Friday, August 16, 2013

Coffee Grows On White Folks' Trees (example & comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a two part series of posts on the song "Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees" (also known as "Four In The Middle").

This post presents an example of and comments about a parody of "Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees". That parody is entitled "Coffee Grows On White Folks Trees" and is found in Thomas W. Talley's 1922 collection Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise & Otherwise.

Click for Part I of this series.

Part I provides information about and examples of the song "Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees" (also known as "Four In The Middle").

Part I is a companion piece to and

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, historical, and recreational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

It's more comfortable for Americans to picture enslaved Black people as passive folk who only sung sorrow songs (Spirituals) and work songs. However, a study of some of the
examples found in Thomas W. Talley's collection Negro Folk Songs: Wise & Otherwise will correct that misconception.

There's no doubt that "Coffee Grows On White Folks' Trees" is a parody of the play party song "Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees".
"A parody (/ˈpærədi/; also called spoof, send-up or lampoon), in current use, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on or trivialise[citation needed] an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of satiric or ironic imitation."

Fisk University professor Thomas W. Talley wrote that the examples that he featured in his book Negro Folk Rhymes were compiled from his memory (as an African American) and from the recollections of his African American students. Although Talley indicated that some of the songs were quite old, others were certainly composed post-emancipation. Given that "Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees" may have been composed before the end of slavery in the United States, this parody of that song probably was also composed around that same time.


Coffee grows on w'ite folks' trees,
But de N****r can git dat w'en he please.
De w'ite folks loves deir milk an' brandy,
But dat black gal's sweeter dan 'lasses candy.

Coffee grows on w'ite folks trees,
An' dere's a river dat runs wid milk an' brandy.
De rocks is broke an' filled wid gold,
So dat yaller gal loves dat high-hat dandy.

From Negro Folk Rhymes Wise & Otherwise by Thomas W. Tally of Frisk University, Originally published By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY New York, circa 1922

Online book [P.107]

In the first verse, the speaker brags about how Black people can bests White people. The speaker also compares White folk's fondness for milk & brandy to the sweetness of Black women.

The second verse may be a reference to Heaven and/or a symbolic representation of the River of Jordan, perhaps with the implication that although White people may have the power down on earth, they don't rule Heaven -
and Black people will have just as much access to the wonders of Heaven as White people have.

Here are explanations of certain words in that song:

The n word:
What is now known as "the n word" was fully spelled out in that song. As evidenced in that and other songs, some 19th century & early 20th century Black people used that word as an colloquial referent for themselves and other Black people. However, not all 19th Black Americans used that referent for themselves and/or other Black people. Furthermore, it seems to me, that that referent is even more pejorative now than it was in the 19th and early 20th century.

yaller gal
A light skin Black woman; Light skinned Black women were usually depicted in 19th/early 20th century African American folk rhymes as being "stuck up" (status conscious), hence the reference to that woman wanting a high hat dandy.

high hat dandy
A high hot dandy is a man interested in being fashionable who wears top hats.
"A man who affects extreme elegance in clothes and manners; a fop."
"A top hat, beaver hat, high hat, silk hat, cylinder hat, chimney pot hat or stove pipe hat[1] (sometimes also known by the nickname "topper") is a tall, flat-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, predominantly worn from the latter part of the 18th to the middle of the 20th century. As of the early 21st century, it is usually worn only with morning dress or white tie, in dressage, as servants' or doormen's livery, or as a fashion statement. The top hat is sometimes associated with the upper class, becoming a target for satirists and social critics"

Thanks to the composers of these featured songs & thanks to Thomas W. Talley for collecting it. Thanks also to those who are quoted in this post.

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