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Skin color in songs & singers' names

Related threads:
(origins) Origins: Brown Skin Girl- folksong from Grenada (73)
Lyr Req: Brown Skin Girl / Brown Skinned Girl (33)


Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 02:38 AM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 03:04 AM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 03:20 AM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 03:24 AM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 03:37 AM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 03:42 AM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 03:50 AM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 04:06 AM
alanabit 17 Apr 06 - 04:48 AM
Rusty Dobro 17 Apr 06 - 05:04 AM
Manitas_at_home 17 Apr 06 - 06:42 AM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 08:34 AM
artbrooks 17 Apr 06 - 08:47 AM
Big Mick 17 Apr 06 - 09:27 AM
Peace 17 Apr 06 - 10:42 AM
Nigel Parsons 17 Apr 06 - 11:16 AM
Mr Fox 17 Apr 06 - 01:01 PM
melodeonboy 17 Apr 06 - 01:13 PM
Charlie Baum 17 Apr 06 - 01:18 PM
12-stringer 17 Apr 06 - 01:59 PM
Jon W. 17 Apr 06 - 05:50 PM
McGrath of Harlow 17 Apr 06 - 06:08 PM
SINSULL 17 Apr 06 - 06:10 PM
Kaleea 17 Apr 06 - 06:13 PM
GUEST,Jack Campin 17 Apr 06 - 07:26 PM
Bill D 17 Apr 06 - 07:43 PM
GUEST,thurg 17 Apr 06 - 07:57 PM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 08:34 PM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 08:38 PM
Jeri 17 Apr 06 - 09:05 PM
Alba 17 Apr 06 - 09:32 PM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 10:22 PM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 10:23 PM
GUEST,Richard 17 Apr 06 - 10:51 PM
katlaughing 17 Apr 06 - 10:58 PM
Azizi 17 Apr 06 - 10:59 PM
wysiwyg 17 Apr 06 - 11:17 PM
GUEST,Sandy Andina 18 Apr 06 - 02:24 AM
GUEST,Ghost 18 Apr 06 - 02:55 AM
Kweku 18 Apr 06 - 04:31 AM
Richard Bridge 18 Apr 06 - 08:05 AM
Azizi 18 Apr 06 - 10:39 AM
Azizi 18 Apr 06 - 10:57 AM
Cool Beans 18 Apr 06 - 11:23 AM
Richard Bridge 18 Apr 06 - 11:32 AM
wysiwyg 18 Apr 06 - 11:39 AM
Peace 18 Apr 06 - 11:45 AM
John MacKenzie 18 Apr 06 - 01:45 PM
Peace 18 Apr 06 - 01:59 PM
wysiwyg 18 Apr 06 - 02:26 PM
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Subject: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 02:38 AM

This thread provides an opportunity to list, provide information about, and comment on references to skin complection in songs. This thread also provides an opportunity to list, provide information about, and comment on the use of skin color references by vocalists, musicians and possibly others.

I started this thread because I was going to add information that about this subject in a current thread, but that information had absolutely nothing to do with the thread title.

I debated whether I should start this thread but a bout of sleeplessness coupled with an advertising message that came up when I went to another website that said "It's not just black or white" sealed the deal for me.

I'll start off with a list and some information. And, it goes without saying that I encourage others to add to that list and that information. I'm curious if there are such references in songs and singer/musicians other than those from the African American/African Diaspora traditions.

Join in the listing and the discussion please.

Thank you.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 03:04 AM

The artist whose name caused me to think of this subject was
"Tampa Red".

Tampa Red was an African American bluesman who got his "stage" name because of his place of birth or his residence and because of the reddish hue of his light brown skin.

See this information about Tampa Red:
"One of the most popular artists of the [19]20s, 30s and 40s, Tampa red was probably the all-time best-selling Georgia bluesman. He may well have been the most influential bottleneck stylist in blues. He perfected the single-string slide attack and smooth bottleneck tones mimicked by a number of Georgians and later post-war artists."

-snip-
http://www.yazoorecords.com/1039.htm includes listing of songs and a few audio links.

Other African American celebrities who nicknames referred to "redbone" skin complections were comedian/actor Red Foxx and activist/religious leader Malcolm X {Detroit Red}.

"King Yellowman" [also known as "Yellow"] is another Black artist who uses a skin color referent as his stage name.

"King" Yellowman as he is known, is one of the most popular reggae artists to have come from Jamaica. Born as Winston Foster in 1959, in Kingston, Jamaica, he was also an alumnus of the Alpha Boy's school where many reggae artists and musicians got their early musical training.

Yellowman, nicknamed for his albino appearance, got his start in the late 1970's as a young DJ (toaster or rapper). He built his early career around the fact that he was an albino, and his audiences accepted him for his self-effacing humor and lyrical cleverness. He won the annual Tastee Talent contest held in Jamaica in 1978, and within a matter of months became a headlining act on Jamaican stage shows. His records were both witty and relevant, and his slack lyrics were as prevalent as the strong social commentary he could record."

http://www.artistsonly.com/yellhm.htm


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 03:20 AM

There are numerous secular slave songs that refer not only to race but to skin complection.

Stephen Foster's "Old Black Joe" and James Brown's "Say it Loud I'm Black And I'm Proud" refer just to race.

But imo, the still widely known saying [in African American communities] "the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice" refers to skin color. This saying is excerpted from the following rhyme that is found in Thomas W. Talley's 1922 collection "Negro Folk Rhymes" [page numbers of all examples cited are from the Kennikat Edition, 1968]. Btw, Talley wrote that most of these rhymes were sung, and not recited as prose.

YOU LOVE YOUR GIRL
You loves'yo' gal?
Well, I loves mine.
Yo'gal hain't common?
Well,my gal's fine.

I loves my gal,
She hain't no goose-
The blacker 'an blackberries,
Sweeter 'an juice.
-page 95


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 03:24 AM

It is also my belief that the following secular slave song [whose tune is probably lost]refers to a Black woman of very light skin color:

PRETTY LITTLE PINK
My pretty liddle Pink,
I once did think,
Dat we-uns sho' would amrry;
But I'se done give up,
Hain't got no hope,
I hain't got time to tarry.
I'll drink coffee dat flows,
From oaks dat grows,
'Long de river dat flows wid brandy.

-Tally, "Negro Folk Rhymes", page 127


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 03:37 AM

"Yella" /"yeller" [yellow] is a very common referent for light skin in African American secular slave songs.

Most of the references that I have found refer to women and not men. The majority are complimentary.

See this example:

Come down to Tennessee
{Ride er ole grey horse}
Yaller gal's de gal for me
{Ride er ole grey horse}
Kiss her under de mulberry tree
{Ride er ole grey horse}
Oh my, N----g,* don't you see
Better come to Tennessee.

Dorothy Scarborough, "On The Trail Of Negro Folk-Songs",
{FolkLore Associates Edition, 1963, page 183; originally published in 1925}

* I choose not to write this entire word, but that's me and I'm not suggesting everyone do as I do.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 03:42 AM

Here's another example of light skin color preference that is found in this first verse of a secular slave song:

WHEN MY WIFE DIES, excerpt.
We'n {when} my wife dies, gwineter to git me anudder one
A big fat yaller one, jes lak the yudder {other} one.
I'll hate mighty bad w'en she's been gone.
Hain't no better 'oman {woman} never nowahs been bo'n.

Talley, "Negro Folk Rhymes", page 26


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 03:50 AM

I've theorized in other Mudcat threads that the referent "Ginger Blue" refers to the reddish "ginger" coloring of some Black people.

That referent is found in this excerpt of the dance song "Gooseberrt Wine":

Now 'umble Unccle Steben
I wonder whar youse gwine?
Don't never tu'n yo' back, Suh,
On dat good ole gooseberry wine!

Oh walk chalk, Ginger Blue!
Git over double trouble.
You needn' min' de wedder
So's de win' don't blow you double.

-Talley "Negro Folk Rhymes", p. 41

Note: "walk chalk" refers to "walking the chalk line", a dance that became the "cake walk". However, imo, it refers here to walking very carefully, and being alert and ready for defensive action. The line
"get over double trouble" is still found in various genres of African American songs, including children's rhymes.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 04:06 AM

Here's another reference to dark skin color from Talley's 1922 collection:

STEALING A RIDE
Two liddle N----r boys black as tar
Tryin to go to Heaben on a railroad chyar.
Off fall N----r boys on a cross-tie!
Dey's gwineter git to Heaben shore bye-an'-bye.

-Talley,"Negro Folk Rhymes", page 188


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: alanabit
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 04:48 AM

The first one to spring to my mind is Leadbelly's "Black Betty". I think there was also a Charlie Patton song called, "My Black Mama".


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Rusty Dobro
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 05:04 AM

When BB King started out, he was nicknamed 'Black Boy', but as he became successful, soon became 'Blues Boy'.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Manitas_at_home
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 06:42 AM

Young Barbour he came a-trembling down,
He was clothed all in silk,
With his cherry cheeks like the roses red,
And his skin so white as milk.

Try searching digitrad for skin, there's an awful lot of descriptions of milk-white or lily-white skin there, 'Tam Lin', 'The Flower of Magherally' etc.

A lot of shanties refence skin colour: 'Shallow Brown' refers to his complexion and 'Sally Brown' is a 'bright mulatter'.

Some tune names may refer to hair or skin colour: 'The Nut Brown Maiden', 'The Yellow Tinker'.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 08:34 AM

Thanks Alanabit.

As to your statement GUEST 17 Apr 06 - 04:50 AM, I deny that I have a "fixation" about race. However, I am very much interested about what & how thoughts, attitudes & concerns about race influence or has influenced the thoughts, attitudes, concerns, and behavior of people.

Why I am interested in that general subject is largely beyond the scope of this specific thread.

I would hope that this thread does not drift into a generalized commentary about race relations and issues of race itself in the USA and/or elsewhere.

I intend to limit my comments in this thread to the specific topics of references to skin color as they are found in lyrics or in the names of vocalists/celebrities.

I hope those who wish to discuss the general issue of race and race relations would find other Mudcat threads to do so, or would start a new thread on those topics.

Thank you.

I have deleted the two references above. They were an attempt to hijack the thread and offered nothing to the conversation that the author of the thread intended. Please stick to the topic. Azizi isn't the topic. The thread title says it all.

Mudelf


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: artbrooks
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 08:47 AM

On the other hand, there are references to black or other colored skin that have nothing to do with race. For example:
      No ragman, no hangman, foolish man or whiddy
      But she's now in the arms of a black chimney sweeper.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Big Mick
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 09:27 AM

Agreed Art. For example, the original lyrics of "The Rare Old Times" contains the following"

I lost her to a student chap with skin as black as coal.."

I always assumed the following lyric in "Nightriders Lament" referred to an African descended cowboy:

I read up the last of the letter, tore off the stamp for Black Jim.."

In both cases I have been chastised from time to time for using these lyrics. I usually ignore the criticism as neither is used to profane a people, but rather are just descriptive.

There is also the argument in other songs that we are simply singing the words of songs based on the values of the times. I don't usually buy into that argument, as I can't buy into the thought that slavery and oppression were ever really acceptable. But we could have a very long discussion, and I suspect we will have just that, with regard to this very interesting topic.

Thanks for starting what will be a very interesting thread.

Mick


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Peace
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 10:42 AM

'"Where Did You Sleep Last Night," also known as "In The Pines" and "Black Girl," is an American folk song which dates back to at least the 1870s, and is believed to be Southern Appalachian in origin. The identity of the song's author is unknown, but it has been performed by a number of artists, including Leadbelly, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Chet Atkins, The Grateful Dead, Connie Francis, Mark Lanegan, Nirvana, and Dolly Parton.'

From Wikipedia


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 11:16 AM

Whilst probably more a comment on attitude rather than racial traits there's the modern:
"Red Necked Woman" by Gretchen Wilson

Or the rugby song "There was a priest, a dirty beast" which surprisingly I can't find here, but it has the line:

"One night he slept with the Gipsy Queen
Whose face was black as charcoal"


CHEERS
Nigel


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Mr Fox
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 01:01 PM

"On the other hand, there are references to black or other colored skin that have nothing to do with race. For example:

      No ragman, no hangman, foolish man or whiddy
      But she's now in the arms of a black chimney sweeper."
---------------------------------------------------------------------

Or in the traditional British song 'The Brown Girl' where it's a class thing: anyone with a suntan would spend a lot of time outdoors and would therefore be working class. The gentry (female gentry anyway) were pale.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: melodeonboy
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 01:13 PM

"'cos if you're white, you're all right,
If you're brown, stick around,
But if you're black, oh brother,
Get back, get back, get back"

(Big Bill Broonzy)
--------------------------------------------------------------------

"Manitas at home" refers to the expressions "milk-white" and "lily-white". These terms come up again and again in traditional English songs as an expression of beauty. To the best of my knowledge, this idea of beauty came from a time when poor women would usually be working outdoors on farms and therefore have a ruddy complexion whereas the rich ladies could stay indoors all day and their skin would stay white.

Nowadays (and I'm still referring to England) the opposite is true. A tanned complexion is usually seen as desirable now that it's the rich who can afford to spend time abroad in hot countries and get tanned. I'm aware that with ever cheaper package holidays this holds less true than it did (however, look at the number of tanning parlours there are in England!). I'm also aware that this rationalising of ideas of beauty is: 1. open to question, and 2. based on interpretation of subliminal motives (dodgy ground!).


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Charlie Baum
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 01:18 PM

The "Yellow Rose of Texas" refers to a pale-skinned mulatto ("yellow") woman named Emily West (or Emily Morgan), who allegedly played a critical role in the fight for Texas Independence. Here is a reference to the "The Yellow Rose of Texas" at the Texas State Historical Association.

--Charlie Baum (who owes knowledge of this tidbit of information to the research and introductions of Sparky Rucker).


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: 12-stringer
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 01:59 PM

"I ain't crazy 'bout the yellow, fool about the brown
You can't tell the diff'rence when the sun goes down
Mama let me holler, Daddy let me shave 'em dry"
Papa Charlie Jackson, "Shave 'Em Dry" (Paramount 12664, 1925)

"Just like a beefsteak, beefsteak, ain't got no bone
And if a man don't like a good brownskin woman now'days he ain't got no home"
Papa Charlie Jackson, "I'm Alabama Bound" (Paramount 12289, 1925)


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Jon W.
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 05:50 PM

Many if not most of the blues singers recorded in the 20's and 30's and some even later had verses or lines that spoke of the color of their lover's skin.

For example Blind Willie McTell, Three Women Blues -

One of them Memphis yellow, the other Savannah brown (2x)

But that Statesboro darkskin, really turn your damper down.


From a Son House song:

My black mama, face shine like the sun

Oh lipstick and powder sure can't help her none.


From a John Lee Hooker song:

I've got women black, brown, and yellow

Their ages from nineteen to fifty-two.


These just off the top of my head...


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 06:08 PM

the original lyrics of "The Rare Old Times" contains the following"

"I lost her to a student chap with skin as black as coal.."


Do people sing it some other way? It's a matter of fact statement, about the chap being a black man, probably from America (though "carried her off to Birmingham" could equally mean he's from England). Nothing racist in that - if there's any implied resentment, it's for winning the girl, not for being black.

....................

In lines like "Some say he's black, I say he's bonny" the reference is more likely to be to hair colour rather than skin colour, originally. The same goes for "fair" in other songs.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: SINSULL
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 06:10 PM

I was always amused at Mitch Miller's "choir" cheerfully bellowing "The Yellow Rose Of Texas". Nothing like a wholesome American tale of rape to fill out the evening.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Kaleea
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 06:13 PM

I recall that Laurel & Hardy sang a song called Honolulu Baby in one of their films-Sons of the Desert, I think. I can still hear Oliver Hardy strumming that uke as they sang:

Honolulu baby, where'd you get those eyes?
And that dark complexion, I just idolize?

In one midwestern city where I lived, there was a gal who taught Polynesian dancing & took her students to performances billed as "The Little Brown Skinned Girls."

When I was a child, I loved Louis Armstrong. Before the days of the term "Black" being commonly used, I heard him singing on TV "Why Must I Be So Black and So Blue" and I did not realize that he was using a double entendre referring to his skin color. I started crying, because I thought someone had beat him up like they did on TV shows.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: GUEST,Jack Campin
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 07:26 PM

There are many songs in Scottish tradition (both Scots and Gaelic) which describe people as "black" or "red" meaning (usually) the colour of their hair. Burns's "Wantonness for evermair" uses the idea. Just over the border, the tune "Black Mary's Hole" from the Atkinson manuscript is rather unlikely to refer to anybody with African ancestry.

One of the more specific references to skin pigmentation in folk music is in George Skene's fiddle tunebook from the early 18th century - "The Black Part of the C--t" (dashes in the original).


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Bill D
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 07:43 PM

Many sea chanties had racial references...most usually bowdlerized when done publicly these day. One of the most obvious is Hogeye Man, discussed extensively in this thread and at many other places in Mudcat.

"Skin color" is sometimes referred to explicitly, sometimes only racial obliquely.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: GUEST,thurg
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 07:57 PM

Re: "blacker the berry", etc. W.C. Handy makes the meaning quite explicit in ST. Louis Blues:

You oughta see that stove-pipe brown of mine,
Like she owns the Diamond-Joseph Line;
She'd make a cross-eyed man go stone-blind.

Blacker than midnight, with teeth like flags of truce,
Blackest girl in the whole of St. Louis;
Blacker the berry, sweeter am the juice.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 08:34 PM

Here's three more singer/musicians with 'skin color' stage names or nicknames:

Brownie McGhee (Walter McGhee; November 30, 1915 - February 16, 1996) was a folk-blues singer and guitarist, best known for his collaborations with the harmonica player Sonny Terry.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownie_McGhee

Hip-Hop artist: Redman {Reggie Noble} is a another African American whose "redbone" complexion is referenced by his stage name.
click http://www6.defjam.com/site/artist_home.php?artist_id=192 for a photo

Also, I read a biography of R&B singer/composer Smokey Robinson which said that as a child, his uncle playfully gave him the nickname "Smokey" because he was so light skinned. A Black person whose nickname is "Smokey" usually would be very dark skinned {because he or she was burnt by the sun}. An example of this
non-pejorative custom of conferring opposite nicknames would be calling a really tall person "Tiny".

For a photo and information on Smokey Robinson {Williarn Robinson, b. 19th February 1940} click http://www.soulwalking.co.uk/Smokey%20Robinson.html


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 08:38 PM

Needless to say, my comment that a Black person is dark skinned because he or she is burned by the sun was meant to be taken with a grain of salt...or a dab of sun tan lotion.

;o}


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Jeri
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 09:05 PM

Bill, as far as I know, 'Hogeye Man' is bowdlerized regarding racial terms and bawdiness, NOT skin color.

One song I just thought is a play-party song: Brown Girl In the Ring. I heard it from Bessie Jones when she taught it, along with the game, to a bunch of us at the Niskayuna Folk Festival in 1973. I tried to look for it, but it's not in the DT. I did find a couple of 'Brown Girls', including:
She said "I'm brown as brown can be, I have eyes like a sloe,
I'm brisk as a nightingale, wild as any doe",
She sang, lall lall de deedle derro, lall lall de deedle derro,
Sing derro-lie-lee.

She said, "My love wrote a letter, a love letter from town,
He could not love me, for I was so brown.
She sang, lall lall de deedle derro, lall lall de deedle derro,
Sing derro-lie-lee.
She wins in the end though, because he dies.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Alba
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 09:32 PM

Jerri is the "Brown Girl in the Ring" you mention a Jamaican Song?

Brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la There's a brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la la Brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la She looks like a sugar in a plum Plum plum

Show me your motion Tra la la la la Come on show me your motion Tra la la la la la Show me your motion Tra la la la la She looks like a sugar in a plum Plum plum

All had water run dry Got nowhere to wash my cloths All had water run dry Got nowhere to wash my cloths

I remember one Saturday night We had fried fish and Johnny-cakes I remember one Saturday night We had fried fish and Johnny-cakes

Beng-a-deng Beng-a-deng

Brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la There's a brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la la Brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la She looks like a sugar in a plum Plum plum//


These are not all the Lyrics, I have them all and there are moves associated with this particular Song.
Best Wishes
Jude


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 10:22 PM

Somewhat thread drift:

Here's one version of BROWN GIRL IN THE RING as recorded by
Boney M.

Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
There's a brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la la
Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
Come on show me your motion
Tra la la la la la
Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

All had water run dry
Got nowhere to wash my cloths
All had water run dry
Got nowhere to wash my cloths

I remember one saturday night
We had fried fish and johnny-cakes
I remember one saturday night
We had fried fish and johnny-cakes

Beng-a-deng
Beng-a-deng

Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
There's a brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la la
Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
Come on show me your motion
Tra la la la la la
Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

All had water run dry
Got nowhere to wash my cloths
All had water run dry
Got nowhere to wash my cloths

I remember one saturday night
We had fried fish and johnny-cakes
I remember one saturday night
We had fried fish and johnny-cakes

Beng-a-deng
Beng-a-deng

Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
See, brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la la
Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

All had water run dry
Got nowhere to wash my cloths
All had water run dry
Got nowhere to wash my cloths

Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
Look that brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la la
Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

Source: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/boney-m./22500.html
I've heard this version and thought it really worked well.

The traditional version of "Brown Girl In A Ring" is a children's "show me your motion" circle {ring} game with one child at a time in the center. When picked to go into the center of the circle, each child is supposed to come up with a different motion {movement}.

Here's the words to an Anguilla {West Indies} version of "Brown Girl In The Ring"

There's a brown girl in the ring,
Tra la la
There's a brown girl in the ring,
Tra la la
There's a brown girl in the ring,
Tra la la,
It's sweet like sugar and plum.

Now cross the ocean, etc. *

Now work up your calabash, etc. **

Now make your motion, etc.

Now rest your motion, etc.

Now run and kiss your partner, etc.

-source: Alan Lomax, J.D. Elder, and Bess Lomax Hawes:
"Brown Girl In The Ring-And Anthology of Song Games from the
Eastern Caribbean {New York, Pantheon Books, 1997, pps 6-8

* I've also seen this as "skip across the ocean" meaning skip from one side of the circle to another

** This probably means to "wind" your body {move your hips in time with the music}

Btw: The Lomax et al book comes with a great field recorded CD...

Also, in looking for the Lomax book I found a novel by Nalo Hopkinson that is also entitled "Brown Girl In A Ring". Hopkinson's fiction weaves in all kinds of Caribbean folklore/customs. I'm glad I bought both books!

Btw2: I've adapted this song and used it in my cultural work with children & families. "My" version is very much like the children's game song "There stands a blue bird" in that it focuses on color recognition in the general sense. As a matter of fact, "There stands a blue bird" has the same exact tune as "There's A Brown Girl In The Ring". And as I said I use the same basic verses for both songs-so I don't include both of them in the same program. How it works is that a child wearing a particular color shirt or dress is referred to as that color-so for instance, a boy with a blue shirt would be "There's a blue boy in the ring". It should be noted that the center person does not sing. {I say "person" because I like to include children of all ages-and adults-in my interactive game song sessions}. Our refrain is "Tra La La La". The first verse is as presented above. The 2nd verse is "Show me your motion". The 3rd verse is "We can do your motion {in which everyone forming the ring tries to move the exact same way as the center person}. The 4th and last verse is "Who do you chose?" On that verse the center person closes his or her eyes and covers them with his right hand, while twirling around in the circle and pointing with his or her extended left hand. The people forming the circle hold hands and circle around while they continue singing. Or alternatively, the group forming the circle does a foot stomp motion to the beat while clapping their hands. The individual who the center person is pointing to at the end of the song is the new center person. The former center person rejoins the circle formation and the song begins again without pause.

Or at least it's suppose to...In practice, some children who are picked are reluctant to go into the center of the ring. But there are always some show off kids ;o) who love to take that child's place...the problem is sometimes there are more than one child who wants to be in the center at the same time. One thing we did to work through this is that the group came up with the "rule" that the substitute person who goes into the center when he or she wasn't picked has to come from near the person who was picked and not from the other side of the circle...When I and my daughter who works with me in these projects have the opportunity to meet with the same group of children for some time, it's a pleasure to see some of the shyer children gain self-confidence and enjoy being the center of attention in the ring.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 10:23 PM

Alba-we crossed posted!!

;o)


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: GUEST,Richard
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 10:51 PM

Interesting thread, thanks, Azizi.

Makes me think of Huddie Ledbetter's "On A Monday". I recently re-heard Ry Cooder's version of it. No time at this posting to accurately transcribe the lyrics, which certainly deserve a complete traqnscription from the source version. But the chorus goes,

"Almost done, I'm almost done...
and I ain't gonna ring them yellow womens' doorbell"


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: katlaughing
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 10:58 PM

An aside: my long-time Mexican American friend was dark-skinned. He had a very difficult time with sunburn. Also, my uncle had such tight, black curls his nickname, which sounds horribly racist now, was "Nig." I've heard it was also because he was a helluva jazz clarinetist.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 10:59 PM

Thanks to all who have posted to this thread thus far.

Keep 'em coming!

Correction to my thread drift:
The refrain that I teach for "Brown Girl In A Ring" is "Tra La La La La".

Btw3, It's not been my experience that this song is known to the majority African American children who I work with in Pittsburgh, Pa [a city with few persons of first or second generation Caribbean descent].


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: wysiwyg
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 11:17 PM

In the current thread about African American sheet music, there is a lot of demeaning minstrel music in the index of what's available. A LOT of the song titles ythere fit your request, Azizi.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: GUEST,Sandy Andina
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 02:24 AM

Then there's Jim Croce's musical adaptation of Kipling's poem "Gunga Din:"
"And for all his dirty hide, he was white, clear white inside."
He caught quite a bit of flak for that song, even though he didn't write the lyric and was quite clearly playing a character. Much like Randy Newman's "Rednecks:" the classic example of the literary device of the "untrustworthy narrator."


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: GUEST,Ghost
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 02:55 AM

I'm not sure we benefit much by looking at traditional songs' references (or possible references) to ethnicity through 2006 spectacles.

However, there wa a blues artist about whom I know little save that he was the subject of a song that Jo-Ann Kelly used to sing called "Speckled Red".

Of course there is the shanty "Yellow Girls" - probably a reference to "hi-yallers", that is to say octoroon or less, regardless of whether the components were African or American or other, referring solely to skin colour not origin.

There was a Temptations song, "Message from a Black Man" of which I think the best version was one in reggae by Derek Harriott.

Brown Girl in the Ring is I think trad. Jamaican but I like the Exuma recording better than the Boney M one.

What is the objective here other than to make a very very disorderly list?


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Kweku
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 04:31 AM

in Ghana, singers make reference to skin clour usually to emphasize beauty.and this mostly depends on the artist understanding of beauty,some singers have been criticised for only praising fair colour,when they themselves are very dark. but there was one artist called the black chinese because he was alwasys dressing like a chinese and looked like a chinese.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 08:05 AM

Perhaps this thread might seem of more substance if there were a thesis or synthesis in view. Is there?


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 10:39 AM

See this corrected information about how African American blues guitarist Tampa Red {Hudson Whittaker;b. 1904 d.1981} got his nickname:

"Tampa Red was born in Georgia. The fact that he had red hair and was raised in Tampa, Florida gave him his nickname".

Source: "The Big Book of Blues" {Robert Santelli;Penquin Books ,1993; page 387}

Also, see this quote about "Speckled Red":
"Speckled Red {born Rufus Perryman, October 23, 1892, Monroe, La; died January 2, 1973 St. Louis, Mo}
Boogie-woogie piano player Speckled Red was a familiar layer on the Memphis and St. Louis blues scene inthe 1930s. A black albino, he was born in Louisiana and later moved to Hampton, Georgia, where he learned the keyboard on a church organ".

Source: "The Big Book of Blues" {Robert Santelli;Penquin Books ,1993; page 378}

Also see this quote about Speckled Red {also known as "Red"} from Paul Oliver: "The Story Of The Blues" {Radnor, PA; Chilton Book Company, 1975; page 80}

"...by 1926 Hastings Street [Detroit, Michigan] was the main artery of the black ghetto and it soon became famous as a resort for the piano players who came from the South. One of the first was Tupelo Slim from Lee County, Mississippi; another was known anonymously only as "Fishtail"; and still another was James Hemingway. They were all playing when Rufus Perryman, an albino Negro from Georgia arrived in the city. Called "Speckled Red' because of his pink and freckled skin, he had been born in Monroe, Louisiana, in October 1891 but was raised in Hampton, Ga."


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Azizi
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 10:57 AM

As to Richard Bridge's comment and question "Perhaps this thread might seem of more substance if there were a thesis or synthesis in view. Is there?"

I'm not sure if anyone has done a thesis on skin color in songs & singers' [and musicians'] names. If so, I'd be interested in reading it [them]. If the question was am I working on a thesis on this subject or other subjects, the answer is "no". I left college on the BA level decades ago, and never had the "pleasure" of writing a thesis.

As to the reason for my starting this thread, contributing information to this thread, and reading other's contributions to this thread, see my initial comment and my 17 Apr 06 - 08:34 AM post.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Cool Beans
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 11:23 AM

Unless I missed it (I tend to read hastily), nobody has mentioned the Leadbelly song "Yellow Gal." As a child, I though it meant a girl in a yellow dress.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 11:32 AM

By "thesis" I meant theory or coherent argument. I don't (yet) see the point of the list being created.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: wysiwyg
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 11:39 AM

I don't (yet) see the point of the list being created.

I re-read the opening post, and the one Azizi referenced just upthread, but I don't either. How does a list say anything about how such language has influenced anyone?

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Peace
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 11:45 AM

This is the Mudcat. Why would any thread require a thesis statement? Besides, just having a general interest in things should be good enough.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 01:45 PM

I agree with Richard, the thread appears to have no validity, all it does is attract specious comments with very little background information.
While I don't want to cause any upset, I can't see what if anything it is going to achieve apart from possibly a little consciousness raising.
Sorry


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: Peace
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 01:59 PM

As some folks ofetn say--including some folks who've posted here--if ya don't like the topic, don't read it.


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Subject: RE: Skin color in songs & singers' names
From: wysiwyg
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 02:26 PM

Well, if the goal is to make a list-- any I could post are not songs I myself know, but songs I could search for to try to fulfill a Mudcatter's music-oriented request. I might start such a search at Mudcat itself, thinking as I often do in the paradigm of indexing what we have stored here. It would do little to relate the songs or singers to my own consciousness, though, and I would not find it accurate for anyone else to make assessments of how I have been influenced simply because I was willing to help by doing a search.

I didn't say the thread HAD to have a thesis-- I just agreed that if it has a point, as Azizi seems to suggest, I don't see it and-- therefore-- I can't see how to contribute to that point. It's enough for me to know it's important to a fellow Mudcatter; if I can participate in something I understand I am glad to do so, and if I can't understand then I either post or I don't post, or maybe I just settle in and learn something from others' posts.

It's not about race, BTW, not being able to see a point-- I see someone trying to fan a race fire in a post upthread so let me be clear-- I similarly posted that I could not quite grasp the point of another thread, even though its subject relates to music I am VERY familiar with, and which HAS influenced me. I just think that sometimes people are after something but what they are after doesn't quite come through clearly-- I've certainly had that happen when I've started a thread, too. That doesn't mean that a clarifying question is an attack. Sometimes a question is simply a well-intentioned effort made in good faith to try to respond to what is asked.

~Susan


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