Grizzly Bear (Grizzely Bear)
DESCRIPTION: "Oh that grizzely, grizzely, grizzely bear, Tell me who was that grizzely bear. Oh Jack o' Diamonds was that grizzely bear." The singer describes the grizzely bear (and how his family tries to avoid and/or hunt it)
EARLIEST DATE: 1951 (sung by convicts of Negro Prison Camp Worksongs)
KEYWORDS: nonballad hunting animal
FOUND IN: US(So)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Courlander-NFM, p. 106, "Grizzly Bear" (1 text)
Jackson-DeadMan, pp.184-192, "Grizzly Bear" (4 texts, 2 tunes)
Silber-FSWB, p. 402, "Grizzly Bear" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Harold Courlander, _A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore_, Crown Publishers, 1976, p. 411, "Grizzley Bear" (1 text)
Texas state farm prisoners, "Grizzly Bear" (on NPCWork, FMUSA) [Jackson believes the lead singer here is Joseph "Chinaman" Johnson]
NOTES: Courlander suggests the "Grizzly Bear" was a convict whose appearance was so wild that he resembled a bear. As most if not all versions seem to come from prisoners, this is at least possible. But several of the prisoners Jackson spoke to thought it was a warden, Carl Luther McAdams, considered very strict but fair and sometimes known as "the Bear." Still others mentioned a Joe Oliver who predated McAdams.
Jackson notes that some scholars consider "the bear" to be a homosexual convict, but observes that the prisoners he talked to rejected that interpretation completely.
Jackson's versions of the song vary widely; the two sung by Benny Richardson actually have plots of sorts, and Jackson calls them ballads -- though they're pretty vague, just a sort of travelogue. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.5
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 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.