This traditional spiritual song has been used to teach basic anatomy to children, although its description of how the bones come together is not anatomically correct - the shoulder bone isn't really connected to the neck bone. The lyrics are based on Ezekiel 37:1-14, where the prophet visits the Valley of Dry Bones and causes them to become alive by God's command. The melody was written in the early 1900s by African-American author and songwriter James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938).
Possibly the best known version of this spiritual was recorded by American vocal group The Delta Rhythm Boys, who were popular for over fifty years in the 20th century. Other artists who have recorded the song include Fats Waller. The Four Lads, Mills Brothers Shirley Caesar, Rosemary Clooney and as "Dem Bones", The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
During The Simpsons fourth season episode, Homer's Triple Bypass, Dr. Nick Riviera is operating on Homer. Unsure of the procedure, he sings this song in the middle of the operation to help him work out what to do. The bungling surgeon gets the lyrics wrong and ends up singing "the red thing's connected to my wristwatch."
The Delta Rhythm Boys version of this song appears in the 1988 movie Rain Man, which won the Oscar for Best Picture.