C-H-I-C-K-E-N Spells Chicken
DESCRIPTION: "C, that's the way to begin; H, the next letter in...." The teacher in a country school calls on Ragtime Joe to show the class how to spell "chicken." When Parson Johnson's show in the church fails Joe saves the day by singing his song to spell "chicken."
AUTHOR: Sidney Perrin & Bob Slater
EARLIEST DATE: 1902 (sheet music published)
KEYWORDS: food humorous nonballad animal bird chickens animal children Black(s)
FOUND IN: US(SE,Ap)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Arthur Collins, "Dat's De Way to Spell Chicken" (CYL: Edison 8301, 1903)
Mississippi John Hurt, "Chicken Song" (on MJHurt05)
John & Emery McClung, "C-H-I-C-K-E-N Spells Chicken" (Brunswick 135, 1927)
McGee Brothers "C-H-I-C-K-E-N Spells Chicken" (Vocalion 5150, 1927)
Kirk McGee & Blythe Poteet: "C-H-I-C-K-E-N Spells Chicken" (Vocalion 5150, 1927) (Conqueror 7257, 1929; Gennett 7022, 1930; rec. 1928). [These are definitely different recordings. - PJS] (on "Good for What Ails You - Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-1937," Old Hat CD CD-1005, 2005)
Fiddlin' Doc Roberts Trio, "Ragtime Chicken Joe" (Conqueror 8566, 1935; rec. 1933)
Three Tobacco Tags, "De Way to Spell Chicken" (Bluebird B-7973, 1938)
NOTES: The recent version by the Red Clay Ramblers fits this chorus with an outline in which Ragtime Joe is made to spell "chicken" in school. Not having heard some of the early recordings, I don't know if this is integral to the song or if someone added it later. - RBW
The "Ragtime Chicken Joe" verse is indeed part of the original piece, published as a "coon song." - PJS
McGee and Poteet... sing [this] as a minstrel-type song. The chorus spells it out: "C - that's the way to begin, ... E - I'm near the end, C-H-I-C-K-E-N. That am the way to spell chicken."
About 1906 a settlement house minstrel show included "songs [that] reverted to the traditional minstrel genre and included 'Humming Coon' and 'Dat Am De Way to Spell Chicken.'" (Daniel Bender, "Perils of Degeneration: Reform, the Savage Immigrant, and the Survival of the Unfit" in Journal of Social History, Vol. 542, No.1 (Fall 2008 (available online by JSTOR)), pp. 15-16).
Hurt sings only one verse, not usually sung with this song: "Chicken, chicken, you can't roost or hide from me, Chicken, chicken, better come on out of that tree. You can't roost or hide from me." Hurt's verse may be from another minstrel song. White, from 1915-1916, has "Chicken, come down out of that sycamore tree, You cannot roost too high for me." (Newman I. White, American Negro Folk-Songs (Hatboro: Folklore Associates, Inc, 1965 (facsimile reprint of Harvard University Press, 1928)), #xii.44 pp. 373-374) - BS
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