The little banjo is tuned high so this is key of B.

This song is about the Ohio River. It is also called Boatman or Dance Boatman Dance or The Boatmen's Dance or Dance of the Boatsman. The tune has 3 parts in key of A. The 3rd part usually has an F#m chord. For people playing with a capo, that is an Em chord formation from the base key of G.

  • We learned the version on the Vintage Keys CD by Born Old: Paul Gartner banjo and Doug van Gundy fiddle. There are clips on Amazon and AllMusic Track 16.
  • Instructional video of clawhammer banjo. Parts: [all] [A] [B] [C]
  • Ed Halley version played in a pub by John Hoffmann fiddle, Steve Arkin banjo, Erica Weiss guitar [utoob]. You can find another nice recording if you search Stony Brook.
  • Adam Hurt, fancy fiddling at a house jam [utoob]
  • Singing trio with Wayne Shrubsall on Banjo [utoob]
  • Solo & simple clawhammer banjo in the kitchen [utoob]. He sticks to A major in the 3rd part (no minor chord).
  • Minstrel re-enactors [utoob]
  • Opera version by Aaron Copeland [song of america].
  • Solo banjo by Brad Kolodner [utoob].
  • Young Victor Furtado can play it [utoob] but his dad has trouble [utoob]. Both solo banjo.
  • WV fiddler Melvin Wine [DLA].
  • Instructional recording of solo fiddle MP3 at Dr. Fiddle.


The boatmen dance, the boatmen sing,The boatmen up to ev'rything,And when the boatman gets on shoreHe spends his cash and works for more.

Related tunes: The Phillips Collection lists "Dance Boatman Dance" played by Bruce Molsky, but it is a 2-part tune in D. It also lists "Boatman" but that's a 4-part tune in A related to Little Rabbit. There is a different tune called Waiting for the Boatman.