Saturday, November 2, 2013

Coonjine Baby & Other Examples Of Coonjine Songs

This is Part II of a two part series about counjaille songs & dances and coonjine songs & dances. This post showcases eight examples of Coonjine songs or fragments of songs. Some of these examples include information about Coonjine songs.

Click for Part I of this series. That post provides excerpts from material that provides information about those songs and dances. I also share my speculations in that post about why I think that counjaille and coonjine songs and dances seem to have been largely forgotten.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Part II
"Coonjine" is a term that refers to the songs & dances performed by 19th century/early 20th century African American steamboat laborers (roustabouts). "Coonjine" ("coonshine" and other similar terms) also refers to a vernacular dance or dances that probably derived at least in part from the movements of the Black roustabouts who sang "coonjine songs" while they worked.

This excerpt from the 1939 manuscript "Coonjine In Manhatten" refers to coonjine songs being sung while loading cotton. The author Garnett Laidlaw Eskew goes on to write:
"And there was another value to Coonjine. Moving in perfect time meant that the rousters' feet hit the stageplank with uniform precision. A wise thing, too! For if a rouster should step upon the vibrating boards out of time, and thus catch the rebound of the stage-plank, he was very likely to be catapulted with his load over into that muddy bourne from which no roustabout returns--or rarely so."

The word "coonjine" is probably an English language Americanized form of the French Caribbean & French Louisiana dance called the "counjaille".

Note that "coonjine" is a verb in that it refers to a type of walking and/or dancing movement. Here are three examples of this usage from the songs given below: "You might have seen the roustabout coonjine", "Coonjine, baby, won't you coonjine", and "coonjine out".

I've not come across any documents in which Black roustabouts were reported as saying "do the coonjine" or "sing the coonjine". Those noun forms of the word "coonjine" appeart to be a later development that isn't authentic to Black roustabouts who originated the type of songs that are now known as "Coonjine songs".

Here are several text [word only] examples of Coonjine songs that include the word "coonjine"*.

These examples are presented in no particular order.

Unfortunately, to date, I've not found any YouTube video of Counjaille or Coonjine dances. Nor have I found any examples of songs that have the word "Counjaille" or "Coonjine"/"Coonshine") in their title.

*Note: All Coonjine songs don't have the word "Coonjine" in their title or in their lyrics. For instance, "standard" versions of the Ragtime and Old Time Music songs with the title "Alabama Bound" don't include the word "coonjine" although some verses of those songs may have included that word. Click a pancocojams post on the song "Alabama Bound".

Example #1:
From Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordings p. 247-249 by Joshua Clegg Caffery

[Quoting interviewee [African American] John Bray]

..."he [John Bray] plays a “coonjine” song of the type that is associated with steamboat roustabouts of the nineteenth and early twentieth century – a culture he was probably familiar with.

We don’t do nothing but load this boat.
Ho day. Ho day. Ho day.
Come on men [you cigarette rollers]
Got yourself a n----r, six more shoulders.
Ho day. Ho day. Ho day.

How many men got trouble in mind?
Might have seen the roustabout coonjine.
Coonjine, the roustabout, coonjine.
Coonjine, the roustabout, coonjine.

How many men got trouble in mind?
You might have seen the roustabout coonjine.
All along the river [….]
You might have seen the roustabout coonjine.

Coonjine, the roustabout, coonjine.
How many men got trouble in mind?
You might have seen the roustabout coonjine.

Coonjine, oh woman let me tell you why.
Mighta seen your old man [clear o’er the river where]
big boats [never land].
clear o’er the river
You might have seen the roustabout coonjine.
Coonjine, coonjine, the roustabout coonjine.
How many men got trouble in mind?
You might have seen the roustabout coonjine.
From New Orleans, big ole boat.
[High along, pile on?] the Mississippi.
Called the Robert E. Lee
Lord, you might have seen the roustabout coonjine.

Example #2: The Milwaukee Journal - Jul 15, 1931, p. 9
“When Negroes Did The Coonjine Down Ole Mississippi Gangplanks”
[Google News]

Ole roustabout ain’t got no home
Makes his living on his shoulder bone.

Example #3:
Title: The Black South in Chicago ; Contributor Names Eskew, Garnett L. (Interviewer) Sims, George (Interviewee) Created Published Chicago, Illinois
"Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1940

You done ask me 'bout steamboat songs. Hit bin zo long ago, an' I done jined de church sense I lef down dar, dat I mos fergit all about Coonjone. But dey wuz one song day we uster sing dat went like dis:

Sing dis song in de city,
Roll dat cotton bale!
N___r* always happy
When he gits out of jail.
Mobile's got de wimmin,
Boston got de beans,
New Yawk done got flashin' swells,
But de n____r* like N'yawleens,

Cho: Coonjine, baby, won't you coonjine,
Coonjine, honey, is you game,
Mammy won't lemme coonjine
But I coonjine jus' de same!

"Sing hit fer you? Lawd, boss, I aint sung no sich song for forty years. Hit went like dis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (NOTE: He sang it, but impossible to reproduce it.)

"We useter sing dat song when I was workin' on de Alice B. Miller, runnin' up Yazoo River and sometime when I work on de Saint John, a cotton boat, dat run up Red River."

*What is now known as "the n word" is completely spelled out in this article.

Example #4:
From "Coonjine In Manhattan". Garnett Laidlaw Eskew, 1939
"Coonjine songs were not spirituals--neither the genuine nor the "Broadway" variety. There was nothing spiritual about them that I have been able to discover.

Into these songs the rousters put the problems and the incidents of the day's labor, the characteristics of the people they met. The {Begin page no. 5}peculiarities of a mate or captain or fellow rouster; the speed and qualities of a particular boat; the charms or meanness of a woman-friend; domestic matters--all these were subjects which the steamboat roustabouts move into the texture of the Coonjine songs with which they lightened the labor of steamboat work. Composed sometimes on the spur of the moment, or garbled versions of songs previously heard, often the words were ridiculous, sometimes senseless, but nearly always ludicrous with occasionally a touch of pathos...

Standing there with him [a former Black roustabout] in the West Street pier shed, I gathered a sizeable collection of Coonjine songs. Many, I have no doubt, bore only a slight resemblance to the original wordings. For roustabouts felt, so long as they preserved the thought and central idea and rhythm of a song, they could change the words at will. Sometime they abandoned the existing words and made up new words of their own. I have heard different versions of barely recognizable Coonjine songs in various towns from St. Louis to the Delta"...

Vicksburg roustabouts were also partial to this song, which had reference to a certain one-armed hard-fisted steamboat mate, named Lew Brown. {Begin page no. 9}

Taint no use for dodgin' roun'
Dat ole mate jes' behine you.
Better cut dat step and coonjine out
Dat ole jes' behine you
"cut dat [that] step and coonjine out" probably means "leave in a hurry.".

Note: That page includes several examples of Coonjine songs that don't include the word "coonjine". Warning: This page inludes what we now call the "n word".

Example #5:
From Lynne Fauley Emery's book Black Dance from 1619 to Today {second edition; Princeton Book Company, 1988, pps 146-147}:
'The term Counjaille, or Coojine is still used in southern United States waterfront areas to mean moving or loading cotton, an activity that once, in all probablility, was accompanied by Counjaille-type songs and rhythms. Negro children on the docks and levies sand such songs as:

Throw me a nickle, throw me a dime
If you want to see me do the Coojine.'

Example #6:
From Josh White: Society Blues [Google Books] by Elijah Wald

"[A childhood friend of Black American singer, guitarist, songwriter, actor, and civil rights musician Josh White (February 11, 1914 – September 5, 1969) [Perry] Fuller also provides a vignette that shows how closely secular and religious music can overlap, at least among younger members of the family.

“He remembers the kids gathered around the piano while Marie Huff, who was seven years Josh’s senior, pounded out ragtime tunes: “She would be playing that tune “Coonjine, coojine, baby/Coojine,baby, coojine/ Mama don’t ‘low you to coonjine/papa don’t ‘low you to try/Get up in the morning/ coonjine on the sly.” Fuller sings quietly bobbing his head to the bouncy melody. And then Aunt Lizzie started coming into the room and they’d change around, start to sing [to the same tune] “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”.

Example #7:
From Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary by Stephen Calt [Google Books]
Page 60

Coonjine, my lady, coonjine
Mama don’t allow me to coonjine”
-The Black Hillbillies, Kunjine Baby, 1929

An obsolete dance enshrined in the eight bar ditty of the same or like name. The musical theme associated with it was excerpted in Gottschalk’s “Bamboula” (1847) and printed in Allen, Ware, and Garrison’s Slave Songs Of The United States (1867) as one of four Louisiana tunes “for a simple dance, a sort of minuet, called the Coonjai. By 1910 it had become a Black children’s dance and a beginner’s piano piece in the South. It’s original or prevalent name is in doubt; Little Brother Montgomery who learned it in 1910, stated that the dance/song was actually Coon Giant. As Kunjine it received its first recorded treatment, by Alan Lada in 1921. Puckett, who described it in 1925, as “a sort of Negro dance” done in Louisiana, rendered it as Coonjai, while Bessie Jones (of the Georgia Sea Isles) and Skip James recalled it as Coonshine.Cf DARE which relates it solely to a swaying gait.

Example #8:
From Bessie Jones' and Bess Lomax Hawes' book Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs, and Stories from the Afro-American Heritage ; p. 131-132

Coonshine, baby, coonshine
Coonshine on the sly,
Mama don't 'low me to coonshine,
Papa don't 'low me to try,
Onliest way I coonshine,
I coonshine on the sly.

Coonshine, baby, coonshine
Coonshine, baby, coonshine
Coonshine, baby, coonshine
Coonshine on the sly.

Someday I'm gonna coonshine,
Coonshine anyhow
Mama don't 'low me to coonshine,
Papa don't 'low me to try,
Onliest way I coonshine,
I coonshine on the sly.

Coonshine, baby, coonshine, etc.

When I get grown I’m gonna coonshine
Coonshine anyhow
Mama don't 'low me to coonshine,
Papa don't 'low me to try,
Onliest way I coonshine,
I coonshine on the sly
Coonshine, baby, coonshine
Coonshine, baby, coonshine
Coonshine, baby, coonshine
Coonshine anyhow
Bess Lomax Hawes wrote that she didn’t get a chance to see this dance, but from the song’s lyrics she gathered that people considered it to be a scandalous dance.
"I coonshine on the sly" means I sneak to do that dance; I secretely do that dance when no one is watching.

Thanks to all those who sung & danced the Coonjine.

Thanks also to those who are quoted in this post.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

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