African American Versions Of The English Children's Singing Game "Two Dukes A Riding" - Bag Avatof Anonymous - Latest Quotes Photos

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

African American Versions Of The English Children's Singing Game "Two Dukes A Riding"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of an ongoing pancocojams series on African American versions of the English children's singing game "Two Dukes A-Riding".

Part I presents excerpts from two Mudcat folk music discussion threads: "Help: johnny cockaroo" [from 2008, 2009] and "Lyr Req: Playground songs" [from 2007].

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2019/08/five-examples-of-two-dukes-riding.html for Part II presents text (word only) examples of and sound files for a few versions of the children's singing game "Two Dukes A-Riding" (or other titles for versions of that singing game.)

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2019/08/two-examples-of-african-american_5.html for Part III of this pancocojams series. Part III presents my thoughts about the meanings of the words "Johnny Cuckoo" in the African American singing game with that name. Part III also showcases a text (word only) example and a YouTube video of the singing game "Johnny Cuckoo" as sung by Bessie Jones and children from St. Simon's Island, Georgia along with a YouTube sound file and lyrics for a version of "Johnny Cuckoo" as sung by Joan Baez.

The Addendum to Part III presents an article excerpt about Black men in the United States Civil War's Union army and Black men in the Confederate army.

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2019/08/an-example-of-singing-game-johnny.html for Part IV of this series. Part IV presents an excerpt from the record notes for the album Been In The Storm Too Long and lyrics for a South Carolina version of the "Johnny Cuckoo" singing game that was sung by Janie Hunter. A link to a sound file for that version of "Johnny Cuckoo" is also included in that post.

Part IV also includes information about the Gullah culture that is documented as the original site of examples of the singing game "Johnny Cuckoo". (Visit Part III for a more widely known example of "Johnny Cuckoo" from the Gullah culture.)

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, recreational, and entertainment purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and all those who are featured in these YouTube examples.

****
PANCOCOJAMS EDITOR'S COMMENTS
This post includes a version of the children's singing game "We're Riding Here To Get Married" that I collected in 1992 and posted on Mudcat in 2007. This post also includes comment exchanges regarding the song "Johnny Cuckoo" that I and several others posted to another Mudcat discussion thread in 2008.

I wrote these comments when I was a new member of Mudcat folk music forum. I no participate in that forum. However, I credit some of its members-such as Q (Frank Staplin) and Jack Campin (both of whom are also quoted below) - with teaching me by their examples the importance of being alert to multiple examples of folkloric material and also as much as possible documenting demographic information and performance instructions for singing games, rhymes, and other folkoric material.

As is indicated in the main excerpt that is found below, I was the only person in that discussion who believed that the African American children's singing games "Johnny Cuckoo" has its source-at least partly- in the English children's singing game "Two Dukes A-Riding". I still strongly believe this. And this belief is supported by this background for an example of "Johnny Cuckoo" that is found on http://kodaly.hnu.edu/song.cfm?id=889 9:
"Johnny Cuckoo

Transcribed by Gail Needleman
Informant/Performer: Bessie Jones and group, St. Simon's Island, GA
Source: Alan Lomax, ed. American Folk Songs for Children Atlantic 1350

"Background Information: The ancient British game "Three Dukes A-Riding" is a courtship play in which an increasing number of "dukes" come to choose their brides from a line of young maidens, in what may be a reflection of marriage customs between clans in old Britain. Both British and American writers describe it as a line play, with the parallel lines of maidens and dukes advancing and retreating, looking "contemptuously and criticizingly" at each other as they sing "You are too black and blowsy" and "We are quite as good as you, sirs" before they finally join forces. (cont’d)"
-snip-
To reiterate- this background information is given on a page that includes a version of the singing game "Johnny Cuckoo". Unfortunately, no date is given for this note and I'm not sure if the transcriber Gail Needleman wrote that background information or whether it was written by Alan Lomax, the editor of the book that included that version of "Johnny Cuckoo."

****
EXCERPT FROM MUDCAT DISCUSSION THREAD
[Numbers are assigned to these selected comments for referencing purposes only]

From http://awe.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=34425
1. Subject: johnny cockaroo
From: GUEST,earlyfloyd@yahoo.com
Date: 17 May 01 - 02:09 AM

"trying to obtain the definition and relevance of a Johnny Cockaroo..any help would be greatly appreciated!"

**
2. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Azizi
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 11:09 AM

"Here's another possible source for "Johnny Cockaroo":

Here Comes One Johnny Cuckoo

[African American Georgia Sea Isle Children's Game Song]

Group:
Here comes one Johnny Cuckoo,
Cuckoo, Cuckoo.
Here comes one Johnny Cuckoo,
on a cold and stormy night.

Group:
What did you come for,
come for, come for?
What did you come for,
on a cold and stormy night?

Soloist #1:
I come to be a soldier,
soldier, soldier.
I come to be a soldier,
on a cold and stormy night.

Group:
You are too black and dirty,
dirty, dirty.
You are too black and dirty
on a cold and stormy night.

Soloist #1:
I'm just as good as you are
you are, you are.
I'm just as good as you are
on a cold and stormy night.

(repeat entire song with soloist #2 etc.)

**

"Johnny Cuckoo" is a traditional game song from the Georgia Sea Isles. The song is included in a four CD collection of Southern folk songs (Alan Lomax, Sounds of the South Disc 4 Atlantic Recording Corp, 1993). The song is also included in Bess Hawes & Bess Lomax Hawes' book of Georgia Sea Isle rhymes Step It Down.

This song probably dates from the Civil War era. In my opinion, "Johnny Cuckoo" used dramatic play to teach & reinfornce self-esteem and self-confidence. Hopefully, the children internalized the affirmation that "I'm just a good as you are" for the times when they would experience put downs as children, teens, and adults.

I'm not certain if "Johnny Cuckoo" is still sung in Georgia or elsewhere. I have no knowledge of it from my childhood in New Jersey, and haven't come across anyone who knows it in my adopted city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania."

**
3. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Azizi
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 11:13 AM

"That said, I think that the original poster to this thread was probably thinking of John The Conqueroo.

Here's an excerpt from that Wikipedia page whose link I've provided:

"John the Conqueroo, also known as High John the Conqueroo, John the Conqueror, or John the Conquer root, refers to a number of roots to which magical powers are ascribed in American folklore, especially among the hoodoo tradition of folk magic. The root, in turn, is named after a folk hero called High John the Conqueror.

The root and its magical uses are mentioned in a number of blues lyrics"."

**
4. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Azizi
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 11:17 AM

"I meant to add that the game song "Here Comes One Johnny Cuckoo" and the folk character "John The Conqueroo" could very well be related.

It's possible that the name of the character in the song could suggest to those hearing it the strength & power of John The Conqueror. The intended message of the song may have been "In order to be powerful like John The Conqueror you have to feel good about yourself"."

**
5. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 29 Jul 09 - 09:41 PM

"'John the Conquerer root' is said to be Ipomoea jalapa, a plant related to the large plant family which includes bindweed, morning glory and sweet potato. It may also be something else.

The "John the Conquerer," the prince who became a slave, and is invoked by the root, who appears in folk tales, may be mythical.

"red marks around a black slave's ankles"- authority for this questionable statement? Any mention of this with regard to prisoners who were shackled?

"Johnny Cuckoo" was sung by Joan Baez at Newport, 1963-1965. I doubt any relation of this song to the mojo weed. Baez probably got it from the Smithsonian or North Carolina collections.
It is the same song as sung in the Lomax-Bess Hawes albums. An excellent version by Janie Hunter from the Sea Islands (Johns Island, South Carolina) where it was associated with a ring song. See The Southern Folklife Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina: Carawan Coll
This is a very extensive and important collection of both Black and White materials.

Janie Hunter sings "Johnny Cuckoo" on the Smithsonian Folkways album, "Been in the Storm So Long," a Johns Island collection.
The old Carawan album of the same name has become hard to get.

There is another old song with Johnny Cuckoo, probably unrelated, called "Mulberry Hill," in which an old lady is making her will. Two couplets-

And there she sat down to make her will,
Aha, aha, to make her will.

The old grey mare to Johnny Cuckoo,
Aha, aha, to Johnny Cuckoo.

Library of Congress, Folk Songs of America: The Robert Winslow Gordon Collection, 1922-1932.
http://www.loc.gov/folklife/Gordon/sideBbandB5.html

**
6. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 29 Jul 09 - 09:50 PM

"Correction, UNC Carawan Coll:
http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/c/Carawan, Guy_and_Candie.html

**
7. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Jack Campin
Date: 21 Sep 09 - 08:19 PM

"It seems to be a variant of a song which was adapted in Edinburgh to refer to the visit of George IV in 1822 (from my "Embro, Embro" pages):

The King's Arrival

So it predates the Civil War by at least 40 years (and probably decades more than that)."

**
8. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Azizi
Date: 21 Sep 09 - 08:28 PM

"Jack and/or anyone else, isn't "Johnny Cuckoo" recognized as a variant form of Dukes A' Riding?

@displaysong.cfm?SongID=7300 *

If it isn't, why not? Note the very close similarity in the beginning words, and the "They are all so black and so browsy" verse (Dukes A'Riding) and the "black and dirty" verse (Johnny Cuckoo).

Is the King's Arrival song older than the Duke A' Riding song?
-snip-
*This is listing for the Dukes A- Riding Song in Mudcat's Digital Tradition.

****
9. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Jack Campin
Date: 21 Sep 09 - 08:38 PM

" "The King's Arrival" was first noted down about the same time as the others, but the reference to the King dates it much earlier. The link I noticed was the "as good as you" line - which is shared by "John Cuckoo" and "The King's Arrival", but isn't in any of the DT songs."
-snip-
"DT" - "Digital Tradition" is an online text online compilation of folk songs that is hosted by Mudcat, Lyrics to songs can be accessed by their titles or perhaps also by key lines in the individual songs.

**
10. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 21 Sep 09 - 09:00 PM

"According to Iona and Peter Opie* the earliest the game "Duke(s) a-riding" is known to have been played is in Lancashire, 1820-1830. The Opies give several of the large number of variants. The game was popularized in the 1880s when Plunket** (1886) and others thought that the children of the "well-to-do might find pleasure for themselves and give pleasure to their elders" by learning and playing such games.

Similar games are known throughout Europe, and have been brought to the Americas.
*Iona and Peter Opie, 1985, "The Singing Game," pp. 76-92, Oxford University Press.
** E. M. Plunket, 1886, "Merrie Games in Rhyme"

According to the Opies, "The King's Arrival" is a variant of "Duke(s) a-riding."

I rather doubt that "Johnny Cuckoo" is related. "Duke(s) a-riding" is a play-marriage game"

**
11. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Azizi
Date: 21 Sep 09 - 09:37 PM

"If no folklorist has recognized the close simularities in the text of "Johnny Cuckoo" and "Dukes A' Riding", I'm amazed.

I believe the tunes are very similar, if I correctly recall the Dukes A-Riding tune.

And the manner of playing-apart from the chasing afterwards (if there is chasing afterwards in the Dukes a'riding game song. I'm jumping ahead of myself because I want to mention yet another African American children's game song that is a variant form of Dukes a'riding.

But just because the purpose of two songs are different, you would say that one isn't a variant form of another? I'm sorry, but I find that amazing."

Here is a link to the words of an African American "courting" game song that I collected in 1997 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (I gave the wrong collection year in my comments in about that song in that thread). My informant was Barbara Ray, an African American woman who remember this game song from her childhood, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the early-mid 1950s.

thread.cfm?threadid=18352#2116757 *

Note the close similarities between Dukes a-riding (and Johnny Cuckoo) and other variant Dukes a-riding songs.

Here's the play instructions and some excerpts of that song:

Directions: The girls form a horizontal line and stand facing boys who have also formed a horizontal line. In the 1st part of this singing game, the girls sing and skip four steps for each phrase toward the boys and the boys sing while skipping four steps for each phrase toward the girls. The singing game turns into a chasing game at a specific part of the chant.


Girls:
We're riding here to get married
Married, Married
Riding here to get married.
Ah Rhythm Ah Diddee
Ah Diddee High Oh...

**

Boys:

You'll get all dirty and greasy
Greasy, Greasy
You'll get all dirty and greasy
Ah Rhythm Ah Diddee
Ah Diddee High Oh


-snip-

How can anyone reading these texts not recognize that they are variant forms of "Dukes a riding"?

I don't remember this rhyme or one like it from my childhood. I also have not seen or heard of it from other children, youth, or adults since I started collecting rhymes in the late 1980s {mostly among African Americans in the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania area}.

Azizi Powell
-snip-
*[Pancocojams Editor's Note from August 2, 2019] - The singing game that I collected is given in its entirety in the Addendum to this pancocojams post.

**
12. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 22 Sep 09 - 01:59 PM

"Azizi, you throw too wide a loop.

"Duke(s) a-riding" certainly is a forbear of the play song in the last part of your post; "Girls, we're riding here to get married ...." a typical match-making song.

"Here Comes One Johnny Cuckoo" (earlier post), sung by Joan Baez, and in your Cocojams, seems to be a combination of a soldier play song with the 'dirty' verses from "Duke(s)..." Floaters?
It does not mention match-making. On that basis I would separate them.
The "dark and stormy night" line is one I haven't found in other play songs.

Compare with "Here's a Soldier," another match-making song:

Here's a soldier, left all alone
Wants a wife and can't get none.
...........
What's your will, mu dilcy dulcy officer? (2x)
............
My will it is to marry, my dilcy dulcy officer
..........
You're all too old and ugly, my dilcy dulcy officer (2x
etc.

or:
I am an old soldier, I come from the war,
Come from the war;
I am an old soldier, I come from the war,
And my age it is sixty and three.
...........
Son, go choose a wife of your own,
etc.
You're all too old and ugly
................
Children seem to like the dirty, greasy, blowsy, ugly comparisons.

Neither seems to have any relation to the 'Conquerer root'.

(I have found a rather good version of "Three Dukes" from Shropshire in Gomme; if I can find that thread I will post there, or will post separately)."
-snip-
[Pancocojams Editor's Note, August 2, 2019] - "Cocojams" that is mentioned in that comment is the my no longer active cultural website that was the precursor to this pancocojams blog and my other blogs.

**
13. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Azizi
Date: 22 Sep 09 - 02:20 PM

I appreciate your response Q.

I'm curious to know if any other folklorist have weighed in on the question of any possible relationship between "Johnny Cuckoo" and the "Dukes a' riding" song.

And as a relative newbie in the community folklorist "field", I'm also curious to know what other folklorists say about whether two songs have to have the same purpose* in order to be considered part of the same song family.


*For instance, do both or the songs have to be "courting songs" before they can be considered part of the same song family?

****
14. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 22 Sep 09 - 02:35 PM

"Azizi, that's a greasy, slippery question. I seem to recall song relationships are argued with regard to a number of songs posted and discussed here.

How does one draw boundaries? I think the dominant purpose or intent of the song is the deciding factor for most 'folklorists'. That is not always clear-cut."

**
15. Subject: RE: Help: johnny cockaroo
From: Azizi
Date: 22 Sep 09 - 02:40 PM

"Okay. I'll put the question aside on this forum, although I still maintain that there is a close relationship between the two songs in question."
-snip-
{Pancocojams Editor's Note: August 2, 2019] - The rest of the comments in that Mudcat discussion thread are about references to John The Conqueroo (Johnny cockaroo), particularly the plant "John The Conqueror" or Blues songs that include that reference and similar references. The last comment [thus far] in that discussion thread was 18 Mar 15 and, as far as I know, that discussion thread is still open to comments from that forum's members or non-members.

****
ADDENDUM
From http://awe.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=18352#2116757
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Playground songs
From: Azizi
Date: 01 Aug 07 - 03:48 PM

" "WE'RE RIDING HERE TO GET MARRIED

Directions: The girls form a horizontal line and stand facing boys who have also formed a horizontal line. In the 1st part of this singing game, the girls sing and skip four steps for each phrase toward the boys and the boys sing while skipping four steps for each phrase toward the girls. The singing game turns into a chasing game at a specific part of the chant.

Girls:
We're riding here to get married
Married, Married
Riding here to get married.
Ah Rhythm Ah Diddee
Ah Diddee High Oh

Boys:
Who you gonna marry?
Marry, Marry
Who you gonna marry?
Ah Rhythm Ah Diddee
Ah Diddee High Oh

Girls:
We're gonna marry Johnny *
Johnny, Johnny
We're gonna marry Johnny
Johnny, Johnny
Ah Rhythm Ah Diddee
Ah Diddee High Oh

Boys:
How ya gonna get him?
Get Him, Get Him
How ya gonna get him
Ah Rhythm Ah Diddee
Ah Diddee High Oh

Girls:
We'll break the doors and windows
Windows, Windows
We'll break the doors and windows
Ah Rhythm Ah Diddee
A Diddee High Oh

Boys:
You'll get all dirty and greasy
Greasy, Greasy
You'll get all dirty and greasy
Ah Rhythm Ah Diddee
Ah Diddee High Oh

Girls:
We're not as greasy and you are
You are, You are
We're not as greasy as you are
Ah Rhythm A Diddee
A Diddee High Oh

Girls:
Are you coming? [Spoken loudly]

Boys:
NO! [Yelled]

* another boy's name can be substituted for "Johnny"

Part II:
When the boys yell "No!", the girls began to chase the boys. They are suppose to particularly focus on the boy whose name had been given in the chant. The boys run away. They are suppose to try to protect the boy whose name had been called from being caught by the girls. But, actually, when this game was played, the girls tried to catch any boy playing the game, and particularly focused on the boy who they liked.

-Barbara Ray, {African American woman} 1950s, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; collected by Azizi Powell, 1992.

-snip-

My "informant" for this rhyme was a girlfriend/work colleague of mine, an African American woman, Barbara Ray, who responded to a written survey of children's rhymes that I had asked people to complete in 1992. Barbara remembers this from the 1950s Pittsburgh. She wrote that "When I was growing up girls and boys would sometimes play together. This was before boys started playing sports like little league softball and football. We were different ages but mostly elementary school age. Of course, the girls would pick the boys they liked the best to chase after. We played this on the sidewalk and in the streets when no cars were coming. Kids now days don't sing songs like this. They still play hide & go but it's just someone counting to ten and then the rest of the kids hiding. I think our way was more fun"." "

****
This concludes Part I of this four part pancocojams series.

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