWFTU, 22 May 00 - 05:45 PM

Example #2
Minstrel gave one version (from memory). My version differs (Also from memory)

Sambo had an auntie, an auntie very rich,
One day she said to Sambo, "I'll give you two-and-six."
Sambo feeling thirsty, went into a shop;
Ten Ginger Beers and ten lemonades
And Sambo went off, Pop!

More work for the undertaker,
Another little job for the tombstone maker,
Down in the local cemetery, on a tombstone you will see;
"Sambo CC"

Sambo had an auntie, an auntie very poor,
One day she said to Sambo, "I'll make you clean the floor."
Sambo didn't like it, went upstairs to bed,
Sliding on the bannister he fell and cracked his head!

More work for the undertaker,
Another little job for the tombstone maker,
Down in the local cemetery, on a tombstone you will see;
"Sambo CC."

Another verse which I can't fully recall was about Sambo working as a cleaner on the railways. Something about cleaning the lines with "a bar of Sunlight soap" Again he comes to a sticky end.

The last line of the chorus is decidedly 'non-PC' as I was told that the inscription on the tombstone was "Sambo CC" where the 'CC' stands for 'Chocolate Coon'.
-Nigel Parsons,Mudcat- MWFTU, Date: 13 Apr 03 - 08:44 PM

Example #3:
I learnt the song at an Autralia primary school in the 1970's. I
loved it but didnt understand the racial slur overtones it contained.

I remember parts of another verse that went something like.

Sambo went for a swimg one day, in his overcoat
He climbed aboard the diving board, and kicked off his left boot.
Suddenly the board it broke and Sambo gave a yell,
In his overcoat, without let boot and into the water he fell.

Bang... more work for the under taker
7/6 for the tombstone maker
off the local cemetery, on a tombstone you'll see
Sambo thats me.

.. continued rfom above...

Also my recollection of the railway verse is :.

Sambo joined the railway, his heart was full of hope,
He tried to scrub the railway line with a bar of mouldy soap
A train came around the bend, screaming down the track
Would you beleive, he rolled up his sleeves and push that engine back!


(I hope yo teach my little baby daughter this song but maybe I will
remove the racial name Sambo and replce it maybe with something like Banjo.)
-bbakerman-ga, "school song", 25 Oct 2004

FEATURED EXAMPLE [added November 1, 2016]

Dan W. Quinn "More Work for the Undertaker" RARE VISUALS Edison cylinder

Tim Gracyk, Published on Jun 23, 2014

Dan W. Quinn sings "More Work for the Undertaker" on Edison Gold Moulded Record 7669.

The song is by Burton, Carney Brookes, and Fred W. Leigh.

Dan W. Quinn was born in San Francisco, perhaps in 1859 since Jim Walsh reports in the December 1961 issue of Hobbies that Quinn was 79 years old when he died.

He was occasionally identified as a baritone but most often as a tenor.

Quinn was a boy soprano in an Episcopal choir and was evidently a vaudeville performer when he was a young man. His photograph is on the cover of sheet music of the 1890s.

He recounted how he began recording in a letter sent to Walsh, who quotes it at length in "Reminiscences of Dan W. Quinn," published in the July 1934 issue of Music Lovers' Guide.

Quinn explained why he was among the most successful recording artists of the 1890s: "It was while working for Vic Emerson [a Columbia executive in the 1890s] that I began to work like a good fellow and went after all the latest songs. I learned everything, whether it naturally suited my style or not. The good singers--I mean fellows like John W. Myers and George Gaskins [sic]--were slow getting up their stuff, and I, being a sight reader, just couldn't keep from learning every new number."

Quinn recorded regularly from 1892 to 1905. He made recordings for the Phonograph Record and Supply Company ("Laboratory, 97, 99 & 101 Reade Street, New York").

Columbia's November 1896 catalog, which lists over 60 Quinn titles, states, "Mr. Quinn's reputation as a vocalist is so well established that the mere announcement of his name is a guarantee of the record."

He was one of Berliner's most important artists, recording nearly a hundred titles. The only singer to cover more titles for the disc company was tenor George J. Gaskin. Perhaps the earliest Quinn discs to be issued were "Girl Wanted" (935), recorded on November 3, 1895, and "Henrietta, Have Your Met Her?" (151), also recorded in November 1895.

An April 1899 catalog issued by the National Gram-o-phone Company, maker of Berliner discs, identifies Quinn as "The King of Comic Singers."

Berliners made by Quinn featuring show tunes include a "popular Hebrew dialect song" (as the National Gram-o-phone catalog characterizes it) titled "Ikey Eisenstein," from the show An American Beauty (1737--it was also recorded as Edison 1039) and, from the show Hurly Burly, "Little Old New York Is Good Enough For Me" (030), recorded on April 4, 1899.

In contrast to singers who recorded standards, Quinn as a Berliner artist covered new songs, nearly all of them quickly forgotten, few being recorded by other artists. They include "Down in Poverty Row" (Berliner 161), "I've Been Hoodoed" (198), "The Irish Cake Walk" (1822), and "Then Pour Us A Drink Bartender" (1600), recorded on November 11, 1896. Songs recorded by Quinn that were genuine hits of the day, as evident by the variety of singers who recorded them, include "The Belle of Avenoo [sic] A" (184) and Dresser's "Just Tell Them That You Saw Me" (189). Quinn confirms in his letter to Walsh that he recorded mostly topical numbers though he wished to sing more hymns: "I made my living in the frivolous field, but my heart was in the other."

He estimated cutting some 2,500 titles during his more than 20 years of recording experience. He listed for Walsh some companies that issued his records: "During my active days I recorded for practically all American companies: Edison, Victor, Columbia, United States, New Jersey, Chicago, Ohio, Boston, Gramophone, Gennett, Leeds-Catlin, and a number of others."

Columbia moved its headquarters to New York City in 1897. An 1899 cylinder catalog duplicates an agreement dated May 1, 1898, establishing that Quinn, along with more than a dozen others, was exclusive to Columbia. The arrangement lasted a year. His last session for Berliner, before his exclusive contract with Columbia began, was on March 31, 1898. He next recorded for Berliner on April 4, 1899.

Quinn usually worked as a solo artist.

He was among the few artists who recorded for Eldridge R. Johnson's talking machine and disc company when it was briefly known as the Consolidated Talking Machine Company (it was later the Victor Talking Machine Company).

During most of his recording career, Quinn was a free-lance artist, singing for practically all American companies. He made a few records in 1906 and then retired for a time. He continued to perform in vaudeville and operated a theatrical booking agency almost to the day of his death. In "Reminiscences of Dan W. Quinn," Walsh gives the address as 312 West 20th Street, New York City.

Though nearly 60, he attempted in 1915 a recording comeback, beginning with a Columbia session on September 23, 1915.

The singer died on November 7, 1938, of intestinal cancer in his home at 312 West 20th Street, New York City."

Click for a Mudcat Cafe comment that I wrote in 2008 about my theory that "More Work For The Undertaker" includes (borrowed) several elements of the "Bang Bang Lulu" song.

Also, click for a comment that I wrote on Mudcat Cafe in 200 8about the etymology of the name "Sambo" in various African languages.

Thanks to all those who I quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publisher of that sound file on YouTube.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. The missing verse.
    Sambo went to work one day without his overcoat.
    He tried to scrub the railway track with a bar of sunlight soap.
    Along came the express train. Along that railway track.
    And would you believe it, he rolled up his sleeves and pushed the damned thing back.
    Crash, bang

    1. Anonymous, thanks for sharing that verse for "More Work for The Undertaker".

      And thanks to your comment, I realized that the sound file that I had embedded in this post was no longer available so I added another example.

      More work for the .....never mind :o)

  2. My family sang this song throughout my childhood, but there was no mention of a "Sambo" character. Rather, the unfortunate hero of the song was a young English boy named Little Billy Speckleton.

    I'm actually deeply disturbed by the song's association with minstrelsy. It had come to my family through English music hall.

    1. Greetings, Mike F.

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the information about the substitution of the name "Sambo" with that of "Little Billie Speckleton. As I was curious about that name, I tried to find examples of it via google, but didn't find any hits.

      As you're probably aware, there's a close connection between minstrelsy in England and the English music hall However, from what little I've read, it appears that the music hall skits & songs were probably less racist than the minstrelsy skits and songs.

      Best wishes!