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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Eiizabeth Cotton - "Shake Sugaree" (sound file, lyrics, & meanings)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents a sound file of Elizabeth Cotton's song "Shake Sugaree" as sung by her grand-daughter Brenda Evans. This post also provides information about that song and a discussion of the meaning of the song and its title.

The content of this post is presented for historical, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes

INFORMATION ABOUT ELIZABETH COTTON
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Cotten
"Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten (January 5, 1893 – June 29, 1987) was an American blues and folk musician, singer, and songwriter...

Her approach involved using a right-handed guitar (usually in standard tuning), not re-strung for left-handed playing, essentially, holding a right-handed guitar upside down. This position required her to play the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb. Her signature alternating bass style has become known as "Cotten picking"...

Over the course of the early 1960s, Cotten went on to play more shows with big names in the burgeoning folk revival. Some of these included Mississippi John Hurt, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters at venues such as the Newport Folk Festival and the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife.

The newfound interest in her work inspired her to write more material to play and in 1967, she released a record created with her grandchildren which took its name from one of the songs she had written, Shake Sugaree."...

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FEATURED SOUND FILE

Elizabeth Cotten - Shake Sugaree



TheMusoboy, Published on Apr 18, 2013

-snip-
[This song was recorded in 1967 with vocals by Brenda Evans, Elizabeth Cotton's granddaughter.]
-snip-
LYRICS: SHAKE SUGAREE
(Libba Cotten)

Have a little song.
Won't take long.
Sing it right,
Once or twice.

Oh, Lawdy me,
Didn't I shake sugaree?
Everything I got is done and pawned.*
Everything I got is done and pawned.

Pawn my watch.
Pawn my chain.
Pawn everything that was in my name.

Oh, Lawdy me,
Didn't I shake sugaree?
Everything I got is done and pawned.
Everything I got is done and pawned.

Pawn my buggy,
Horse and cart.
Pawn everything that was on my lot.

Oh, Lawdy me,
Didn't I shake sugaree?
Everything I got is done and pawned.
Everything I got is done and pawned

Pawn my chair.
Pawn my bed.
Ain't got nowhere to lay my head.

Oh, Lawdy me,
Didn't I shake sugaree?
Everything I got is done and pawned.
Everything I got is done and pawned.

Pawn my tobacco.
Pawn my pipe.
Pawned everything that was in my sight.

Oh, Lawdy me,
Didn't I shake sugaree?
Everything I got is done and pawned.
Everything I got is done and pawned.

Have a little secret
I ain't gonna tell.
I'm going to heaven in a ground pea shell.**

Oh, Lawdy me,
Didn't I shake sugaree?
Everything I got is done and pawned.
Everything I got is done and pawned.

Pawn my farm.
Pawn my plough.
Pawned everything, even pawned my old cow.

Oh, Lawdy me,
Didn't I shake sugaree?
Everything I got is done and pawned.
Everything I got is done and pawned.

Pawn my hat,
Pawn my shoes.
Pawned everything that I could use.

Oh, Lawdy me
Didn't I shake sugaree?
Everything I got is done and pawned.
Everything I got is done and pawned.

Have a little secret,
I ain't gonna tell
I'm goin' to heaven and I ain't gonna..."***

Oh, Lawdy me,
Didn't I shake sugaree?
Everything I got is done and pawned.
Everything I got is done and pawned.

Chew my tobacco.
Spit my juice.
Would raise Cain but it ain't a bit ah use. ****

Oh, Lawdy me,
Didn't I shake sugaree?
Everything I got is done and pawned.
Everything I got is done and pawned.
Everything I got is done and pawned.
-snip-
Transcription by Azizi Powell from the above recording.

*I believe that "done and pawned" in the line "everything I have is done and pawned" is a creative form of the African American vernacular English "done pawned" meaning I pawned (everything) a while ago.

Although the word "pawn" is what the singer appears to be vocalizing, I believe the past tense "pawned" is actually meant. (For instance, "pawned my watch".)

**"Ground pea shell" is often given as "brown pea shell". The word "brown" might be what the vocalist is singing.

***"Gonna" here means "going to".
I believe that the word "hell" is omitted from this line but is understood. That purposeful omission is an example of profanity avoidance that commonly occurs in some American folk songs. One example of this profanity avoidance is the playground rhyme "Miss Susie Had A Steamboat". However, in some examples of that rhyme the word "hell" is said at the end of the sentence but is combined with the syllable "lo" to form the socially acceptable word "hello".

**** "to raise Cain" means "to make a lot of trouble; to raise hell"
http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/raise+Cain

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GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE SONG "SHAKE SUGAREE"
From http://ramone666.blogspot.com/2008/04/shake-sugaree.html
"Shake Sugaree is a song I´ve always loved, especially in the original version as performed by the amazing Elizabeth Cotten. "I've a little secret, I ain't gonna tell... I'm goin' to heaven in a ground pea shell... Oh, Lordy me, didn't I shake sugaree, everything I got is down in pawn..." It´s Elizabeth ´Libba´ Cotten (1895-1987) on guitar here only by the way, as her great grandchild Brenda Evans is singing it. And what a voice she´s got... Brenda was only twelve (!) at the time, and contributed to the lyrics together with her brother Johnny and her two cousins Sue and Wendy, on gran Elizabeth´s melody. According to Cotten in the liner notes "the first verse, my eldest great grandson, he made that himself, and from that each child would say a word and add to it. To tell the truth, I don´t know what got it started, but it must have been something said or something done". Find this jewel on the cd Shake Sugaree (Smithsonian Folkways)."
-snip-
That blog post also has information about other renditions of Elizabeth Cotton's song "Shake Sugaree" by Taj Mahal, Bob Dylan, and others.

This song is different in lyrics & tune from the Greatful Dead's song "Sugaree". There's no doubt that in the Greatful Dead song "Sugaree" is a term of endearment like "Sugar" and "Honey". However, there are multiple theories about the meaning of the word "sugaree" and the phrase "shake sugaree" in the Elizabeth Cotton song since neither Elizabeth Cotton, nor her grand-daughter, vocalist Brenda Evans, nor any other family member has ever explained what "shake sugaree" means. Some of those theories are presented below.

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THEORIES ABOUT THE MEANING/S OF "SHAKE SUGAREE"
Most of the websites which provide opinions of the meaning of the word "sugaree" and/or the phrase "shake sugaree" do so as though what they are writing is an indisputable fact. However, weenie campbell.com presents & discusses a number of theories in a four page discussion which began on May 08, 2012 & ended (to date) on June 20, 2012. Click http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=8616 for the first page of that discussion.

Here are some of the theories that were presented on that forum:
1. The word "sugaree" in Cotton's song is an affectionate name, and the phrase is actually "Shake, Sugaree" ("Dance, Sugaree")
Note that there is a late 1950s song entitled "Sugaree" which was recorded several times by White American vocalists. Here's a comment from the above mentioned weeniecampbell.com discussion: "the Marty Robbins' song, "Sugaree," had been recorded three different times, the first time by the Jordanaires in 1957. If it received airplay or if the record was played at home, the children could have picked it up (it's catchy) and worked it into the song. Here are the Jordanaires on Youtube singing "Sugaree": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIyoJdL304cM

2. The phrase 'shake sugaree' "means having a good time and is related to throwing sugar on the floor and then dancing on it, producing a percussive sound when the feet move on the sugared floor". Click http://rickmckeon.com/guitarlessons/shakel.pdf [rev. 12/4/07 for this note: "At house parties they used to shake sugar on the floor so it would crunch when stepped on, hence “to shake sugaree” meant to have a good time dancing. Even today, there’s a dance step called the “sugar step” which is an action like grinding sugar on the floor."
-snip-
Also, click
http://www.sugaronthefloor.com/ for another explanation of "sugar on the floor".

3. "Sugaree" is a form of the word "shivaree" and, in this context "shake sugaree" means "have a good time, partied (have a party). Here's some information from about the word "shivaree":
"Charivari (or shivaree or chivaree, also called "rough music") is the term for a French folk custom in which the community gave a noisy, discordant mock serenade, also pounding on pots and pans, at the home of newlyweds...

The early French colonists took the custom of charivari (or shivaree in the United States) to their settlements in Quebec. Some historians believe the custom spread to English-speaking areas of Lower Canada and eventually into the American South, but it was independently common in English society, so was likely part of Anglo-American customs"...
-snip-
Lyle Lofgren, one of the key bloggers on the weeniecampbell.com discussion cited above, wrote this about "shivarees"
“We had shivarees out in the country in Minnesota when I was a kid -- all the neighbors would assemble in front of a newlywed's house at about 10:00 at night, and all of us would yell, bang on plow coulters and other noisemakers, and in general create a disturbance until the couple appeared at the door to acknowledge our presence. I believed at the time that it was a common occurrence among country folk, although I've never asked other farm-raised people about it"...
-snip-
In 1999 folk singer Art Thieme gave this explanation for the meaning of the phrase "shake sugaree" on the Mudcat Cafe discussion about Elizabeth Cotton's song "Shake Sugaree" http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=11390:
"This was like we'll "have a shivaree"---a part---a celebration. Like sayin' "din't we have a time" or "didn't we boogie". ["part" was corrected in the next post to “party”]

4. "Sugaree" refers to a long extinct North Carolina tribe of Indians & mixed race people named the Shoccoree (also spelled Shakory, Cacores among others. The implication is that the North Carolina resident Elizabeth Cotton may either have been aware of this population or may have been descended from that population. According to that theory, the word "shake" means to "dance ecstatically."
-snip-
For what it's worth, I prefer theory #3, but I think that "shake sugaree" could also at the same time mean theory #2.

I don't accept theory #1 (that "sugaree" is a name or nickname) because there's no space between the vocalization of the word "shake" and "sugaree" as there would be if "sugaree" were a name/nickname. I consider theory #4 to be a bit of a stretch (as the bloggers on the weeniecampbell.com forum also came to feel) since just because words sound alike doesn't mean that they are related.

I vehemently disagree with the statement found in the article about the song "Sugaree" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugaree that Elizabeth Cotton's "Shake Sugaree" is about dying.

Although "Shake Sugaree" was originally sung by a twelve year old, I believe that its lyrics are written in the voice of an older person who is looking back on her or his life, reminiscing about the hardships of that life, but still saying "I had some real good times".

It's that sad but still upbeat feeling that this song conveys which makes it so appealing to many people, including me.

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UPDATE: September 12, 2014
It occurs to me that the word "sugaree" sounds like the word "sangaree".

I now believe that "shake sugaree" pertains to the "favorite dance
["Sandy Ree"/"Sangaree"] to which [the Gullah islanders] seemed to reserve their fanciest footwork and their hottest clapping" [quoting Step It Down].

Prior to doing research for a pancocojams post on the songs "Sangaree"/"Sandy Ree" post*, I favored the theory that "shake sugaree" came from the word "shavari" meaning a loud community serenade or gathering in celebration of the bride and groom.

The fact that Elizabeth Cotton was an African American from North Carolina [parts of which historically were considered Gullah country] adds further support to the theory that "shake sugaree" and "sangaree" are one in the same. Also, note the use of the word "sangaree" as the name of a North Carolina elementary School, and a North Carolina middle school, and a city in Georgia. All of those locations are in what historically was considered Gullah country.

Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/09/speculations-about-origin-meaning-of.html for that a pancocojams post.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND THANKS
Thanks to Elizabeth Cotton, and her grand children for composing this song. Thanks also to Brenda Evans for singing this song, and Elizabeth Cotton for her guitar playing on this song & for her wonderful musical legacy.

My thanks also to the authors of the articles & the bloggers whose comments were quoted in this post. Thanks to the uploader for this featured sound file.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.

3 comments:

  1. Elizabeth Cotton's "Shake Sugaree" is probably categorized as a Blues song, although some might consider it a folk song with a known composer.

    Like other Blues & folk songs, there are versions of "Shake Sugaree" which have lyrics that differ from those composed by Elizabeth Cotton & her grandchildren.

    Click http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=46729 for a discussion thread about "Shake Sugaree" which includes partial lyrics sung by Bob Dylan, and a fine, purposely folk processed version by folk singer Art Thiemes.

    Partial lyrics of the unrelated Grateful Dead song "Sugaree" are also found on that same discussion thread.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This appears to be one of those wonderful, elusive, enigmatic 'Americana' idioms ... thanx for the great discussion - luv Fred Neil's take on the Cotten original.

    Fred Neil:

    I’ve Got a Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree)

    I’ve got a secret, I shouldn’t tell,
    I’m gonna go to heaven in a split-pea shell.
    Lordie me, didn’t we shake sugaree.
    Everything I have, down in pawn.

    You know I pawned my watch, I pawned my chain,
    I’d of sold myself, but I felt ashamed.
    Lordie me, didn’t we shake sugaree.
    Everything I have, down in pawn.

    I’ve got a song to sing, not very long,
    I’m gonna sing it right if it takes me all night long
    Lordie me, didn’t we shake sugaree.
    Everything I have, down in pawn.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment ccryder.

      I appreciate the addition of Fred Neil's "Shake Sugaree" lyrics.

      Your comment made me look up this post, and I saw that the YouTube example I had showcased was no longer available. Luckily, there was another YouTube example that I could add.

      Thanks again!!

      Delete