Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chicken On The Fence Post (information & lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a two part series of 19th songs that include the phrase "dance Josey" or "can't dance Josey".

This post focuses on the play party song "Chicken On The Fencepost".

Click for Part I of this series. That post focuses on the songs "Hello Susan Brown", "Hold My Mule" and several other songs.

The content of this post is provided for folkloric, recreational, and aesthetic purposes.

"Chicken In The Fence Post" is lifted from the 19th century couples' dance (reel) that is known as "Hello Susan Brown", "Four In The Middle" and other titles. All of those songs -including "Chicken In The Fence Post" are likely of African American origin.

Here's information about those dances from
Play-Party Songs and Dances in Texas

From Bill Owens "Tell Me a Story, Sing Me a Song"
"...In parts of Texas "Dance Josey" became so popular that play-parties are still remembered as "them old Josey parties." The song was easily adapted to the place, the time, the dancers, or the need for a laugh:

Chicken on the fence post, can't dance Josey;
Chicken on the fence post, can't dance Joe;
Chicken on the fence post, can't dance Josey;
Hello Susan Brown ee o.

Hold my mule while I dance Josey, Etc.

Big foot Charlie can't dance Josey, Etc"

FEATURED VIDEO: Chicken On a Fencepost

Anthony Meehl, Published on Oct 13, 2012
How that game is played in this video:
Children form two circles, one inside of the other. Children in each circle hold hands with the person on either side of them. Each circle moves in the opposite direction. Two people outside of the outer circle run around to outer circle moving in opposite directions.

At the end of the word “brownie-“o”, all of the people forming both of the circles race their linked hands up in the air forming an arch. Both of the two people who were outside the two circles tries to get in the second circle before the other one. When one of those people gets in that circle, the game begins again.

Note: I'm unsure what the winner & loser do. Perhaps they both join that second circle which means that circle would become larger than the first circle.

The second circle makes sense, given the "four in the middle" lyrics for early versions of this song.
Another version of the "Chicken In The Fence Post" play party song can be found at
"2 concentric circles w/ two “foxes” on outside.

Teacher chooses 1 “gate” in each of the circles. Rubber chicken is placed in the inside circle.

Gates are closed. Foxes may watch now. Both circles sing while moving in opposite directions. On the “o” of Brownie-o” the 2 gates open forming a maze in which foxes race to grab the chicken from the middle of the center circle.
Notice the addition of a "rubber chicken placed on the inside of the circle (ring). It seems to me that using that type of prop is an unneccessary substitute for children developing & using their imagination.

Editor Notes:
The word “Brownie-o” appears to be a contemporary, rhythmical revision of the earlier form of that last name. It's likely that "Brown" was originally used as a reference for a Black woman as was the case with the Jamaican & American sea shanties "Sally Brown". Click for information about and examples of "Sally Brown".

Thanks to all those who composed these songs. Thanks to those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publisher of this video on YouTube and thanks to those who are featured in that video.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Here's a reposting of a comment that I added to my post on the game song "Charlie Over The Ocean" which explains why I think that it's important to note when game songs (or other folk songs) are of African American origin:

    "To expand on my comments in this post about "color blindness" and children's playground rhymes, I think that it's unfortunate that non-offensive references to race have been purposely deleted from most American children's rhymes and many American folk songs. Those deletions, or the failure to recognize certain references as being racial in intent results in many Americans and other persons assuming that the only pre-20th century American songs that are of African American origin are Spirituals, Gospel songs, Blues, Ragtime, and Jazz.

    That listing of pre-20th century African American songs are incomplete as it doesn't include "American Folk songs", Old Time Banjo & Fiddle songs, Sea Shanties, children's playground rhymes, play party songs, and probably other music genres.

    It seems to me that failing to even briefly note the African American origin of that music means missed opportunities to recognize & celebrate the cultural diversity of the United States, and help African Americans develop & reinforce their sense of self-esteem and group esteem."

    1. Here's an excerpt from a video summary of a performance of the Jamaican folk shanty "Sally Brown" which also addresses the issue of generalizing the source of folk songs & rhymes:

      "Excerpt from the uploader’s summary of the video about the Jamaican sea shanty “Sally Brown”:

      “Interesting how many modern versions of this have sort of neutralized it, removing racial or ethnic markers. Too bad this also removes the Jamaica setting and some of the depth of meaning of what is going on here in this chantey...” by hultonclint