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Friday, August 16, 2013

Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees (Four In The Middle), examples & comments

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I 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 information about & examples of those songs.

Part II 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.

Part I is a companion piece to http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/08/examples-of-dance-josey-cant-dance.html and
http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/08/chicken-in-fence-post-information-lyrics.html

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

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GENERAL OVERVIEW OF "COFFEE GROWS ON WHITE OAK TREES"
"Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees" ("CGOWOT") is a 19th century American play party song that -given its YouTube entries- appears to be quite popular not only as a fiddle tune but as a song sung by high school and other chamber choirs.

The play party song "Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees" is also known as "Four In The Middle" and "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss” among other titles. Those titles are derived from lyrics found in those songs. Verses from "Coffee Grows On White Oak", including the verse that contains those particular lyrics, are also found in other play party songs.

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WHAT THE WORDS "COFFEE GROWS ON WHITE OAK TREES" MEAN
During my research on this song, I came across an online comment which explained the meaning of the words "Coffee grows on white oak trees". Unfortunately, I can't find that website. However, I recall that the author indicated that those words referred to the use by Southerners of acorns from White Oak trees as a substitute for coffee during the Civil War. That acorns from White Oak trees could be used that way is confirmed by this quote which I later came across:

"Processing Wild Acorns as Food
...Ground and roasted white oak acorns made a good coffee substitute and was used by the pioneers for just such a purpose. Though they taste like coffee, they lack caffeine, so you can drink till your hearts content and not get the coffee jitters. White oak acorns are much lower in tannin and thus more desirable.”
http://syzygyastro.hubpages.com/hub/Wild-Acorns-as-Food

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GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT PLAY PARTY SONGS
From http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lhf01
Texas State Historical Association – Folk Music
"...Another folk song-and-dance tradition is the play party. Many early Texas settlers were fundamentalists who believed that dancing and fiddle music were sinful. They satisfied the universal urge to move to music with the play party, which was song-accompanied dance that allowed no instruments. They called their rhythmical group movements "marches" or "games," they danced in rings or in longways formations but never in squares, and they swung each other by hand, never by the waist. They used many popular dance tunes—"Old Clark," "Old Dan Tucker," "The Gal I Left Behind Me," "Willis in the Ballroom"—but because of the lack of instrumental music, the words became all-important. Play-party songs have preserved many stanzas that were lost in the fiddle-dance tradition. A play party usually began with a choosing game such as "Needle's Eye" or "Hog Drovers," then progressed to ring-game songs like "Saro Jane" or "Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees," and in full swing went into longways dances like "Weevily Wheat," "Little Brass Wagon," and "Baltimore." Play parties were not only popular among fundamentalists; they were necessary when no musician was around. In spite of the reservations laid on the players by their elders, play-party songs and formations were just as joyful and exuberant as their sinful fiddling square-dance counterparts."
-snip-
Note that some versions of "Weevily Wheat” include “Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees” verses.

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TEXT EXAMPLES OF "COFFEE GROWS ON WHITE OAK TREES" (FOUR IN THE MIDDLE)
A number of play party versions of "Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees”/"Four In The Middle" can be found online. Here are two examples with performance instructions. (Remember that performance instructions for this song may vary among examples.)

Text Example #1: Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees
From http://www.ibiblio.org/jimmy/folkden-wp/?p=6920
Roger McGuinn - In The Folk Tradition
Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees [includes musical notations]

"This is a Southwestern play-party song. Play party songs were designed to protect young people from the evil business of square dancing. Any number of couples would join hands and form a ring. The ladies would march around a single man and sing the first part of the song at a slow tempo. The man would chose a partner from the ring and the dancers would skip around them singing 'Two in the middle and I can't dance Josie.' This would continue until all couples were In the center. They would swing left and Right.

Lyrics:

[D] Coffee grows on white [Bm] Oak trees
[D] The river flows with [Em] brandy �O[A]
[D] Go choose someone to [Bm] roam with you
[Em] Sweet as lasses [A] candy O
[D] Two in the middle and I [Bm] can't dance Josie
[D] Two in the middle and I [C] can't get [A] around
[D] Two in the middle and I [Bm] can't dance Josie
[G] Hello [A] Susan [D] Brown

Four in the middle and I can't dance Josie
Four in the middle and I can't get around
Four in the middle and I can't dance Josie
Hello Susan Brown

[D] Railroad, [F#m] steamboat, [Bm] river and [G] canal
I lost my [Em] true love on that [A] ragin� canal [D]
[D] O she's gone, gone, gone,
O she's gone, gone, gone, [A]
O she's gone on that ragin' [D] canal (X2)

Fiddler's drunk and I can't dance Josie
Fiddler's drunk and I can't get around
Fiddler�s drunk and I can't dance Josie
Hello Susan Brown

Cow in the well and can't jump Josie
Cow in the well and can't get around
Cow in the well and can't jump Josie
Hello Susan Brown

Railroad, steamboat, river and canal
I lost my true love on that ragin' canal
O she's gone, gone, gone,
O she's gone, gone, gone,
O she's gone on that ragin' canal
(X2)

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Text Example #2: FOUR IN THE MIDDLE
From http://web.lyon.edu/wolfcollection/songs/escuecoffee1242.html

Sung by: Jack Escue
Recorded in Sidney, AR 8/30/57


Coffee grows on a white oak tree,
River flows with brandy,
Choose you one as we go out,
Sweet as 'lasses candy.

There's four in the middle,
And you'd better get around.
There's four in the middle,
And you'd better get around.
There's four in the middle
And you'd better get around,
For I love my Susie Brown.

Six in the middle,
And you'd better get around.
There's six in the middle
And you'd better get around.
Six in the middle
And you'd better get around,
For I love my Susie Brown.

Now we're all in the middle,
And you'd better get around.
We're all in the middle
And you'd better get around.
We're all in the middle
And you'd better get around,
For I love my Susie Brown.

(Mr. Escue: "In this sing and play, they're all around a circle. They're going 'round and 'round and there's a extra boy and a girl in the center of the ring, and when it comes to choose your partner, why, each one of them chooses another boy and another girl, and they swing by the right, and back by the left, and on around. And then another couple joins in when it says six in the middle and they do the same thing. Swing them by the right and then back by the left, and then when you sing all in the middle, that means all eight is in there a-swinging with the right and then with the left. And that's the way you do that.")

Also found in Randolph, Vol. III, #524, "Four in the Middle"; Brown, Vol. III, #78, "Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees."

Click http://web.lyon.edu/wolfcollection/songs/escuecoffee1242.mp3 for this recording.

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FEATURED VIDEO EXAMPLES (Choir Renditions)

Video Example #1: Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees - MacDowell Male Chorus



Allen Blodgett, Published on Apr 30, 2012

The MacDowell Male Chorus of Appleton, WI performs Edwin Earie Ferguson's arrangement of "Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees." Our soloist is Ron Steudel, director Herb Berendsen (youtube.com/berendsenherb), and pianist John Riehle.
-snip-
"Two in the middle" lyrics begin at 1:11 of this video.

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Video Example #2: Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees



David Fazzini, Published on May 2, 2013

2013 Notre Dame Prep High School Women's Ensemble sings Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees arranged by William R. Fischer. This was recorded at State Festival in the Rochester High school auditorium. The chorus earned an excellent rating with this performance. David Fazzini (director), Jessica Zelinski (accompanist)

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EDITOR COMMENT
In the rare event that any racial demographics are given online for "Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees" ("Four In The Middle"), those songs are usually only attributed to White Americans. That attribution ignores the extensive cross pollination that occurred between Black & White Southern & Appalachian residents regarding dance tunes & songs, play party songs, and minstrel songs. With regard to the song that is the focus of this post, the fact that African American folklorist Thomas W. Tally included a parody of "Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees" [whose title is "Coffee Grows On White Folks' Trees"] in his 1922 collection of Negro Folk Songs serves as documentation that Black folks knew that "CGOWOT" song.

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BONUS VIDEO
Here's a video of a related folk song entitled "Weevily Wheat":
140 0818 [Weevily Wheat/Four In The Middle]



vanvalinv, Published on Dec 3, 2012

This song should be done in groups of four people. For the Weevily Wheat part of the song, you can hold hands and swing them, OR hold hands and walk in a circle going left, then right. For the multiplication part of the song, you pile hands on top of each other then release from the bottom of the pile.
-snip-
This rendition of "Weevily Wheat" shows why that song is sometimes also called "Four In The Middle".

Click http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=97222
"Origins: Weevily Wheat" for a discussion about "Weevily Wheat"/"Four In The Middle" songs. Some of those songs include the "Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees" verse. Here's an excerpt from one of those comments which was posted by Goose Gander, 15 Dec 06 - 08:28 PM :

"Amzie Casner Tabor of Trinidad, Colorado, remembered this from around 1900 as a dance like a Virginia reel to teach children their multiplication tables." [then includes the lyrics]
-snip-
This and another comment on that discussion thread imply that
the multiplication lyrics were a later addition on to that song.

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Thanks to the composers & collectors of these featured songs. Thanks also to those who are quoted in this post, those who are featured in these videos, and those who published these videeos on YouTube.

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