Preacher and the Bear, The
DESCRIPTION: (Black) preacher goes hunting; he meets a grizzly bear. He climbs a tree and pleads with God (who delivered Daniel, Jonah, etc.) "if you can't help me/for goodness sakes don't help that bear" The limb breaks; he gets his razor out and fights
AUTHOR: Officially credited to Joe Arzonia
EARLIEST DATE: 1905 (recordings, Arthur Collins, although he may have recorded it as early as 1903); for the idea, see "Allen's Bear Fight Up in Keene"; the song was reportedly published in 1904
KEYWORDS: hunting humorous animal clergy
FOUND IN: US(Ap,SE,So)
REFERENCES (3 citations):
BrownIII 425, "The Preacher and the Bear" (2 short texts)
BrownSchinhanV 425, "The Preacher and the Bear" (1 tune plus a text excerpt)
Shellans, pp. 80-81, "The Preacher and the Bear" (1 text, 1 tune)
Al Bernard, "The Preacher and the Bear" (Brunswick 312, 1929; Supertone S-2057, 1930; rec. 1928) (Harmony 645-H, 1928) (Vocalion 15643, 1927)
Virgil Childers, "Preacher and the Bear" (Bluebird B-7487, 1938)
Arthur Collins, "The Preacher and the Bear" (Victor 4431, 1905) (Victor 17221, 1912; Montgomery Ward M-8128, 1939; rec. 1908 [possibly with Byron Harlan]) (Zon-O-Phone 120, 1905) Columbia A307/Standard A307/United A307, 1909; Kalamazoo 7016, n.d.; Oxford 120, c. 1911; Aretino D-608, n.d.; rec. 1905) (Columbia A2290, 1917) (Busy Bee D-27, n.d.; Busy Bee A-1076, c. 1903) (Rex 5073, c. 1913) (Edison 50520, 1919) (Silvertone 2026, c. 1920) (CYL: Edison 9000, 1905) (CYL: Edison [BA]18, 1908) (CYL: Albany 3193, n.d.) (CYL: Edison [BA] 1560, 1912) (Majestic 105, 1917) (Par-O-Ket 28, 1917) (CYL: Columbia 32720, prob. 1905)
Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, "Preacher and the Bear" (Bluebird B-7205, 1937; Victor 27322, 1941; Victor [Canada] 27322, 1941)
Honeyboy & Sassafras, "The Preacher and the Bear" (Brunswick 585, 1931; rec. 1930)
Kentucky Thorobreds, "Preacher and the Bear" (Paramount 3036, 1927; Broadway 8128 [as Old Smokey Twins], n.d.)
John McGhee, "The Preacher and the Bear" (Gennett 6403/Challenge 392 [as George Holden], 1928)
Poplin Family, "The Preacher and the Bear" (on Poplin1)
Jesse Oakley, "Preacher and the Bear" (Supertone 9256, 1928)
Riley Puckett, "The Preacher and the Bear" (Columbia 15045-D, 1925) (Bluebird B-8083/Montgomery Ward M-7904, 1939)
Uncle Joe & his Banjo, "The Preacher and the Bear" (Cameo 1272/Romeo 506, 1927)
Unidentified baritone [prob. Arthur Collins], "The Preacher and the Bear" (CYL: Busy Bee 241, prob. 1905)
Albert Whelan, "The Preacher and the Bear" (Zonophone [UK], 1911)
cf. "Allen's Bear Fight Up in Keene" (theme of a bear fight and a prayer to God to help the human rather than the bear)
cf. "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" (theme)
Golden Gate Quartet, "Stalin Wasn't Stalling" (OKeh 6712, 1943)
NOTES [239 words]: According to a biographer of Arthur Collins, although the song is often credited to Joe Arzonia, he seems to have purchased the rights from the actual composer, George Fairman, a piano player who worked in the cafe Arzonia owned.
This song has become popular in the folk revival, inevitably without the reference to the preacher as a "coon" which places this in the minstrel tradition. (The Poplins use the word, though.) Its vaudeville/minstrel/coon song origins are clear in the earliest recording by Arthur Collins, a well-known performer in those genres.
Clearly Arthur Collins had little use for exclusive contracts in 1905 or thereafter.
The World War II parody, "Stalin Wasn't Stalling," has Hitler begging, "Oh Lord, if you can't help me, don't help that Russian bear." - PJS
David A. Jasen, Tin Pan Alley: The Composers, the Songs, the Performers and their Times: The Golden Age of American Popular Music from 1886 to 1956, Primus, 1988, pp. 64-65, gives a completely different view of the authorship; he says that "Joe Arzonia" was the psuedonym of a Philadelphia music publisher named Arthur Longbrake, who would be a better bet for a composer.
Whoever wrote the song, the core idea is almost certainly older; isupposedly it happened to one Anson H. Allen, a census-taker in New York in 1840; the event was chronicled in "Allen's Bear Fight Up in Keene," which includes the key line asking God not to help the bear. - RBW
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