Saturday, October 19, 2013

What "Hop High" Means In "Hop High Ladies" and Other Old Time Music Songs

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information & speculations about the meaning of "hop high" in American Old Time Music. This post also provides additional examples of the meaning of the word "hop" in other genres of American music. A video of the contemporary American group The Shots performing "Hop High Ladies" and a video of Dirk Powell performing that song is also included in this post.

This post is part of a continuing series that presents information and speculation about the meanings of certain words & phrases that are found in American Old Time Music. As such, this post is also part of a continuing pancocojams series that provides examples & other information of American Old Time Music.


The word "hop" in Old Time Music songs "Hop High My Lulu Girl" and "Hop High Ladies" means "to dance".

The word "hop" as a synonym for "dance" is found in the dance names "The Lindy Hop" and "Bunny Hop". The word "hop" was also used in the 1950s United States to refer to a dance gathering or event [a "record hop"]. That meaning of the word hop is found in the title of & lyric to the hit song "Let's Go To The Hop' which was released in 1957 and was sung by the White American group Danny and the Juniors.

I'm not certain if the word "hop" in Old Time Music songs such as "Hope High Lulu" and "Hop High Ladies" referred to a particular type of dancing or if that use of "hop" meant the same thing as the standard meaning for the word "hop" - "[a person] jumping on one foot" or "(a bird or other animal) mov[ing] by jumping with two or all feet at once."

I think that the "hop high" and "hop light" referred to the same type of hopping (dancing), but I'm not sure about that. Read an explanation below of this term or terms that is re-posted in the Other Comments section.

Of course, like other words & phrases, the meaning of "hop high" and "hop light" could have changed over time. That phrase or those phrases also could have had different meanings during the same time span with the same or with different populations - for instance, Black Americans and among White Americans could have had different meaning/s for those phrases. Furthermore, like other words or phrases, "hop high" and "hop light" could have similtaneously had a coded meaning. Read my comments below about that speculation.

It appears to me that the phrases "hop high" and "hop light" were at least sometimes used as dance directional commands. By "dance directional commands" I mean the familiar square dance commands to "Swing your partner" and to "do si do".

For example, notice the directional commands in this version of the song "Hop High Ladies":

From "Lyr Req: song to miss mcleod's reel"; posted by Mark Ross, 12 Nov 08 - 02:28 PM

Hop High ladies, to and fro,
Hop High Ladies, three in a row,
Hop High Ladies, cakes all dough,
How I'll ever get to heaven I never will know.
"Song to Miss Mcleod's Reel" probably means "sung to [the tune] Miss Mcleod's reel".

However, the directional lines in that song may have been a later addition to that song.

I also wonder if in those dance songs & in colloquial use the phrases "hop high" and "hop light" may have served as an exhortation to be careful how you're moving through life or through some circumstance. Such a meaning seems to fit the theme of the song "Shout Lulu" (also known as "Roustabout") in which the spoken voice is telling the promiscuous woman he knows to be careful about what she's doing. But, in that song instead of heeding those words of concern "Hop high, hop high Lulu", the woman continues to brag about her actions and the material things those actions bring her.

The serious, "coded" meaning of those "hop high" and/or "hop light" phrases also fit the usually at least potentially threatening circumstances that African Americans might face at any moment in the mid to late 19th century [when these "Hop High Ladies", "Shout Lulu"/"Hop High"/"Roustabout" songs were composed] and, for that matter, the potentially threatening circumstancees that African Americans might have encountered since the 19th century and may encounter even today [To cite, just two examples think about what happened to Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin.]

Read my opinions about coded African American songs in the comment section of this post.

I believe that the line in the "Hop High Ladies" songs to "don't mind the weather if the wind don't blow" [or similar lines] encouraged/encourages people to put aside their cares, and just relax, and enjoy themselves. This sentiment is similar to that found in Bobby McFarrin's 1988 hit song "Don't Worry Be Happy".

As a matter of fact, I think that this entire version of "Hop Up, My Ladies" (another title for the "Hop High, Ladies"/"Uncle Joe" songs) conveys that message:


Did you ever go to meetin', Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe?
Did you ever go to meetin', Uncle Joe?
Did you ever go to meetin', Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe?
Don't mind the weather so the wind don't blow.

cho: Hop up, my ladies, three in a row, (3x)
Don't mind the weather so the wind don't blow.

Will your horse carry double, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe

Is your horse a single-footer, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe

Would you rather own a pacer, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe

Say, you don't want to gallop, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe

Say, you migh take a tumble, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe

Well, we'll get there soon as t'others, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe

From Our Singing Country, Lomax
tune: McLeod's Reel
"Meeting" in that song probably refers to a "church meeting" (a religious gathering).

My sense is that the song conveys the message that people shouldn't worry [shouldn't stress out] if they don't go to church -I think this reference particularly is in regards to those hell & brimstone types of churches that scare people silly by warning them of dire consequences for doing & thinking all sorts of things.

Furthermore, I think this song conveys the message that it's alright if you don't have the material things you wish that you had. As the song says-though not in these words- if you had a fancy horse which could run fast, you might fall down and break your neck. And besides even with your "single-footer" horse, you'll still get where you're going.

Fisk University chemistry professor & folklorist Thomas W. Talley compiled folk songs from his memory & from the memory of his mthose of his African American students. Those songs were included in the now classic 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise & Otherwise. Talley wrote that some of these songs were generations old. "Jaybird Died With A Whooping Cough" was probably among those very old examples. Here are two verses of that song:

Dat Mockin'-bird, he romp an' sing;
Dat ole Gray Goose come prancin'.
Dat Thrasher stuff his mouf wid plums,
Den he caper on down to de dancin'.

Dey hopped it low, an' dey hopped it high;
Dey hopped it to, an' dey hopped it by;
Dey hopped it fer, an' dey hopped it nigh;
Dat fiddle an' bow jes make 'em fly., p. 36
WARNING: This example and some other song examples contain the "n word" fully spelled out.
There's no way to know if that "hopped it high" line is the source of the "hop high" phrase in Old Time Music. But it's intriguing to imagine that it is. African American Thomas W. Talley and his African American students probably were very familiar with that song/rhyme.

From "Lyr Req: song to miss mcleod's reel"; posted by GUEST, Date: 12 Nov 08 - 11:54 AM

I found a version that reads:

hop light ladies the cake's all dough
hop light ladies the cake's all dough
hop light ladies the cake's all dough
I don't mind the weather so the wind don't blow

{this makes sense to me because cakes will fall while baking if you walk too heavily on the floor!)


Subject: RE: Hop High Ladies Obscure Verse
Date: 28 Dec 12 - 08:49 PM

what does hop high ladies fore the cakes all dough mean?

Subject: RE: Hop High Ladies Obscure Verse
From:GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 28 Dec 12 - 09:36 PM

Means the cake has "fallen" already, so you don't have to worry but just go ahead and stomp the dance floor all you please.

(While the cake's in the over you're supposed to walk gently so it will keep its shape and not fall.)

Subject: RE: Hop High Ladies Obscure Verse
From:GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 28 Dec 12 - 09:37 PM

Sorry, make that "oven" in the last line immediately above.
I'm still not certain if "hop light" and "hop high" mean the same thing. Did this commenter* mean that a person has to tread/dance lightly [hop light] when the cake's in the oven and the cake hasn't fallen. But if and when the cake has fallen ["is dough"] the person can "stomp" and dance as hard [hop high] as much as she or he wants to.

Do you think that "hop high" and "hop light" meant the same thing?

*I used to be an active poster on Mudcat Cafe. And, in case he's reading this post, I want to take the opportunity to say "Hi to Bob Coltman and thank him for all he taught me about studying songs by his example and by the online discussions that we participated in.

WARNING: Some comments & some lyrics that are found in Mudcat Cafe discussion threads contain the fully spelled out "n word".

[These two videos are presented in no particular order.]

Example #1: Hop High Ladies

The Shots, Uploaded on Nov 22, 2010

The Shots playing the Old Time song Hop High Ladies

Example #2: Dirk Powell - Hop High My Lulu Girl

DrQuickbeam, Uploaded on Oct 10, 2009

Where did you get those high top shoes
And the dress that you wear so fine
I got my shoes from a railroading man
And the dress is from a driver in the mine

Oh hop high, hop high
Hop high, my Lulu girl
Oh hop high, hop high
Hop high, my Lulu girl

I'll pawn you my watch and I'll pawn you my chain
I'll pawn you my gold wedding ring
To pay my little Lulu's fine
I'll pawn you my wagon and my team


Where have you been my pretty little girl
Where have you been so long
I've been in the pen with them rough and rowdy men
And honey I'm goin' back again


Thanks to the unknown composers of these Old Time Songs. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post, and thanks to the performers in these featured videos for their musical legacies. And thanks to the publishers of those videos on YouTube.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Here's part of the comment that I added to the viewer comment thread of The Shot's video that is embedded in this post:

    " I enjoyed your highly skilled and aesthetically pleasing performance - and this is from an African American who had to learn to put aside past negative perceptions of fiddle/banjo music that I associated with minstrel music & really hear the music & its lyrics that also come from my tradition."

  2. Regarding coded references in old African American songs:

    I don't believe that "Steal Away" or any other African American Spirituals had a coded [hidden, double] meaning every time that it was sung by African Americans during slavery.

    I believe that Spiritual and certain other Spirituals may have had a coded meaning sometimes. But if every time those Spirituals were sung to signal that someone or a group of people were planning to make a dangerous attempt to flee slavery, don't you think that someone [such as a Black "snitch" beforehand or the White master afterwards] would get wise to the connection between that particular song and an attempted escape or an actual escape?

    Furthermore, it's interesting to me that many people who believe that nearly all African American Spirituals had coded [hidden; double] meaning don't think about the possibility of post slavery African American songs having any coded meanings.

    After slavery was officially abolished, if Black people were caught critiquing the status quo or if they behaved in ways that were contrary to the complacent fun loving personas which were non-threatening to White folks, then those Black people could still suffer physical harm. After slavery, Black people could still lose their lives, or their freedom, or their livelihoods by saying the wrong thing or by acting the wrong way in front of White people.

    It seems to me that for those reasons, dance songs would have been a safe way to reinforce "coping skills" and a safe way to exhort other Black people to remember to "watch your step".

    Furthermore, in the 19th century and early 20th century it was far safer to slip social commentarty and criticism of White people and the status quo in the middle of a dance song or at the end of a song, than for Black people to be up front with that criticism.

    A somewhat well known example of Black people using this strategy of hiding commentary/criticism in plain sight is this floating verse:

    My old missus promised me
    That when she died she'd set me free.
    An' now she's dead an' gone to hell;
    hope the devil will chunk her well.
    That example is found in a 1909 version of the song "Lulu" that was quoted by raredance in Mudcat's thread "Hook and line & other related song; Date: 23 Nov 02 - 12:59 AM

  3. HOP HIGH LADIES Take a listen to the Gid Tanner and The Skillet Lickers version from the late 30's/early 40's. It features Riley Puckett on guitar. Superb.

    1. Unknown, thanks for your comment.

      I searched YouTube and didn't find that version of Hop High Ladies.

      If you have a link for a sound file of that song by those musicians, please share it.