Jump Jim Crow
DESCRIPTION: Disconnected verses about a rambler's exploits, held together by the chorus "I wheel about I twist about I do just so, Every time I turn about I jump Jim Crow."
EARLIEST DATE: before 1835 (pubished by E. Riley; Dichter/Shapiro, p. 52, estimate the publication date as c. 1829; Emerson, p. 30, dates it c. 1832)
KEYWORDS: nonballad dancing dancetune floatingverses
FOUND IN: US(So) Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (6 citations):
GreigDuncan8 1627, "Jim Crow" (1 text)
Scarborough-NegroFS, pp. 126-127, "Jim Crow", (no title), "Jump Jim Crow" (1 text plus two fragments, 1 tune; the full text lacks the chorus, while the fragments consist mostly of the chorus)
Gilbert, p. 18, "Jim Crow" (1 text)
Emerson, pp. 21-30, "Jim Crow" (1 text, very full)
Opie-Oxford2 274, "Twist about, turn about, jump Jim Crow" (2 texts)
ADDITIONAL: Harry Dichter and Elliott Shapiro, _Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and Its Lore, 1768-1889_, R. R. Bowker, 1941, plate 12 shows a sheet music cover of "The Original Jim Crow"
ST Gilb018 (Partial)
Bodleian, Johnson Ballads fol. 115, "Jim Crow," J. Pitts (London), 1819-1844; also Harding B 15(149a), Firth b.34(154), Harding B 11(1472), Harding B 11(1877), "Jim Crow"
LOCSinging, as106690, "Jim Crow," L. Deming (Boston), 19C; also as106700, "Jim Crow complete in 150 verses"
cf. "Hop High Ladies (Uncle Joe)" (floating lyrics)
NOTES [684 words]: Said to have been originated by Thomas D. Rice, who allegedly watched a negro sing and dance the refrain and imitated it. This proved so successful that Rice spent the rest of his life as "Jim Crow" Rice, using the song as his primary attraction. Milligan, pp. 39-40, summarizes an account given by Robert P. Nevin in 1867:
Rice observed one day in Cincinnati a negro stage-driver singing the song:
Turn about and wheel about, and do jist so,
And every time I turn about, I jump Jim Crow,
and conceived the idea that the song and character behind the footlights might tickle the fance of the public as much as the sprig of shillallah and the red nose then popular among light comedians.
He did not have an opportunity to test the idea until the following autumn, when he was playing in Pittsburgh. The theatre, located on Fifth Street, is described as "an upretending structure, rudely built of boards and of moderate proportions, but sufficient to satisfy the taste and secure the comfort of the few who dared to face the consequences and lend their patronage t an establishment under the ban of the Scotch-Irish Calvinists." According to Nevin, Rice obtained his costume from a negro in attendance at Griffith's Hotel on Wood Street, named Cuff, who won a precarious living by letting out his open mouth as a mark for boys to pitch pennies in at three paces, and by carrying passengers' trunks from steamboats to hotels. The negro accompanied Rice to the theatre one evening and loaned his costume, for a brief period, to the service of art....
Rice's appearance, with blackened face, clad in a ragged old coat, a forlornly dilapidated pair of shoes composed equally of patches and places for patches, a coarse straw hat in a melancholy condition of rent and collapse, and a black wooly wig, created a sensation which was greatly heightened by the rendition of the "Jim Crow" song and dance. But the success of the occasion was made doubly sure when the negro, hearing the whistle of a steamboat approaching Monongahela Wharf, and fearing loss of both business and prestige among his associates, rushed half-clad onto the stage and demanded his clothes....
"The next day the song of 'Jim Crow' was on everybody's lips.... The tune was written down and provided with piano accompaniment by W. C. Peters, a music dealer with a shop on Market Street, Pittsburg. The music was reproduced on stone with an elaborately embellished title-page by John Newton, being the first specimen of lithography ever executed in Pittsburg."
Finson, pp. 162-163, quotes a similar version by Clara Fisher Maeder, who describes him as "not much of an actor, but a very industrious young man and a good mimic," and says that it was her own mother who suggested that Rice take up a career as a blackface novelty act. Finson shows Rice's costume (illustration 5.1, following p. 176); it largely matches the description above.
Finson, p. 163, adds that Rice (1806-1860) "himself authored much of his role('writing and playing negro pieces'), relying on a certain talent for imitation to sustain an illusion. He hailed from a northern, urban background likemay of his successor, and was less concerned with authenticity than with assuming the mask of the folkloric. In fact, the humor of Rice's sharade depended precisely on the spectator's knowledge of his disguise...."
"The character of Jim Crow comes straight out of Jacksonian populaism, and he shares many virtues with the wetern hero whose famous battlefield (out side of New Orleans "wher dey kill'd Packenham") he visits early in the song. Jackson, a westerner, was protrayed as a simple 'ploughman,' one of 'nature's noblemen....'"
Rice would later create another blackface character, "Gombo Chaff," with his own song to the tune of "Bow Wow Wow," according to Finson, p. 168.
The Opies believe that it was through Rice's performances that "Jim Crow" came to be a name (usually derogatory) for Blacks.
According to Dichter/Shapiro, p. 52, the original sheet music was published by E. Riley and labelled "Mr. T. Rice As the Original Jim Crow." No composer is listed. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
- Dichter/Shapiro: Harry Dichter and Elliott Shapiro, Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and Its Lore, 1768-1889, R. R. Bowker, 1941
- Finson: Jon W. Finson, The Voices That Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song, Oxford University Press, 1994
- Milligan: Harold Vincent Milligan, Stephen Collins Foster: A Biography of America's Folk-Song Composer, 1920 (I use the 2004 University of Hawaii reprint)
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