May Irwin's Frog Song (The Foolish Frog, Way Down Yonder)
DESCRIPTION: A bull frog "with nothin else to do" falls jumps around and falls in a well. The preacher warns that the Devil is looking for folks with "notin else to do" If you want your wings, stay home with your family instead of going to other frogs' farms
EARLIEST DATE: 1913 (Brown)
KEYWORDS: animal humorous talltale
FOUND IN: US(SE) West Indies(Bahamas)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
BrownIII 189, "Way Down Yonder in Pasquotank" (1 fragment); also 435, "The Dummy Line" (2 short texts; the "B" version is a mixed text that seems to be mostly this with a "Some Folks Say a Nigger Won't Steal" verse)
BrownSchinhanV 189, "Way Down Yonder in Pasquotank" (1 tune plus a text excerpt); 435, "The Dummy Line" (1 tune plus a text excerpt)
Blind Blake Higgs, "Foolish Frog" (on WIHIGGS01)
May Irwin, "Foolish Frog" (1907, on Victor B-4515 [MP3 at Internet Archive https://ia600502.us.archive.org/17/items/MayIrwin/MayIrwin-MayIrwinsFrogSong.mp3; recording id per Discography of American Historical Recordings at http://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/talent/detail/10308/Irwin_May_vocalist_soprano_vocal. Accessed November 22, 2014.])
NOTES [247 words]: This is a confusing situation. I have met this chorus only once in tradition, in the form quoted below from Brown. But folkies will know it from Pete Seeger's "Foolish Frog." That is apparently a tall tale concocted by Charles Seeger based on a vaudeville item called "May Irwin's Frog Song." Hence the title I use. Beyond that I cannot trace the piece.
May Irwin was a notable popular singer who was at the height of her powers in the 1890s; In Sigmund Spaeth's A History of Popular Music in America she is credited with the song, "Mamie, Come Kiss Your Honey Boy" (pp. 265-266), and with popularizing George M. Cohan's "Hot Tamale Alley"(pp. 282, 339) as well as such songs as "I Couldn't Stand to See My Baby Loose" (p. 347) and "Mister Johnson, Turn Me Loose" (p. 285). Her biggest success of all was apparently "May Irwin's Bully Song," written by Charles E. Trevathan; it is indexed as "The Bully of the Town [Laws I14]," though most folk versions are far removed from the May Irwin original - RBW
The description is from the May Irwin recording. The Higgs version is very close to Irwin, switching some lines from verse to verse, and adding another verse in the same vein: beware or you'll not be happy on Judgement Day.
The Brown version ("Way down yonder in Pasquotank, Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to bank, They jump so high they break their shank, The old grey goose went 'yankety-yank'") seems an early ("probably in 1913") parody of the Irwin recording. - BS
Last updated in version 4.1
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.