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Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?

DigiTrad:
COTTON-EYED JOE


Related threads:
Help: Cotton Eye Joe History (35)
Lyr/Chords Req: Cotton-Eyed Joe (32)
Cotton-eyed Joe (10)
Cotton Eyed Joe....what's it mean.... (8) (closed)
Chords Req: Cotton Eyed Joe (5)
Lyr/Chords Add: cotton eyed joe (2)


katlaughing 06 Sep 99 - 10:22 AM
06 Sep 99 - 12:09 PM
SandyBob 06 Sep 99 - 01:28 PM
katlaughing 06 Sep 99 - 01:36 PM
j0_77 06 Sep 99 - 01:51 PM
Tony Burns 06 Sep 99 - 04:59 PM
katlaughing 06 Sep 99 - 08:04 PM
Art Thieme 06 Sep 99 - 09:20 PM
Lorne Brown 06 Sep 99 - 09:22 PM
Wally Macnow 06 Sep 99 - 10:21 PM
katlaughing 06 Sep 99 - 11:12 PM
Arkie 06 Sep 99 - 11:31 PM
Frank Hamilton 07 Sep 99 - 10:30 AM
Art Thieme 07 Sep 99 - 12:07 PM
balladeer 07 Sep 99 - 12:25 PM
katlaughing 07 Sep 99 - 02:09 PM
fox4zero 07 Sep 99 - 05:30 PM
katlaughing 07 Sep 99 - 07:46 PM
balladeer 07 Sep 99 - 08:30 PM
CarlZen 07 Sep 99 - 09:39 PM
katlaughing 07 Sep 99 - 09:47 PM
Art Thieme 07 Sep 99 - 09:53 PM
raredance 07 Sep 99 - 11:09 PM
LonLigon 07 Sep 99 - 11:50 PM
katlaughing 08 Sep 99 - 12:22 AM
Dan Evergreen 08 Sep 99 - 10:23 AM
katlaughing 08 Sep 99 - 10:41 AM
Dan Evergreen 08 Sep 99 - 05:09 PM
Frank Hamilton 08 Sep 99 - 05:49 PM
katlaughing 08 Sep 99 - 06:19 PM
raredance 08 Sep 99 - 09:06 PM
CarlZen 08 Sep 99 - 09:28 PM
dick greenhaus 09 Sep 99 - 12:28 AM
Arkie 09 Sep 99 - 11:21 AM
_gargoyle 26 Sep 99 - 03:37 PM
Les B 27 Sep 99 - 01:58 AM
Joe Offer 27 Sep 99 - 02:39 AM
Stewie 27 Sep 99 - 04:58 AM
Stewie 27 Sep 99 - 05:08 AM
Stewie 27 Sep 99 - 11:12 AM
katlaughing 27 Sep 99 - 11:20 AM
dick greenhaus 27 Sep 99 - 11:36 AM
Frank Hamilton 27 Sep 99 - 01:33 PM
Dan Evergreen 27 Sep 99 - 04:18 PM
katlaughing 27 Sep 99 - 06:11 PM
Jerry Friedman 27 Sep 99 - 06:49 PM
Stewie 27 Sep 99 - 06:54 PM
J. Davis 31 Oct 99 - 12:15 PM
GUEST,OTMurphy 19 Feb 00 - 07:27 PM
Osmium 19 Feb 00 - 07:44 PM
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Subject: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 10:22 AM

Just wondering if anyone knows the background of this song, besides it's being an example of the prejudice of past society. Was there a real "Joe" or is it from a composite of experiences? Who wrote it? Where, exactly did it come from? Does anyone perform it? What about offending? I know it has been popular among C&W fans and there is a dance named after it and danced to it.

JustcuriousKat


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From:
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 12:09 PM

Well, I just heard it played yesterday on "Prarie Home Companion"... no one seemed upset about it!

SpitWhistle


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: SandyBob
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 01:28 PM

I've heard two versions of the origin of the phrase cotton-eye. One comes from Tommy Thompson and would be considered racist today. The other refers to cataracts. I'm curious as to this songs origins also as it is one of my favorites.

SandyBob


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 01:36 PM

Yes, Sandy-Bob, the one in the DT is what would be considered the racist one. I've not heard about the one refering to cataracts.

SpitWhistle: I'd heard it on PHC, too. That's what got me to wondering. I would be interested in knowing how people of colour feel about it.

kat


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: j0_77
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 01:51 PM

We all are Kat. BTW I suspect absolutely nothing -


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Tony Burns
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 04:59 PM

Sometime Mudcatter balladeer does a wonderful version of Cotton Eyed Joe. I never thought of it as racist. Maybe I should listen closer the next time she sings it. It makes for wonderful harmonies.

Just looked at the DT words. They are not the same as the version balladeer does.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 08:04 PM

Tony, if you get a chance, would you post the lyrics she uses, please?

Thanks,

kat


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 09:20 PM

Kat, Nina Simone did a beautiful laid-back version of the song. That was on Colpix. I loved it & did it with guitar for many years. When I recorded it for Sandy, I used a jew's harp. That's on one of the cassettes I sent you. Right? If not, let me know and it'll be on it's way to ya post haste.

Art


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Lorne Brown
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 09:22 PM

Cotton Eyed Joe is one of the oldest songs in my repertoire; not necessarily old itself, but I've been singing it for fifty years.

Ed McCurdy used it as his theme song, and told me it referred to a blind street musician.

Only two verses in his/my version: Where do you come from? Where do you go? Where do you come from, Cotton eyed Joe? I come for to see you/ come for to sing/ Come for to show you/my diamond ring.

Ella Jenkins has a minor key version in her new Smithsonian Folkways CD.

I've always considered those the "age old questions" and think about the shelves of books of history, religion, philosophy, etc. that try to answer the questions: Where do we come from? Where do we go? The song has been an important part of my life's philosophy.

Storytelling and folk music help answer those questions for me.

Lorne Brown


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Wally Macnow
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 10:21 PM

From what I've been told, I don't think I'd call it racist. Cotton-eyed is what some people called a blue-eyed black person. The first version I first heard was Josh White's which, if memory serves, has the same verses as Lorne's. Then there's the old time fiddle tune which is often used to accompany square dance calls. That one also has verses but I've never heard any sung that were offensive. That's not to say they don't exist; I just don't know anyone who sings 'em.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 11:12 PM

Thank you, Wally, Art & Lorne. Art...no it wasn't on one the tapes you so kindly shared:-)

I only saw what I consider to be a racist, albeit histrical, version of lyrics in the DT and those were the words I was originally asking about whether they were based on a true story or a composite of the days of slavery.

Would those of you who have them please post lyrics to add, of these other versions. I would really appreciate it. It's always been a song I enjoyed, never paid much attention to the words, until recently when I looked them up in here.

Lorne, I find your words to be so true; it is interesting how a simple song can ask the most profound questions, isn't it?

Thanks again, Love kat


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Subject: Lyr Add: COTTON EYED JOE (from Albert Sands)
From: Arkie
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 11:31 PM

Though I have known a version of this song forever, and have seen it in practically every paperback song collection, I really fell in love with a version sung by Stone County Arkansas native Albert Sands. Albert was a practical nurse at the local hospital and often worked the night shift. During my single days, my house was on the hill above Albert's and he would stop in on his way home for a visit and a sip of Jack Daniels. I asked him to sing the song every chance I had. He did it in a slow, plaintive style that I never mastered but did try to emulate when I sang the piece.

Here are some of the verses, he sang.

Want to go to meeting, but I couldn't go,
Had to stay home with Cotton Eyed Joe.

Had not a been for Cotton Eyed Joe,
I'd a been married along time ago.

Honey, will your dog bite? No, chile, no.
Wolf bit his biter off a long time ago.

Honey, will your hen peck? No, chile, no.
Done pulled the pecker off a long time ago.

Cornstalk fiddle and a peavine bow,
Play a little tune called Cotton Eyed Joe.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 10:30 AM

I guessed from the preceding posts that there are two different variants being talked about. One, the plaintive tune I first heard on an old Burl Ives record. The other, which some might have found offensive (although I can't imagine why in this day and age) is the one popularized by the Texas night club owned by Mickey Gilley in which as part of the dance, the dancers call out "BULL SHIT!" One seems to be a slow holler and the other a set-running tune. Don't know if the two got together or whether they grew separately. Any ideas?

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 12:07 PM

I always did it:

Where do you come from,
Where do ya go,
Where do you come from,
Cotton eyed Joe.

I come for to see you ...(as above)

If it hadn't've been for C.E.J....(as above)

Load 'em and stack 'em
and take 'em on down,
Put 'em ashore
at Evansville town.

The river go up,
And the shack it goes down,
River run through
Old Evansville town.

Art Thieme


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Subject: Lyr Add: COTTON EYED JOE
From: balladeer
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 12:25 PM

Dear Kat: Tony is too kind. My lyric is quite common. I learned it from Doug Bush, a man of colour, circa 1960. Quite possibly he learned it from Josh White or Nina Simone. I may have embellished such embellishments as Doug had already made....

COTTON EYED JOE

Where do you come from
And where do you go?
Where do you come from
My cotton-eyed Joe?

I come for to see you
And I come for to sing
I come for to show you
My diamond ring.

Got a hole in my pocket
Got a nail in my shoe.
I've been oh so lonesome
Since you told me we're through.

If it hadn't of been for
Cotton-eyed Joe
I'd a-been married
A long time ago.

Regards, Balladeer

PS. See you at practice, Lorne! B


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 02:09 PM

Thanks, Balladeer! I like those and I like Art's version, too. I will extract them, both, from this thread, if that is alright with you guys and ask that they be added to the DT, as they are much better, IMHO, than the old historical ones.

I am really bad about words, until I read them, then I remember them. So, this was my first time at getting the words to this and I was dismayed at the ones in the DT because I really like the tune. I am really glad to know of these alternate words.

Thanks everybody. BTW, Art, I meant to say, I would be thrilled ot hear your version with jew's harp! 'Course I'd be thrilled to hear ANYTHING you did!

katlaughing&Art'smostardentgroupie:-)


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: fox4zero
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 05:30 PM

07 SEP 99. Rather than cataracts, it is more likely that Cotton-eyed refers to a viral disease called Trachoma. This ia an infectious disease which was once considered grounds for non-admission to the US. I have never heard any racial lyrics to this song. The oldest recorded version of this song that I have ever heard was made by the Skillet Lickers in the late 1920's. I'm sure that it is close to 100 years old. It was essentially a fiddle dance tune. Parish


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 07:46 PM

These are the ones in the DT that I consider to be racist.

COTTON-EYED JOE

Way back yonder a long time ago
Daddy had a man called cotton-eyed joe
Blew into town on a travelin' show
Nobody danced like the Cotton eyed Joe.

CHORUS:
Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe
where did you come from?
Where did you go?
Where did you come from?
Where did you go?
Where did you come from Cotton-eyed Joe?

Mama's at the window
Mama's at the door
She can't see nothin' but the Cotton-eyed Joe

Daddy held the fiddle,
held the bow
He beat the hell out of Cotton-eyed Joe

Made himself a fiddle,
Made himself a bow
Made a little tune called the Cotton-Eyed Joe

Hadn't oughta been
For Cotton-eyed Joe
I'da been married some forty years ago.

Whenever there's a dance
All the women want to go
And they all want to dance with Cotton-Eyed Joe

Daddy won't say
But I think he know
Whatever happened to Cotton-eyed Joe !


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: balladeer
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 08:30 PM

Dear Kat: Wow! That is a painful lyric. Certainly sounds authentic. I coudn't sing it. Balladeer


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: CarlZen
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 09:39 PM

On the fringes of folk, Michelle Shocked did a version on her "Arkansas Traveler" CD. She transposed the lyrics so they told the story of a young pregnant girl asking where Cotton Eyed Joe (the father) "came from, where did you go?"..... an interesting part of the folk process IMHO.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 09:47 PM

This is so interesting. Please keep it up. Thanks, CarlZen. I'll have to see if I can find a copy to listen to. Folk does process on, eh?**G**


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 09:53 PM

Kat, I mailed the cass to you this afternoon...

How about:

Papa loved mama,
Mama loved men,
Mama's in the grave yard,
And papa's in ther pen.

Six little kids,
Hangin' 'round the door,
Most of 'em look like,
Cotton eyed Joe.

Where do you came from...

(I forgot to include these lyrics that I often put into the song. I used the "Mama loved papa" verse long before Garth Brooks did his song with that in it and sold a million of 'em. [him, not me] I got it from a biography of Carl Sandburg that stated that Mr. Sandberg thought that single verse was the "shortest ballad ever written". I often put it into every light-hearted song in a given set just to have fun with it and to show how zipper verses would almost fit anywhere---as long as it fit the tempo of the particular song. When Garth made a hit of it, I quit doing that pretty much 'cause folks were confused and didn't get the point--or they got the wrong point.)

Art


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: raredance
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 11:09 PM

The DT version that kat posted was recorded by the Red Clay Ramblers on their 1992 "Rambler" CD. It sounds so pretty that it's easy to ignore the lyrical content.

rich r


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: LonLigon
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 11:50 PM

I have heard that the original song was referring to a Bull. A bull was called a "JOE" out west, and when a bull was mad and ready to charge, he would lower his head and roll his eyes back exposing the whites of his eyes. They called a bull with the white showing as a "Cotton Eyed Joe" and a very dangerous bull. At least that is what I heard about the origin of the song.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 12:22 AM

Art! Thank you. You ARE a sweetie. I cannot wait to get the mail, now! And, thanks for the zipper verse. Couldncha sue ole Garth or sumpin'? Sheesh!

richr: I think I'd have a hard time with the lyrics regardless of how pretty it sounded! I think it's too bad they didn't use different lyrics. I've heard them before and always liked their sound.

LonLogin: thanks for that input. Boy, ya ask one questions and folk comes up with so many versions! I love it!

Thanks!

kat


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Dan Evergreen
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 10:23 AM

Katlaughing, what's racist about it?


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 10:41 AM

Considered in the context of our nation's history, it depicts a slave owner making his slave dance, beating him, and ultimately murdering him, as far as I can see. I thought it was obvious.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Dan Evergreen
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 05:09 PM

But unless it somehow condones or make light of such, why is it racist? Evils and tragedies are depicted in much of song and literature.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 05:49 PM

Kat

Is it racist? It might have a different meaning if "Daddy" was a black man. "Daddy had a man" might mean that he employed someone and Cotton Eyed Joe ran off with his wife. (Just a thought.) It sounds like the tune might have emanated from the minstrel shows. Does anyone know? Heard a lot about secondary sources like Michelle Shocked, Red Clay Ramblers, Garth Brooks but has anyone come across a field recording or a date that goes back a little? Where did Burl Ives get his version (which predates many of the secondary sources given here)? Are there two major sources for this song? Two "Cotton Eyed Joes", one a dance tune and the other a slow holler?

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 06:19 PM

Good questions, Frank. Ones I had hoped would be answered in this thread.

Dan, but we have had many, many discussions on this. So that I don't sound too repetitive and for a good read on what others think, too, I would ask you to check out the Song Appropriateness thread here.

Thanks,

katlaughing


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Subject: Lyr Add: COTTON EYED JOE (from Lomax & Lomax)
From: raredance
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 09:06 PM

The Penguin Book of American Folk songs edited by Alan Lomax has a 2-verse version of Cotton-eyed Joe in the "lullaby" section. It has the "Where did you come from..." verse and the "Come for to see you, come for to sing, come for to show you my diamond ring." In a very brief explanatory note, Lomax adds: "In Southern parlance a man is 'cotton-eyed' if his irises are milky-coloured. Cotton-Eye Joe, the obscure hero of a number of Negro dancing tunes and fiddler's airs, here turns up in one of the loveliest of Southern mountain lullabies, found by Margaret Valliant in the hills of Tennessee."

In a different vein American Ballads and Folksongs by John and Alan Lomax contains a "Cotton-Eyed Joe" that they describe as a square dance song or breakdown. The lyrics are:

If it had not-a been for Cotton-eyed Joe,
I'd 'a' been married forty years ago.

Cornstalk fiddle and cornstalk bow,
I'm gwine to beat hell out-a Cotton-eyed Joe.

Gwine to go shootin' my forty-fo',
Won't be a nigger in a mile or mo'.

Hain't seen ol' Joe since way last fall,
Say he's been sold down to Guines Hall.

Great long line and little short pole,
I'm on my way to the crawfish hole.

Oh, it makes dem ladies love me so,
W'en I come roun' a-pickin' Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Hol' my fiddle an' hol' my bow,
Whilst I knock ol' Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Oh, law, ladies, pity my case,
For I's got a jawbone in my face.

O Lawd, O Lawd, come pity my case,
For I'm gettin' old an' wrinkled in de face.

rich r


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: CarlZen
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 09:28 PM

Cotton Eyed Joe is also a fairly standard fiddle tune in many folk's repertoire. Like so many fiddle tunes with alternate songs that share the same tune and title, I often wonder which came first. I often thought that the tunes had been around until someone like Jimmy Driftwood came around and added a rhyming story to it. But in some cases it may have worked the other way around.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 12:28 AM

I suspect that the lyrics in the DT represent someone's recent attempt to make a semi-coherent story out of a bunch of random "filler" verses to a fiddle tune. As far as racist content, it seems to me that it lies solely in the phrase "had a man". Change that to "knew a man" and there ain't nothing to offend anyone (except, possibly, adulterers).

The opening verse I heard first was:
Hold my fidle; hold my bow
I'm gonna kick hell outa Cotton-eyed Joe.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Arkie
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 11:21 AM

Somewhere, tucked into the recesses of my mind, is a vague recollection of having heard a Texas swing band do a rather risque version of the piece. Can't remember if the R rating was due to explicit sexual references or the insertion of a vulgar word or two at a specific spot which the audience would enthusiastically scream with the band whenever it came around. Tend to think it was the latter. Since no one has mentioned it to this point, I'm beginning to think that possibly I am more creative than I had imagined.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: _gargoyle
Date: 26 Sep 99 - 03:37 PM

Ah....the worrisome (little wanna be liberal)PC's.

Nothing racist to it.....it is a cuckold song.

cotton-eyed adj. So.
1905 DN III 75: Cotton-eyed...Having the whites of the eyes prominent. 1952 Steinbeck East of Eden 228: The crooked little cotton-eyed piano player stood in the entrance.

Lighter, J.E.,Random House Dictionary of Historical American Slang. Volume 1, p 490, 1994.

DN indicates Dialect Notes


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Les B
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 01:58 AM

Boswell's Folk Songs of Middle Tennessee, which references Talley, The Negro Traditions has this to say: "According to black folk traditions of late-nineteenth-century Bedford County, Cotton-Eyed Joe was a well-known pre-Civil War slave musician whose tragic life caused his hair to turn white; eventually he played a fiddle made from the coffin of his dead son." Boswell collected seven versions. The one printed is similiar to many already quoted in this thread.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 02:39 AM

Parish, I found your theory interesting, that the "cotton-eyed" condition was Trachoma. Now, was that the eye condition that Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes) suffered from as a kid? Sounds similar.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Stewie
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 04:58 AM

Frank

Bill C. Malone agrees with you. He writes, at page 19 of 'Country Music USA': 'Black-face minstrelsy contributed some of the most venerated fiddle tunes such as "Old Dan Tucker", "Listen to the Mockingbird", "Old Zip Coon" (better known as "Turkey in the Straw") and "Cotton-eyed Joe" ...'

Numerous oldtime performers recorded the song in the 1920s. Two that spring to mind are the Mississippi stringband Carter Brothers and Son who recorded it in Memphis in November 1928 and Fiddlin' John Carson who recorded in Atlanta in March 1927. The Skillet Lickers also recorded it in late 1920s, but I do not have a specific date - it is on County LP 506. On the notes to that LP Norm Cohen writes: '"Cotton-eyed Joe" is an ante-bellum song found in both the white and Negro tradition, and probably originated in the minstrel theatre. Alan Lomax suggests that the title refers to a person whose eyes were milky white from trachoma'.

Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Stewie
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 05:08 AM

My apologies, Parish, I somehow missed your comment re Skillet Lickers - but the Lomax comment quoted by Cohen certainly backs up what you were saying.

Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Stewie
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 11:12 AM

I have found the date of the Skillet Lickers version - 10 April 1928. The early recordings that I have found are:

Virginian stringband - Dykes Magic City Trio 9 March 1927 in New York
Georgian stringband - Fiddlin' John Carson and Virginia Reelers 17 March 1927 in Atlanta
Arkansas stringband - Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers 6 February 1928 in ?
Georgian stringband - Skillet Lickers 10 April 1928 in Atlanta
Mississippi stringband - Carter Brothers and Son 22 November 1928 in Memphis

Thus, Dykes Magic City Trio got in ahead of Fiddlin' John by 6 days. I have not heard the Dykes Magic City recording, but it was reissued on Old Homestead LP 191. The other four above are fiddle dominated dance tunes. The Fiddlin' John rendition is basically a series of dance calls. In his notes to County 544 (Georgia Fiddle Bands Vol 2) Gene Wiggins writes that John's 'Cotton-eyed Joe' with its 'mixolydian cast' is said 'by old-timers to be older than other tunes with the same name'. The other renditions are mostly lengthy instrumental breaks interspersed with the usual couplets - 'had it not been for ...' 'went to the window, went to the door ...' etc - the Skillet Lickers' has the most lyrics but even these are repeated - and definitely none is racist. The early recording artists focused on using it for dance purposes. The Carter Brothers and Son recording is great - wild, exuberant twin fiddling. Maybe, as Frank suggests, we are looking at two sources for the song - one dance orientated and the other not. Certainly, judging from other contributions to the thread, they have some lyrics in common. But where are the links that thread the later versions to what the experts say is the song's minstrel origins? Did the stringbands simply drop what they did not need? Were the expanded lyrics later accretions? This little songs raises many questions to which none of us seems to be able to provide satisfactory answers.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 11:20 AM

Wannabe?? No, I AM a liberal and proud of it! If one were to examine the words which are in the DigiTrad database, which I referred to several times, one would see that THOSE words most definitely reflect the racist views of the time period.

I appreciate the latest postings by LesB and Stewie.

kat


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 11:36 AM

Katlaughing- I am reminded about the furor that happened a couple of years back on the Bluegrass list when someone decided that Groundhog was racist: The line:

"Up jumped Sal with a snigger and a grin.."

ws heard as " ...with his nigger and a grin"

As Gilda Radner used to say: "Never mind."


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 01:33 PM

Can't mention minstrel show origins without concluding that the lyrics are by necessity racist. I don't know that the term "cotton-eyed Joe" is racist, more descriptive I think. It could be applied to any race.

Thanks Stewie for the discography. Very helpful.

I think that the incorporation of the minstrel show into the Appalachian tradition (ie: Uncle Dave Macon) has been cited in "That Half-Barbaric Twang", a wonderful social survey of the banjo. The question arises again as to what constitutes "good taste" in the singing of these songs. Sometimes, a straight-out explanation is in order and I think can be accepted quite readilly without offense.

I sing "Marching Through Georgia" for Southern audiences who recognize that it is a historical document and understand what General Tecumseh Sherman was about. We try to give different perpectives on this. I think the same can be done for Cotton Eyed Joe. Did the song lose it's racist overtones when it was incorporated into the Southern Mountain tradition? It may have. Many of the early settlers in the Southern Mountains according to Jean Ritchie never saw a black person and had no reference for prejudice.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Dan Evergreen
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 04:18 PM

Wonder what the lyrics are all about. WHAT diamond ring? WHO would have been married and how did Joe prevent such?


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 06:11 PM

Ah, Dan....my original question!


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Jerry Friedman
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 06:49 PM

If a man sings it, I'd infer that he would have been married but his girlfriend left him for C.E.J. If a woman sings it, I'd infer that she would have gotten married but she couldn't give up C.E.J.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Stewie
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 06:54 PM

After about 1928-29, what happened to 'Cotton-eyed Joe' will have to be found elsewhere than in the recorded music industry. The Great Depression and the increasing importance of radio as a source of entertainment changed everything for what had been essentially an amateur, down-home music from people like Carson who was born in 1868 and learned tunes like 'Cotton-eyed Joe' direct from family and friends. Only the tried and tested or the desperately novel could survive in the Depression years and what emerged in the second half of the 30s was a bird of very different wing that, after the second social cataclysm of World War II, sloughed off its rural amateurism entirely to become a vernacular popular music that gave Tin Pan Alley a run for its money (and ultimately gave rise to young Garth and the other hats). The tension was there already by the late 20s - you can see it reflected in the Skillet Lickers with Gid Tanner reaching back to the past and Clayton McMichen and Lowe Stokes straining forward to the future. As Bob Coltman so aptly put it 'Uncle Dave Macon, the Skillet Lickers (minus McMichen and Stokes), Fiddlin' John Carson and Moonshine Kate ... sounded archaic. No longer did the old rousers satisfy; the melody did not linger on'.

As Frank has pointed out above, minstrel show origins almost by definition imply racist sentiments. In addition to the Karen Linn reference that he gave, chapter two of Bill Malone's 'Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers', headed 'Popular Culture and the Music of the South', provides a brief but stimulating discussion of minstrelsy, medicine shows etc.

Are there any surviving minstrel texts to tell us what Carson and his contemporaries inherited? It is a long journey from the minstrel stage to Lomax's lullaby, the Red Clay Ramblers, Michelle Shocked and Garth Brooks. It would be fascinating to know some of the steps between.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: J. Davis
Date: 31 Oct 99 - 12:15 PM

I understand that the original tune for "Cotton-Eyed Joe" was originally a Scottish piece called "General Burgoyne's March." If this is so, what were the Scottish lyrics to the tune?

When a woman says she "had a man," it doesn't mean she owned him.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,OTMurphy
Date: 19 Feb 00 - 07:27 PM

As an old, very old ex-Kentucky mountain boy, I remember that "had a man" had nothing to do with slavery. My grandfather every fall "got a man" to help him with the hog killing. My grandmother even "got a man" with a mule to help plow the garden plot in the Spring after my grandfather died. And she, as a deep fundalmentalist Christian, would have been shocked to think that getting a man had anything to do with courtship or an affair. OTMURPHY


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Osmium
Date: 19 Feb 00 - 07:44 PM

Bottom line is that its a very catchy tune. Most professional historians admit that it is almost impossible to judge history - because we cannot know the vibes of the time; what would be considered ludicroudsly racist now might have been the statements of the profoundly libetarian then! Enjoy it and stop feeling guilty that it is enjoyable.


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