Whistle While You Work

Words by Larry Morey; music by Frank Churchill, 1937

When Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (the first animated full-length movie) in 1937, this song became a big hit. Why was it so popular during the Great Depression? Did it make a difference that so many people were out of work?

Is the message of this song literally to whistle while working? What is "whistling" a metaphor for or symbol of? What is the attitude we are supposed to have toward work? What other messages, besides work attitudes, does this song send?

What are the benefits of working cheerfully? Though this is a children's song, how would this attitude affect how labor unions were received? How is the message of this song reflected in middle class attitudes about labor unions? Be glad they have a job, not complain about wages or conditions.

What other song uses whistling as a metaphor for reacting positively to adversity? "I Whistle a Happy Tune," by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for The King and I (1951): "whenever I feel alone, I hold my head erect, and whistle a happy tune …" What do both songs suggest is the best way to deal with bad times and negative emotions? Do you agree? What reputation did the Depression generation have later for handling feelings? Not talking about feelings, "men don't cry," "keep a stiff upper lip." Today we hear that it is healthy to talk about what we feel. How does that fit with "whistling while you work" or "whistling a happy tune"? Can you do both?

What ideals in these songs still endure? How have we adapted them to life over eighty years later?

"Whistle While You Work" performed by Louis Armstrong on The Music of Disney a Legacy in Song, Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Records [60957-2], © 1992. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.


Louis Armstrong (1900–71) was approached by the Disney company in 1966 and asked to record his favorite tunes from the animated films. The result is a collection of jazzy renditions of classic tunes the "Satchmo" way. Armstrong adapted the musical traits of his hometown, New Orleans, and transformed them into a style all his own. Playing with nightclub bands from the time he was seventeen, Armstrong's talent provided him with steady employment, including work on the Mississippi River boat lines. In 1919 he moved to Chicago where his popularity quickly spread and other bands imitated his style. His recording career began in the 1920s and he began appearing in films in the 1930s. As he toured nationally and internationally, his bands changed names and personnel, but the Armstrong style endured. In the later years of his life Armstrong scored his biggest hits with "Hello Dolly" in 1963, which even surpassed the Beatles on the charts, and "What a Wonderful World" in 1968.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:

http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Whistle_While_You_Work

The Disney Studio was one of the first to add soundtracks to their films. Steamboat Willie, one of the earliest cartoons, had sound in 1928. The song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" from The Three Little Pigs (1933) has been utilized to taunt more than one bad guy.

Whistle While You Work cover
Sheet music cover for "Whistle While You Work."

This song is from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated musical. Like "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf," audiences related to "Whistle While You Work" and used the song to overcome their hardships due to the Depression.

Children and others have adapted "Whistle While You Work" to new events, like World War II and presidential elections:

  Whistle while you work,
Hitler is a jerk,
Eenie, meanie, Mussolini,
Togo's out of work…

Compare this song to:

"The Song of the Shirt" (Unit 3)

"Solidarity Forever" (Unit 6)