DESCRIPTION: The nursery rhyme: "Rock-a-bye baby on the tree top, When the wind blows, the cradle will rock...." Folk versions often add more verses (or make changes to the first), e.g. about the farmer who goes hunting to feed the baby
EARLIEST DATE: text: 1784 (Gammar Gurton's Garland, according to Opie-Oxford2); tune: 1884 (see notes)
FOUND IN: US(SE,So) Ireland Canada(Mar) Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (14 citations):
Warner 190, "Rocky By Baby, By-O" (1 text, 1 tune)
GreigDuncan8 1552, "Hush-a-Ba Baby On a Tree Top" (1 text, 1 tune)
SHenry H591a, p. 6, "Heezh Ba" (1 text, 1 tune)
OCroinin-Cronin 138, "Siuba-in Baby" (1 text)
BrownIII 113, "Rock-a-Bye Baby in the Tree-Top" (1 text with variants)
McNeil-SMF, pp. 124-125, "Rockabye, Baby" (1 short text, 1 tune)
Creighton-SNewBrunswick 86, "Rockaby Baby" (1 text, 1 tune)
Opie-Oxford2 22, "Hush-a-bye, baby, on the tree top" (2 texts)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #550, p. 224, "(Hush a by Baby)"
Jack, p. 184, "Rock-a-Bye, Baby" (1 text)
Dolby, p. 174, "Hush-a-Bye, Baby"; p. 176, "Rock-a-Bye, Baby" (2 texts)
Silber-FSWB, p. 408, "Rock-A-Bye, Baby" (1 text)
Fuld-WFM, pp. 468-469+, "Rock-a-Bye Baby"
ADDITIONAL: Robert A. Fremont, editor, _Favorite Songs of the Nineties_, Dover Publications, 1973, pp. 235-238, "Rock-a-Bye Baby" (1 text, 1 tune, 1886 sheet music crediting words and music to Effie I. Canning)
ST Wa190 (Partial)
cf. "What'll I Do with the Baby-O" (words)
cf. "Tony Went Walking" (lyrics)
Van Buren 1840 campaign song ("Hush-a-bye baby, Daddy's a Wig, Before he comes home Hard cider he'll swig") (Paul F. Boller, Jr., _Presidential Campaigns_, second revised edition, Oxford University Press, p. 75)
NOTES: The first reported printing of the words to this piece is from about 1765, in "Mother Goose's Melody." It does not seem to have become a song -- or at least to have adopted its current melody -- until 1872, when Effie I. Crockett (1857-1940) allegedly sang it to an infant she was babysitting. The result was published in 1884, with Crockett adopting the pseudonym "Effie I. Canning."
In the Sam Henry text, the song starts with the singer recalling being "airy and handsome" and going out partying; but "noo I am auld... fittin' for nae thin' but rockin' the cradle. Rockin' the cradle is nae work, ava," then breaks into the standard lyrics. It's probably a composite, but with only six lines of the original, most of which are similar to floating material, the other half is probably beyond identification; there are points of contact with "Rocking the Cradle (and the Child Not His Own)."
The Montgomeries (Montgomerie-ScottishNR #134) have a piece which looks vaguely related, beginning, "Hoolie, the bed'll fall! Who'll fall with it? Two eyes, two hands, And two bonnie feet."
According to folklore (or at least Katherine Elwes Thomas), this originally referred to the Old Pretender, James III son of James II of England, and the whole stanza refers to James II's deposition as a result of having a Catholic heir. Uh-huh. The only reason I can see for this is the fact that (according to the Opies) the melody is related to "Lilliburlero." Distantly related -- and, in any case, the setting of the tune is more recent than the words. For myriad other attempts to wring meaning from the lyrics, including even a link to the Egyptian god Horus, see the Opies' notes. - RBW
There are examples on the Library of Congress American Memory site of other melodies for the song and other texts incorporating the tree top verse:
LOCSheet, sm1881 16221, "Lullaby Baby Upon the Tree Top," White, Smith & Co. (Chicago), 1881; also sm1881 14963, "Lullaby Baby Upon the Tree Top" (tune)
LOCSinging, sb10078a, "Dig, Dig, Dig" or "Hush-a-bye Baby," unknown, n.d.; also as102980, "Dig, Dig, Dig" or "Hush-a-bye Baby" - BS
Last updated in version 4.2
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.