Who was John Henry? According to Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe, Pete Seeger, and Bruce Springsteen, he was a steel-driving railroad man who outperformed a steam drill before dying with his hammer in hand. But versions of the indelible American myth vary.

In this staged incarnation of her work Steel Hammer, 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe teams with director Anne Bogart and SITI Company to distill the discrepancies of over 200 variants of the classic ballad and legend into a theatrical post-minimalist mountain-music hybrid. Playwrights Kia Corthron, Will Power, Carl Hancock Rux, and Regina Taylor provide additional texts as three singers and the Bang on a Can All-Stars—fortified with banjo, bones, jaw harp, and other Appalachian instruments—give the folk hero a newfangled song for a new century.


Original text by Kia Corthron, Will Power, Carl Hancock Rux, and Regina Taylor
Scenic & Costume Design by James Schuette
Lighting by Brian Scott
Sound design by Andrew Cotton and Christian Frederickson
Choreography by Barney O’Hanlon

Steel Hammer

the score was commissioned by Bang on a Can with generous support from Maria and Robert A. Skirnick and Carnegie Hall. The play Steel Hammer premiered with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. The dramatized stage production of Steel Hammer was commissioned by the Krannert Center and by BAM for the 2015 Next Wave Festival.