Mourner, You Shall Be Free (Moanish Lady)
DESCRIPTION: A complex family, with no clear dividing line, known by the key chorus line "You shall be free When the good lord sets you free" (or "calls you home"). Verses can be serious or silly ("Oh! there was a moanish lady Lived in a moanish land...")
EARLIEST DATE: 1926 (recording, Uncle Dave Macon)
KEYWORDS: nonballad religious nonsense parody humorous floatingverses
FOUND IN: US(Ap,SE,So) West Indies(Bahamas)
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Sandburg-TheAmericanSongbag, p. 11, "Moanish Lady!" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
Spaeth-ReadEmAndWeep, pp. 110-112, "Mona (You Shall Be Free)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax/Lomax-AmericanBalladsAndFolkSongs, pp. 254-258, "When de Good Lord Sets You Free" (1 text, 1 tune -- an immense composite containing elements of "Moanish Lady," "Talking Blues," and probably other materials, to the tune of "Mourner, You Shall Be Free")
Scarborough-OnTheTrailOfNegroFolkSongs, pp. 163-164, "Old Marse John" (1 text, 1 tune, with this chorus and sundry floating verses: Ole Marse John and the mule he is riding till it dies; the singer standing on the corner doing no harm; the singer in the henhouse hearing the chicken sneeze); p. 172, "Po' Mournah" (1 fragment); p. 176, "Great Big Nigger Sittin' on a Log" (1 text, with this chorus and floating verses: Jakey hunting coons, the Big Nigger shooting at a hog; an humorous description of an unusual girl); p. 194, "Fragment from Pore Mournah" (1 text); p. 197, "There Was an Old Nigger, His Name Was Dr. Peck" (1 text, which uses this chorus); pp. 224-225, (no title), with this chorus and the "My old mistus promised me" and "Some folks say a nigger won't steal" lyrics; p. 235, with a variant on "Ain't no use me working so hard"
Owens-TexasFolkSongs-2ed, pp. 176-177, "Oh Mou'nuhs"; pp. 178-179, "You Shall Be Free" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Burton/Manning-EastTennesseeStateCollectionVol2, pp. 107-108, "Yellow Gal" (1 text, 1 tune, a non-serious version)
ADDITIONAL: Moses Asch and Alan Lomax, Editors, _The Leadbelly Songbook_, Oak, 1962, p. 76, "We Shall Be Free" (1 text, 1 tune)
Jules Allen, "Po' Mourner" (Victor 23834, 1933; rec. 1928)
The Blue Chips, "Oh! Monah!" (ARC 6-09-55, 1936)
Bill Boyd & his Cowboy Ramblers, "You Shall Be Free, Monah" (Bluebird B-6694, 1936; Montgomery Ward M-7190/Regal Zonophone [UK] M-2433, 1937)
Carolina Tar Heels, "When the Good Lord Sets You Free" (Victor 20931, 1927)
Four Dusty Travelers, "Po' Mourner" (Columbia 14477-D, 1929; on VocalQ2)
Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Cisco Houseton & Sonny Terry, "We Shall Be Free" (on WoodyFolk)
Blind Blake Higgs, "Eighteen Hundred and Ninety One" (on WIHIGGS01)
Lions Quartet, "Moanin' Lady" (Columbia 1167-D, 1927)
Uncle Dave Macon, "Shout Mourner, You Shall Be Free" (Vocalion 5007, 1926)
Bill & Belle Reed, "You Shall Be Free" (Columbia 15336-D, 1928)
Frank Stokes & Dan Sane, "You Shall" (Paramount 12518, 1927; on Cornshuckers2)
cf. "Raise a Ruckus" (floating lyrics)
cf. ""Uncle Eph" (floating lyrics)
cf. "Talking Blues" (sometimes sung to a tune similar to this)
cf. "Some Folks Say that a Preacher Won't Steal" (floating lyrics)
cf. "The Deacon's Calf" (floating lyrics)
cf. "The Golden Axe" (gospel parody)
NOTES [516 words]: This is a complicated group, and the problem is not lessened by the way editors have handled it. The first three texts I indexed, for instance, were all messed with by editors. Sandburg-TheAmericanSongbag, e.g., derived his "Moanish Lady" from the spiritual "Mourner, You Shall Be Free," but printed only one verse because "the music is too superbly serious to have cheap lines."
It appears, however, to be the same as Spaeth's song about a no-count who hangs around rail yards and sponges off his girl, giving us a whole family of knock-offs.
Fred W. Allsop, in Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, Volume II, p. 161, says Moanish Lady "has been heard often in negro barber shops." Whatever that tells us. - RBW
"Moanish Lady" is derived from "Mourner, You Shall Be Free," and so is "You Shall," but the latter is quite a different song, with a different melody, having in common only the derivation.... [The hymn] seems to have spawned quite a few [parodies], mostly in African-American tradition, but even Bob Dylan created one. - PJS
For the moment, I'm still lumping the family. It's just too messy. - RBW
The Higgs Bahamian text begins with each year from 1891 to 1898 in which the singer explains how he avoids work: "Couldn't do it boys (you shall be free)/ Too lazy boys (you shall be free)/ When the good Lord sets you free."
After a verse about the whale throwing Jonah in a sweet potato patch, and another about a man trying to get to heaven on the tail of a kite, there are some standard floaters found in the U.S.: "settin by the log ... finger on the trigger and his eyes on the hog" [for example, Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore3 #311 p.566, "The Preacher Song", Lomax/Lomax-AmericanBalladsAndFolkSongs p.255, "When De Good Lord Sets You Free", "Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, "Old Salty Dog Blues", Carolina Tar Heels, "When the Good Lord Sets Me Free"] and "no use of working so hard when I've got a gal in the white folks' yard." [for example, Lomax/Lomax-AmericanBalladsAndFolkSongs p.257, "When De Good Lord Sets You Free", E.C. Perrow, "Songs and Rhymes from the South" in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. XXVIII, No. 108 (Apr-Jun 1915 (available online by JSTOR)), #7.1 p. 135, "Oh Mourner", Carolina Tar Heels, "When the Good Lord Sets Me Free", Carolina Tar Heels, "There Ain't No Use Working So Hard", J.E. Mainer, "Old Hen Sitting in a Chimney Jamb"]. Of course, these examples may indicate that "Mourner, You Shall Be Free" is the source of these "floaters" rather than the passive receiver.
"Workin' in the white folks' yard" may not be so rare in the West Indies. Sam Manning's take off on "Linstead Market" seems to comment on his own position as a long-time West Indian recording artist: "With my basket on my head/Tryin' for my daily bread/Workin' in the white folks' yard/Lookin' for my Santa Claus/Me try my best to sing a song/Sun too hot and road too long/Workin' in the white folks' yard/Lookin' for my Santa Claus" (Sam Manning with the Melodettes and Felix and his Krazy Kats, "Lookin for Me Santa Claus," Decca 18259 (1941)) - BS
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