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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rockin Robin (Tweeleelee) - Analysis, Performance Activity, & Text Examples

Edited by Azizi Powell

[revised 5/25/2012]

This is Part I of a two part series on the playground rhyme "Rockin Robin" (also known as "Tweeleelee", "Tweet Baby" and similar sounding names). Part I includes a general overview, performance information, text analysis, and several text examples of this rhyme.

Part II of this series showcases selected videos of the Rock & Roll records that inspired this rhyme, as well as selected videos of the rhyme itself. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/04/rockin-robin-tweeleelee-videos.html for Part II of this series.

My thanks to all those who contributed examples to this post.

PART I
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE "ROCKIN ROBIN" PLAYGROUND RHYME
The playground rhyme "Rockin Robin" is likely of African American origin. That rhyme is probably based on Michael Jackson's 1972 recording of the song "Rockin Robin". Common verses found in many examples of Rockin Robin ("Tweeleelee") reflect its source in the bawdy street song whose cleaned up version was recorded in 1945 by African American vocalist, composer, musician Lionel Hampton And His Orchestra as "Hey! Ba Ba Re Bop". Click http://cocojams.com/content/hey-ba-ba-re-bop-videos-lyrics-precusor-songs-analysis for information about those songs.

The earliest version of "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee")that I have found is from the 1980s. However, in 1992, while I was conducting informal surveys of playground rhymes at my work place, several African American women (ages mid 30s-mid 40s) from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania indicated they knew that rhyme from the 1970s, and that they recited "Rockin Robin" while doing a handclap routine. Unfortunately, those informants couldn't recite the entire rhyme, but shared that "the words were like the "Rockin Robin song". One informant indicated that "it began with something like "tweet baby/tweet baby"/you're butt [or "your breath"] stinks". Those introductory lines or similar lines are still a common part of the "Rockin Robin" handclap rhyme.

Click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockin'_Robin_(song) for more information about the song "Rockin Robin". More information about the text of "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") is found below.

PERFORMANCE ACTIVITY
"Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") is a handclap rhyme that appears to usually performed by girls between the ages of 6-12 years old. That said, in the game song sessions that I conducted between 1992-2005 in numerous mostly African American communities in & around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I observed that boys ages 6-8 years old also knew this rhyme, and sometimes boys within those particular age ranges would be as eager as the girls to perform that rhyme in front of their peers and in front of adults. As a matter of fact, it appeared to me that "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee")
was the most well known and well liked handclap rhyme among the children who I encountered throughout my years facilitating those non-profit foundation sponsored game song after-school and summer programs.

Like almost all handclap rhymes, "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") is chanted in unison. Usually performers are standing while chanting this rhyme. Chanters who are standing usually perform an over/under hand slap and dipping up & down motions that are done to the beat of this rhyme. I've observed this type of handclap routine performed with some other rhymes, but it still is rather unique.

"Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") is also somewhat unique among playground rhymes in that its usual manner of performance -at least in the USA- appears to be as a four person partner handclap rhyme (two sets of partners facing each other in a square formation). While I've witnessed this formation used with other handclap rhymes, with "Rockin Robin" it appears to be "the way it's supposed to be played", rather than a formation that is arbitrarily done when there are four interested players. In addition to observing this manner of performing "Rockin Robin" 'in real life' (in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area), I've also observed it in various YouTube videos. This online comment serves as confirmation that "Rockin Robin" is usually performed as a four person handclap rhyme:

[in response to the question "what are the lyrics"]
"Rockin' Robin the song. But lyrics are changed depending on where u live. Google or Wikipedia it :-) I never seen this done with 3 people only 4. Cool though :-)
-Daintytwinkletoes, http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=VjGAwEEBn0c , 2008 [hereafter given as "Rockin Robin/YouTube#1"
[WARNING - This video contains what the uploader said was an accidental use of a curse word. Their edited version without that curse word is featured as Video Example #5 in Part II of this series.]

TEXTUAL ANALYSIS
"Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") shares similar characteristics of many English language handclap rhymes.
1. An introductory rhyming or non-rhyming line or phrase is usually given before the actual rhyme begins. Examples:
"Twee lee lee
Tree top!
Twee lee lee
My prop.
Popsicle, popsicle
Your butt stinks!"

-snip-
"Swing swing swing to the USA
Hey hey"

-snip-
The movement activity for the introductory words is different from the movement activity of the actual rhyme. Usually, the two sets of partners who form the four person square swing hands while reciting this passage.

2. Verses of the actual handclap rhyme are composed of two sets of rhyming couplets (AABB rhyme scheme). In "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee"), one of those verses is almost exactly borrowed from the "Rockin Robin" song, although there are some interesting variations of the line "all the little birds on J-Bird street".

3. Examples of the rhyme often include "floating" verses (lines from other stand alone (independent) rhymes.

"ROCKING ROBIN" ("TWEELEELEE") RISQUE VERSIONS
Unlike most English language playground rhymes, there are both "clean" and "dirty" versions of "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee"). The "dirty" versions of that playground rhyme usually contain some profanity and allusions to such taboo topics for children as sexual activity, body parts, and prostitution. In addition, some "dirty" versions may include the racial slur that is referred to as "the n word", although adults rarely come across those examples because of children's self-censorship.

SELECTED TEXT EXAMPLES
Because this blog and my Cocojams website are family friendly, I won't post very explicit examples of that rhyme. However, here's are a few examples of "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee"), some of which could be considered "dirty" - by my standards, and I believe, by the standards of a number of children. These examples are posted "as is" without any corrections of typographical errors:

EXAMPLE #1: ROCKIN ROBIN
swing swing swing to the usa
hey hey
rockin in a tree to
all day long
huffin and a puffin
and singin that song
all the lil birdies on jaybird street
love to here therobins
go tweet tweet tweet

rockin robin
tweet tweetalee rockin
robin tweet tweetalee

mama in he kitchen cookin fried rice
daddy oUt side shootin some dice
brothA in jail drinkin gingerale
sista roun te corner sellin FRUIT COCTAIL

rockin robin tweet tweetalee
rockin robin tweet tweetalee

batman and robin flyin in the air
batman lost his underwear
batmn said i dont care cause
robin goin to by me azillion more pair

rockin robin tweet tweetalee

iwent down town to getsum btta*
saw james brown sittin ina gutta
gotta piece of glass stuck it up his
i neva seen a black man
runso fast
rockinrobin tweet tweet alee
- j-mil; 3/19/2005 ; (African American male; Maryland), http://blog.oftheoctopuses.com/000518.php

*btta=butta (butter)

Note: This link is no longer active. blog.oftheoctopuses.com (also known as "Whee Blog") was a multi-page blog with a small group of members who knew each other off-line. My understanding from communicating by email with one of those members was that the page of playground rhymes was the only page that was open to non-members. I added several examples of rhymes on that page, and asked j-mill if he would share information about his race and state. Thankfully, he did so for the folkloric record.

****
EXAMPLE #2: TWEEDLE TWEEDLE DEE
...remember hand games....

tweedle tweedle dee
treetop
tweedle tweedle dee
treetop
tweet baby tweet baby
your mama says

she rocks in a treetop
all day long
huffin and puffin
and saying a song
all the little birds
james bell street
love the little robins
go tweet tweet tweet

rockin robin
tweet tweet tweet
rockin robin
tweet tweet tweet

i went down town to get a stick of butter
and saw james brown sitting (people cursed on my block) in the gutter
i took a piece of glass and stuck it up his (you know what)
i never saw a (kids are mean) run so fast.
we even played that in college.
hmmm...those hand games were violent and had curses in them, huh?
holla at me if you remember
-MaMaBuddha; [African American female]; Harlem, New York, New York}; 7/31/2000]
http://www.greekchat.com/gcforums/archive/index.php/t-5627.html

Note: Commenters on this blog were members of Black Greek lettered sororities who lived in the United States and were sharing their memories of childhood games.

****
EXAMPLE #3: ROCKIN ROBIN
There was also the street Rockin Robin that I heard/played in the same [Boston summer] camps.

Tweedily diddly dee(3x)
tweet tweet, your breath stinks.
Rockin' in the treetop all day long
huffin' and a puffin' just singin' that song
all the little birdies on jail bird street
love to hear the birdies go tweet tweet tweet

Rockin' robin tweet tweet tweet
Rockin' robin tweet tweet tweet
All the little birdies on jail bird street tonight
tweet tweet tweet

Momma's in the kitchen, cookin' rice
Daddy's on the corner, shootin' dice
Brother's in jail, raisin' hell
Sister's on the corner selling fruit cock tail

Rockin' robin tweet tweet tweet
Rockin' robin tweet tweet tweet
All the little birdies on jail bird street tonight
tweet tweet tweet
-Guest, Spain (Boston, Mass); http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=81350&messages=221 ,I'm Rubber. You're Glue: Children's Rhymes, 5/30/2006

****
EXAMPLE #4: ROCKIN ROBIN
Tweet baby tweet baby,
my mama said:
shes rocking in the tree top
all day long
huffing and a puffing and singing that song
all the little girls on dainburn street
love to hear the birds go tweet tweet tweet,
rocking robin tweet twirly
rocking robin tweet twirly.
Batman and robin flying in the air
batman lost his underwear
batman says I don't care
mamas gonna buy me a brand new pair,
rocking robin tweet twirly
rocking robin tweet twirly,
I went down town to get a stick a butter
all i saw was james brown sitting in a gutter
took a piece of glass shoved it up his ahhhhh...
never saw a motha sucka run so fast (crazy isnt it)
rocking robin tweet twirly
rockin robin tweet twirly,
went to the movies to see king kong
all I saw was a rubber ding dong
rocking robin tweet twiyly
rocking robin tweet twirly,
mothers in the kitchen cooking rice,
poppa's in the bathroom shooting dice,
brothers in jail raising hell,
sister's in the corner selling fruit cocktail
rocking robin (some children sing other parts not to sure what they are, the words were the same since I was young but now they add things that relate to their time)
-Guest KLC,(East Harlem, New York, New York, http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=63097 ; Folklore: Do kids still do clapping rhymes?; July 11, 2008

Editor:
In response to my request for demographical information, KLC posted this information on that same Mudcat thread:
"The children that play these games range from 5 - 12 years old. Both boys and girls play these games but girls are more into it and know a lot more hand games then the boys. The children that I see playing these games are Hispanic, African American, Carribean, Caucasian and Asian because that is the population that I serve at my program."

****
EXAMPLE #5: ROCKIN ROBIN (excerpt)
the new one is "ching ching ching to the rythm to the beat,were gonna rock to the tree top all night long huffin n a puffin n a singing that song,all the lil birdies on daver's street huffin and a puiffin singin tweet tweet tweet,rockin robins ,tweet-tweet a-leet,rockin robins,tweet-tweet a-leet,momma's in the kitchen,cookin fried chicken,daddy's in bed,half-way dead,sister's in school acting all cool/like a fool,brother's in jail eating fruit cock tail.!!
-Larasgun3, http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=VjGAwEEBn0c "Rockin Robin", 2011

-snip-
Note: Another common version of the "brother's in jail" line that I've read since at least 2005 or so is "brother's in jail/drinkin ginger ale".

****
EXAMPLE #6: TWEE LEE LEE
Twee lee lee
Tree top
Twee lee lee
My bra *
Popscicle popscicle
Your breath stinks.

He rocks in the treetop all day long
huffin' and a puffin' and singin' that song.
all the little birdies on jay bird street
love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet.

Momma's in the kitchen, cookin' rice.
Daddy's outside shootin' dice .
Brother's in jail ringin that bell.
Sister's outside playing fruit cock tail.

I went to the store to get a stick of butter **
I saw Chris Brown*** singing in the gutter .
He had a piece of glass stuck up his sssh****
I never knew a Black man run so fast.
-Naijah S. (African American girl, age 9, Hazelwood section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) ; January 14, 2011; collected by Azizi Powell, posted on http://cocojams.com/content/handclap-jump-rope-and-elastics-rhymes-2; 1/14/2011

NOTES:
I had the good fortune of collecting several examples of rhymes from Naijah when she came early to an African storytelling presentation that I did in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

*After she shared other rhymes with me, I specifically asked Naijah did she know the rhyme "Twee lee lee". She said yes, she had been thinking of that rhyme [to share with me], but it wasn't a good rhyme. I said yes, I know what she meant, but I asked her to share that rhyme with me for the sake of the collection. Without any further hesitation, Naijah began reciting that rhyme.

Naijah was very reluctant to say the word "bra". When I reassured her that it was alright to say it for the sake of this collection, she spelled out that word. I repeated it out loud to make sure that that was the right word, and Naijah said that was right but that some of the girls who do this (and she said only girls did these rhymes) didn't like saying that word.

**Naijah ended her recitation with the "Mama's in the kitchen verse". I asked her did she know another verse, and she said yes, but that "It was bad". I again asked her to share "for the sake of this Internet collection". She then recited the verse that is found above.

***Naijah said that some girls say "James Brown" and others say "Chris Brown". She then said that line using the name of "Chris Brown" (who is a currently popular young African American R&B singer and actor).

**** Naijah said that this was a bad word. I asked her did she know what it was. She said yes, but that when they said this part, she and all her friends said "Sssh! (meaning "Be quiet").

****
EXAMPLE #7: TWEE TWEE TWEE
twee twee twee, and the way we go,
so rocking in the tree top,
all the days long,
rocking and puffing and singing the song,
all the little girls from JBC,
like to here the robin go twee twee twee,
go wash bagie,
twee twee twee
jonny and i went to the beach
jonny bruk a bottle and throw it on me,
mom told dad,
dad told mom,
mom got a beaten with a mmm stick,
so freezy american cheese,
don't skin your dirty teeth
colgrate is very cheap.
-babygirl200922, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpexeCmzKjM&context=C4073e20ADvjVQa1PpcFPnnebeReOtf8G_6F2ZCR3a9Rl0MRFFkRc= , March 2012 (Jamaica)

****
This concludes Part I of this series.
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/04/rockin-robin-tweeleelee-videos.html for Part II of this series.

Also, click http://cocojams.com/content/handclap-jump-rope-and-elastics-rhymes-2 for additional versions of "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee").

Thanks for visiting this page.

Viewer comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Me and my friends sing it like this

    Twee de lee de lee
    Tweet baby tweet baby
    Mommy said a rock in the treetop all day long,
    Huffin' and a puffin' and a singin' that song.
    All the little girls on Jaybird street
    Like to hear the robins go tweet tweet tweet
    Rockin robin.
    Tweet twee de lee
    Rockin Robin
    Tweet twee de lee.

    ReplyDelete