Help Me to Raise Them

DESCRIPTION: Response lines: "wo o honey" twice, "See you when the sun goes down." Verse call lines are repeated (see notes): "Won't you help me to raise them"; "The weight's on the mate's boat / captain's boat / donkey now." Some verses float (see notes)
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1960 (LomaxCD1708)
KEYWORDS: fishing sea ship work floatingverses nonballad shanty worksong
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Frye, p. 185, ("All the weight's on the mate's boat") (1 text)
GarrityBlake, pp. 101-102, ("I got a letter this morning") (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Harold Anderson, "Spotlight on Culture: Menhaden Chanteys - An African American Maritime Legacy" in Maryland Marine Notes, Vol 14, No 1 (Jan-Feb 2000) available at accessed November 12, 2016, p. 1, ("Won't you help me to raise 'em boys") (1 text)

Roud #17300
Bright Light Quartet, "Hey, Hey Honey" (on LomaxCD1708)
Menhaden Fishermen, "Help Me to Raise 'Em" (on USMenhaden01)
Northern Neck Chantey Singers, "Help Me To Raise Um" (on USMenhaden02)

A few hundred-thousand two-pound menhaden have been caught in a huge "purse seine" suspended between two small boats; no singing while rowing or catching; quiet is at a premium. The problem is for a twenty-man crew to pull the net together so its contents can be handled by a donkey-steam-engine-driven dip-net and dumped into the hold of the mother ship (GarrityBlake; Anderson; Frye pp. 143, 181-188, 215; Hinson pp. 12-14).
The singing is to coordinate the pulling between sung lines. "Crewmen emphasized that singing or 'blowing' of chanteys was not simply helpful; the chanting was necessary to generate the collective power and euphoria for raising hundreds of pounds of fish. Fishermen described working shoulder to shoulder as one, singing to make 'heaven and earth come together,' while focused trancelike on the 'money' in the net. While singing, crewmen lost all track of time, surroundings, and aching muscles" (GarrityBlake pp. 104-105).
"Help Me to Raise Them" might be sung:
"will you help me to RAISE 'EM BOYS" "O HO HONEY" (chatter) ...
Lower case is the precentor chanteyman lining out the verse; upper case is the crew; "(chatter)" is directions called out by the crew about hauling. You sing and prepare to work and you work while the crew chatters about how to "raise them," that is, the fish. The verse continues:
"will you help me to RAISE 'EM BOYS" "O HO HONEY" (chatter) "will you help me to RAISE 'EM BOYS" "SEE YOU WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN" (chatter).
"Lining out" is not as it is in classical "Dr. Watts" hymn style, where the precentor deacon says a line or verse before the congregation sings. For the chantey, the lining out is just a few words identifying which of the many verses the crew knows is to be sung. Not enough to define the line exactly: the precentor chanteyman needs only a word or two and once the crew knows which line is to be sung they know how it is to be sung. As illustrated in the notes to "Goin' Home," the words of the line may vary from crew to crew. (I wish I knew whether "Dr. Watts" lining out is practiced in the churches the fishermen attend; alternatively, is their style of lining out just an obvious way to handle these chanteys?)
The You Tube video of The Northern Neck Chantey Singers performing "Help Me to Raise Them" (at "Won't You Help Me to Raise 'Em - Northern Neck Chantey Singers" at, accessed November 20, 2016) shows how the work is coordinated.
Unlike the deep-water chantey singing, harmony is an important part of menhaden chantey singing. "'That what make the chantey so beautiful, is the pretty harmony,' a crewman told me. 'One person can't do it. You gotta have bass, baritone, tenor, then lead voice, see. All them boys get hooked up together, you got something pretty. Make you feel good. Make you pull good'" (GarrityBlake p. 103). This is clear in the two on-the-job menhaden recordings we have of "Evalina" and "Drinking of the Wine" (VaWork). (One non-chantey harmonized work song is the T.C.I. Section Crew recording of "Section Gang Song"; however, we can't tell from that recording how the work was coordinated with the song).
The USMenhaden01 version of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" shows the church harmony and work song harmony to be similar. That carries over to the performance of hymn as chantey; examples include "My Way Seems So Hard" and "Drinking of the Wine." "Drinking of the Wine" is an example of a hymn that has found a place as a work song in many environments, though sung differently to match the work. So Parrish writes that its "swinging rhythm ... made it a favorite with the chain-gang for cutting weeds along the highway" (Parrish p. 249); the menhaden chantey performances of "Drinking of the Wine" do not approach a "swinging rhythm" (VaWork, USMenhaden01, USMenhaden02). There was no thought that singing hymns at work was inappropriate. Allen commented -- in 1867 -- on how many of the work songs heard on the Sea Islands were hymns; in fact, he writes, "it is often, indeed, no easy matter to persuade them to sing their old (secular) songs, even as a curiosity, such is the sense of dignity that has come with freedom" (Allen/Ware/Garrison p. x). The twentieth century oyster-shucking songs on VaWork -- "I Don't Want Nobody Stumbling Over Me," "Sit Down, Servant, and Rest A Little While," and "Wade in the Water" -- are all religious songs.
One hundred years later secular, sometimes bawdy, songs are also used as work songs.
If a song has verses easily recognized when lined out, and repeats lines, it may be used as a menhaden chantey. Listen, for example to the USMenhaden01 renditions of "I Wish I Was Single Again" and "Mama Liza Jane" (that is, "Li'l Liza Jane"). On the other hand, there is a general format and tune that seems especially suited for menhaden chanteys shared by "Biting Spider," "Drinking of the Wine," "Evalina," "Going Back to Weldon," "Goin' Home," "Mule on the Mountain," "My Ways Do Seem So Hard," "Poor Lazarus" and "Section Gang Song." The verse structure is illustrated and discussed in the notes to "Goin' Home."
Lines float freely from one menhaden chantey to another and from other songs to the chanteys. The Frye and LomaxCD1708 versions of "Help Me to Raise Them" include "I've got a gal in Georgia/Baltimore" from the "Mama Liza Jane" chantey; Frye adds "the streetcar runs right by her door" shared with the "Sweet Rosie Annie" chantey. The USMenhaden01 text has "Her name is Evalina boys" and LomaxCD1708 has "she shakes like jelly boys" from the "Evalina" chantey. Hurston's "Mule on de Mount" (pp. 269-270) seems a compilation of a number of menhaden chanteys including "Evalina" and "Goin' Home."
A pair of verses from GarrityBlake and LomaxCD1708 are "I got a letter this morning boys" and "I couldn't read it for crying boys." A close set is in American Ballads and Folk Songs: "Ev'y mail day, mail day I git a letter, 'My Son, come home, my Lawd, son come home'" and "I cain't read her, read her letter for cryin', My time's so long, my Lawd, my time's so long" (Lomax-ABFS pp. 84-86, "Goin' Home", cf. also Warner #173).
Finally, there are lines that seem to have floated to "Help Me to Raise Them" from other Black sources: LomaxCD1708 and USMenhaden01 have "I got a long tall yellow gal"; Frye has "She's long and tall" and "I want to see her"; GarrityBlake has "Mary had a baby" and "It was a sweet little baby."
Floating lines from outside the genre are in other menhaden chanteys as well. For example, the Anderson, USMenhaden01 and USMenhaden02 versions of "Mama Liza Jane" -- itself an import -- all include "When she goes walking down the street... All the little birdies go tweet tweet tweet", apparently taken from Bobby Day's 1958 "Rock-In Robin" (Class 229); the USMenhaden02 version has a whole section of "Papa's Going to Buy Me a Mockingbird," as well as a section of "Joe D" (Grinder, see Jackson) calls, which adds time in the armed forces as a likely source. The GarrityBlake version of "Help Me to Raise Them" has a modification of the title of Furry Lewis's 1928 "I Will Turn Your Money Green" (Victor 38506).
Reference to recordings is not surprising: menhaden chanteys seem a twentieth century phenomenon and the fishermen were not isolated at all from the rest of twentieth century United States. For example, Frye, GarrityBlake, VaWork and USMenhaden01 all have a version of the work song "Poor Lazarus"; the work song "Goin' Home" is in those sources as well as USMenhaden02; Hurston writes that "Mule on the Mountain" is "the most widely distributed and best known of all Negro work songs" (p. 269). And, illustrating eposure to "the outside," the "Christian Automobile" recorded by the Bright Light Quartet -- all menhaden fishermen -- on LomaxCD1708 covers the the Dixie Hummingbirds 1957 recording (Peacock 5-1780).
The songs as recorded have been "cleaned up," either by the singer or the collector: "Now understand that chantey singing was done on the water. There wasn't anybody out there but the fish, the sea gulls, and the men. So, consequently you could sing about anything you want to. So you can understand that these songs that we give would really be quite colorful. Well, this is Sunday ... so we can't get as colorful as we really would like to ...." (Dr. Elton Smith Jr, VFL). Perhaps the reference "I have a girl in Baltimore, The streetcar runs right by her door" is an inside joke as those lines were often the least "colorful" part of a well-known obscene set (Perrow, #iv.30.1 p. 156, footnote). - BS
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