Blue-Tail Fly, The [Laws I19]

DESCRIPTION: A young slave is made into a household servant, with the particular task of keeping away the (stinging) blue-tail flies. One day the master goes out riding; a fly stings his pony; the master is thrown and dies.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1844; a sheet music version was published by F. D. Benteen of Baltimore in 1846
KEYWORDS: bug servant death
FOUND IN: US(SE,So,SW)
REFERENCES (19 citations):
Laws I19, "The Blue-Tail Fly"
BrownIII 414, "Jim Crack Corn" (1 text plus 2 mixed fragments and 2 excerpts)
Morris, #118, "Jenny Crack Corn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Friedman, p. 453, "The Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text)
Finger, pp. 166-167, "Bluetail Fly" (1 text)
Lomax-FSNA 267, "The Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
RJackson-19CPop, pp. 91-92, "Jim Crack Corn or the Blue Tail Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scarborough-NegroFS, pp. 201-203, "De Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text plus some fragments, 1 tune); also p. 190, (no title) (1 fragment, with a verse of "The Jaybird" and the chorus of this piece); also p. 224, (no title) (1 short text, with the "Jim crack corn" chorus and the "My ole mistus promised me" verse)
Coleman/Bregman, pp. ,64-65 "De Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
Owens-1ed, pp. 212-214, "The Blue-Tailed Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
Owens-2ed, p. 125, "The Blue-Tailed Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
Arnett, p. 66, "Jim Crack Corn (Blue-Tail Fly)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Botkin-SoFolklr, p. 709, "The Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
PSeeger-AFB, p. 12, "The Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fireside, p. 72, "The Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 30, "The Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text)
Fuld-WFM, p. 312, "Jim Crack Corn"
cf. Gardner/Chickering, p. 477, "The Blue-Tailed Fly" (source notes only)
DT 669, BLUETAIL

ST LI19 (Full)
Roud #4185
RECORDINGS:
Bob Atcher, "Blue Tail Fly" (Columbia 20538, 1949)
Doc Hopkins, "The Blue Tailed Fly" (Radio 1410A, n.d., prob. late 1940s - early 1950s)
Bradley Kincaid, "The Blue Tail Fly" (Majestic 6010, 1947)
Pete Seeger, "Jim Crack Corn" (on PeteSeeger03, PeteSeegerCD03); "The Blue Tail Fly" (on PeteSeeger17)
Riley Shepard, "The Blue Tail Fly" (King 523, 1946)

CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Shoo Fly" (chorus)
cf. "So Early in the Morning" (one verse)
SAME TUNE:
Good-By! Andy" ("Good-by, Andy, clear the way," an anti-Andrew Johnson song) (Lawrence, p. 449)
ALTERNATE TITLES:
Jimmie Crack Corn
NOTES: Sometimes credited to Dan Emmett (e.g. by Spaeth), and one of the earliest publications was in a series credited to him -- but the absence of his name on the earliest copies goes far toward discrediting his authorship. The connection probably arose because the Virginia Minstrels -- the band with which Emmett performed in the 1840s, which disbanded in 1844 -- played the song (see Jon W. Finson, The Voices That Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song, Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 181).- RBW
The subtext for this song is that the slave in fact killed the master himself, blaming it on the blue-tail fly. This is hinted at, to varying degrees, in some versions of the song. -PJS
Finson, p. 182, sees it differently, as part of a sort of levelling movement that arose out of the Jacksonian era. Many minstrel performers had their characters envision a world in which the dregs of society moved up (after all, if Blacks can rise in society, the argument would go, then anyone can). The Virginia Minstrels were not particularly noteworthy in this way, but this song had more of a political cast than most of their work. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
File: LI19

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