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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Paul Laurence Dunbar's "A Negro Love Song"

Written by Azizi Powell

Late 19th century poet, novelist, and essayist Paul Laurence Dunbar seldom gets any props from afro-centric African Americans. That's because his compositions that have received most of the attention & approval from European Americans were written in dialect that is reminiscent of White blackfaced minstrels. I'll leave for other (possible) posts my thoughts about Dunbar's dialect writing, why he wrote that way, and why those compositions were much more warmly accepted by White literary critics & other White folks than Dunbar's other writings. Instead, this post focuses on Paul Laurence Dunbar's "A Negro Love Song" because I like it.

Obviously, there are no film clips of Paul Laurence Dunbar reciting any of his poems. However, there are YouTube videos of others reciting "A Negro Love Song". And there are several videos of White singers who covered Dunbar's poem under the name "Jump Back Honey Jump Back". Hopefully, those vocalists credited Dunbar for their use of all the words to that poem, but it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't. To make sure that viewers of those videos were aware of the source of those lyrics, I added that information to three of those videos's comment thread, reinforcing another viewer's comment:
"Great poem PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR!!!!! THE ORIGINAL OWNER"
-ACurlThing

I shared information about the true composer of the song known as "Jump Back Honey Jump Back" - echoing what ACurlThing wrote - not because I thought that White people shouldn't record poems or songs written by Black people. I added that comment because I feel strongly that people should credit the known sources of their creative work. Failing to do that happens very often on YouTube and elsewhere. I strongly believe that we African Americans and others need to be much more diligent about protecting our legacy from those who wrongfully claim it.

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It should also be noted that the jump back baby jump back" refrain in R&B singer Rufus Thomas's late 1965s song "Jump Back" "is clearly modeled on Paul Laurence Dunbar's "jump back honey jump back" line. Hopefully, Rufus Thomas acknowledged Paul Laurence Dunbar's contribution to that "Jump Back" song. Here's a link to the words of Rufus Thomas' song: Rufus Thomas-Jump Back I didn't expect to find Rufus Thomas' performance of "Jump Back" on YouTube, but it's there (at least for now). Click
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPqcccmiOMc

By the 1960s I'm sure the phrases "jump back honey jump back" and "jump back baby jump back" were used in a number of songs and rhymes. What prompted my interest in that poem at this time was that phrase's use in a civil rights chant. Sam A. Robrin, a guest on this Mudcat Discussion Forum thread http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=115045 "Not Last Night But The Night Before-rhyme" wrote this comment about that chant:

"I came here to get the rest of a Civil Rights - era crowd song that Pete Seeger references in an issue of BROADSIDE (#57, if you care to look it up):

Last night and the night before,
(Jump back, Wallace, jump back!)
Twenty-five troopers at my door,
(Jump back, Wallace, jump back!)
I got up and let 'em in....

Anyone know more about its use during the Alabama freedom marches"?

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As I wrote on that thread, I've no knowledge of that chant, and would be interested in learning more. However, there's no doubt that the "Wallace" that was mentioned in that chant was the then arch segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace.

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Without any further comments, here's the words of this post's featured poem (I've found examples of that poem in today's mainstream American English, I've chosen to post the poem the way Dunbar wrote it)

A NEGRO LOVE SONG
(Paul Laurence Dunbar)

SEEN my lady home las' night,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hel' huh han' an' sque'z it tight,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,
Seen a light gleam f'om huh eye,
An' a smile go flittin' by --
Jump back, honey, jump back.

Hyeahd de win' blow thoo de pine,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Mockin'-bird was singin' fine,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
An' my hea't was beatin' so,
When I reached my lady's do',
Dat I could n't ba' to go --
Jump back, honey, jump back.

Put my ahm aroun' huh wais',
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Raised huh lips an' took a tase,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Love me, honey, love me true?
Love me well ez I love you?
An' she answe'd, " 'Cose I do" --
Jump back, honey, jump back.

http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/dunbar/poetryindex/a_negro_love_song.html

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Here's a video of a recitation of that poem:

A Poem for April 9, 2011 - A Negro Love Song by Paul Laurence Dunbar



Uploaded by hopeanitasmith on Apr 9, 2011

A Poem A Day to celebrate National Poetry Month. Remembering poets of the past and present.

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Here's a video that features the singing of Benin vocalist Angelique Kidjo & drawings of African women. The words to "A Negro Love Song" (except the last line) are superimposed on the video screen:

A Negro Love Song



Uploaded by togobabe on Jun 22, 2011

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Thank you, Paul Laurence Dunbar!

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2 comments:

  1. Hi...
    I just read tour blog concerning the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. I wish I had known about this site years ago. Anyway, I, too, have composed music for the poetry of Mr Dunbar, and I have given him credit, because I believe is is one of America's great writers. I am a singer/songwriter and I was immediately struck by the musicality of his poetry. You can listen to many of these compositions (I have put music to poems by others, as well, such as George Marion McClellan and James Edwin Campbell) at
    www.woodyjohnson.ca

    I thank you again for sharing this information about Dunbar's poetry and I look forward to more of your opinions and research...

    Woody Johnson,
    Ottawa, Canada

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Greetings, Woody Johnson!

      Thanks for your comment. I'm adding a hyperlink in this comment to your site http://woodyjohnson.ca/

      I favorited your site and intend to spend time there. I'm also interested in old songs, including old children's songs particularly those songs from Black cultures. However, unlike you I don't sing them, but I'm interested in the songs, rhymes, chants, cheers for their aesthetic values and also as a wannabe folklorist.

      If you have any YouTube videos, please share them within me via my email address that is given in my summary statement.

      Btw, I launched this blog in August of 2011 so it's not that old. However, my Cocojams cultural blog is going on 12 years old.

      Best wishes!

      Delete