Mudcat Café message #3672303 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #150708   Message #3672303
Posted By: Don Firth
26-Oct-14 - 07:13 PM
Thread Name: rebellion and protest in John Henry
Subject: RE: rebellion and protest in John Henry
Will do, Jim.

It's just that in a lifetime of singing, in an environment in which "John Henry" became such an old warhorse that it's practically been banned from the repertoire (everybody recorded and sang various versions of it during the Fifties, to the point when after the first few bars people would mutter, "Ye gods, not that again!"), and in all the versions I've heard of it, I've never heard it as a song about racism. Man being replaced by machines, yes.

But I'll keep checking with your website to see what you come up with.

Pardon me for being a bit touchy about racism, but from time to time I've been attacked by the PC ("politically correct") police for singing songs as I learn them without bowdlerizing them or trying to "pretty them up."

Case in point:   I learned "Black Girl"
Black girl, black girl, don't lie to me,
Tell me, where did you sleep last night?
In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines
And I shivered the whole night through.

(and goes on to tell how her husband was killed in a railroad accident, and the implication is that, in addition to mourning for her husband, she is now homeless),
from a Leadbelly record, and started singing the song as he sang it (without trying to imitate his "accent"). It was not long before every now and then, someone, in high dudgeon, would tell me that I, as a white man, should not sing that song.

I checked with Lynne, a young black girl who sang folk songs, and she told me that it was not offensive at all and to keep right on singing it. I checked further with Rosetta, a non-folk singing friend, a young black woman who was a telephone operator, singing the song for her, and she found it touching and poignant—and not offensive at all.

Only white self-appointed PC police found it offensive.

I have heard a few recordings in which the singer changed the words to "Little girl, little girl…" which, to me, is downright wimpy!

So please forgive me if I'm a bit hypersensitive about people finding racism where it doesn't exist.

Don Firth