Breedloves's Folk Songs


    The history of “Roll On Columbia, Roll On” is tied directly to promotional work of the
    Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) in the early 1940s. One of the aims of the BPA
    was to electrify small rural farms and communities that were not profitable for private
    utilities to serve. The BPA, created in 1937 by the Roosevelt Administration, was
    responsible for the construction of the Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams on the mighty
    Columbia River and for selling and distributing power from the river’s federal
    hydroelectric facilities. Construction was essentially completed on the Bonneville Dam in
    1938 and on the Grand Coulee Dam in 1941. As a part of this project the BPA hired
    Woody Guthrie to write songs for a movie about the project. They paid him $270 for 30
    days of work. During this time, he wrote 26 songs, “The Columbia River Ballads.”
    Among the songs, the most popular was “Roll On Columbia, Roll On”, a song about the
    taming of the powerful Columbia River and memorializing the project.
    Roll on, Columbia, roll on
    Roll on, Columbia, roll on
    Your power is turning our darkness to dawn
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on.
    Green Douglas firs where the waters cut through
    Down her wild mountains and canyons she flew
    Canadian Northwest to the oceans so blue
    Roll on Columbia, roll on
    Other great rivers add power to you
    Yakima, Snake, and the Klickitat, too
    Sandy Willamette and Hood River too
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on
    Tom Jefferson’s vision would not let him rest
    An empire he saw in the Pacific Northwest
    Sent Lewis and Clark and they did the rest
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on
    It’s there on your banks that we fought many a fight
    Sheridan’s boys in the blockhouse that night
    They saw us in death but never in flight
    So roll on Columbia, roll on
    At Bonneville now there are ships in the locks
    The waters have risen and cleared all the rocks
    Shiploads of plenty will steam past the docks
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on
    And on up the river is Grand Coulee Dam
    The mightiest thing ever built by a man
    To run the great factories and water the land
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on
    These mighty men labored by day and by night
    Matching their strength ‘gainst the river’s wild flight
  • Through rapids and falls, they won the hard fight
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on


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