John Henry Mealing

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John Henry Mealing (born 1908 - died February 22, 2007) was a railroad worker who became known as "The Original Gandy Dancer" for his performances of historical railroad work songs. He was awarded a "Master of his Art" recognition from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1996 and performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1997.

The term "Gandy dancer" refers to a manual worker, part of a gang, that set and aligned railroad track. The name comes from the hand tools used, which were made by the Gandy Manufacturing Company. In order to keep the workers in rhythm, they would chant a song, with their movements seeming to be a sort of dance.

In addition to performing work songs he composed on the job in the 1920s and 30s, Mealing joined the Gospel Southern Aires and performed with them for 30 years. He and other gandy dancers were invited to perform at several City Stages.

Mealing was preceded in death by his wife, Jennie V. Mealing and a granddaughter. He was survived by two daughters and five grandchildren. His funeral service was at New Bethlehem Baptist Church in Dolomite with burial at Zion Memorial Gardens.



  • "Mealing, John Henry" (February 27, 2007) obituary. Birmingham News
  • Talley, Ron (March 3, 2007) "City loses a legend." letter to the editor. Birmingham News
  • Brown, Edwin L. "'To Make a Man Feel Good': John Henry Mealing, Railroad Caller,” (Spring 1986) Labor History Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 257-64