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Friday, May 2, 2014

Two Songs & Comments About The Name "Leroy"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents comments about the perception that "Leroy" is a Black American name. Two songs about Leroy - Jimmy Castor Bunch's "Hey Leroy (Your Mama's Calling You)" and Jim Croce's "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" are also showcased in this post.

This is Part I of this series.

Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/05/leeroy-jenkins-black-american-names.html for Part II of this series. In that post I share my opinion about the Black memes that are reflected in the name and characterization of the World of Warcraft character "Leeroy Jenkins".

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Jimmy Castor for composing "Hey Leroy" & Jimmy Castor Bunch for recording that song. Thanks also to Jim Croce for composing & recording "Bad Bad Leroy Brown". Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these songs on YouTube.

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COMMENTS ABOUT THE NAME "LEROY"
A wiki answers page responds to the question "Is Leroy a Black or White person's name?" with the statement that "names are not racially specific". http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Is_leroy_a_white_or_black_persons_name#slide=2&article=Is_leroy_a_white_or_black_persons_name

While that answer is politically correct, in actuality some names are socially perceived as being preferred by and used most often by certain racial and ethnic populations within a particular nation at a particular time. Those perceptions about the racial association for a particular name and the positive or negative connotations that those names carry can change over time, in part because that name may be associated with a popular or infamous celebrity or historical figure.

I don't think that it was an accident that Jimmy Castor & Jim Croce selected the name "Leroy" for the character's name in this song. I think that in both the 1966 song "Hey Leroy" composed by African American Jimmy Castor and the 1973 song "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" composed by Italian American Jim Croce the name "Leroy" was meant to evoke the image of an African American male. The Wikipedia page for that song indicates that its composer said that it was patterned after a man from the Southside of Chicago. That area of Chicago is racially diverse, but has a large Black population. The repeated use of "bad" and the use of the word "baddest" in that song can mean both "very wicked i.e. "not good" and the African American slang meaning of "very good". Furthermore, the name of the title character suggest that he is a Black man because "Leroy" is or was considered a "Black name" and because the name "Brown" can be said to refer to skin color.

By at least the mid 20th century in the United States the name "Leroy" has been considered to be a "Black" male name. That name carries particular "old school" racial connotations which sometimes has made that name the bunt of scorn if not jokes both within and without the African American community. [Read the comment that I added to this post.]

The way that some Black people pronounce the name "Leroy" (by putting the stress on the first syllable and elongating that syllable "LEEE-roY") has itself become at least an insider Black American joke associated with that name. Furthermore, it seems to me that a number of African American think that the name "Leroy" evokes either country (negative Southern) or poor urban Black connotations. Those connotations differ from such new school "made up" Black male names such as "Dequan" or "Devontay" or "Jamar". At least the first two new school Black male names often carry what some people consider a lower class Black stigma, but those negative connotations are more Black urban than Black rural. That the name "Leroy" has come to contain negative connotations is ironic given the fact that that name is a male French name meaning "The King" (Le Roi).

A 2010 Yahoo Answers page is titled "Where does such "african-american" names like Leroy, Jerome etc. come from/origin?" https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100224041857AAg6QSq The person who submitted this query wrote:
"I'm just wondering where "typical african-american" names such as Beyonce, Samuel LEROY Jackson, Lebron, Lamarr and the list goes on and on..."
-snip-
In response to comments that criticized that question, the person who wrote that query shared that he or she is "English-African!....with a christian name and names like the ones I listed don't exist here (Sweden) but I do watch a lot of American tv/movies (am.culture). So that's why I was wondering..." [exact quote]
-snip-
Two of the six responses focused on the use of the term "African American" and presented interesting and seemingly conflicting explanations for why White Americans use that referent.

Mother of boys, 2010
"i think us white folk use the "african-american" phrase because most black folk didnt want to be called black! no use in getting all huffy puffy about it!..."
-snip-
Jared, 2010
"Firstly, African-American is a racist term used by politically correct white people who are afraid of us blacks and try to think of euphemisms for us. Just call us black please, unless you would refer to yourself as European-American (assuming you are white and live in America). They come from their parents, probably made up, but white people make up names too, like Bentley and Kensley.

I hasten to say that while those opinions about the referent "African American" may be true, I believe that "African American" may be used by people regardless of their race because since at least the mid 1980s "African American" has become the preferred formal referent for that population of Black Americans.

Mother of boys also wrote "and as for the names leroy and jerome... i never perceived those to be black names. in the deep south and in history, those were white names."
-snip-
Other commenters mentioned the French origin of the name "Leroy" indicating that "A lot of these names originated from French Colonies in the USA, many years ago."...(nosdda, 2010) and "Most of these names are french. When the Africans were being sold to the Americans as slaves, they kept their names. That is how these names come about. (blazing olms, 2010)

The response that the person who submitted that question considered to be the "Best Answer" is:
Crane, 2010
"They come from many different areas. Some are French (Leroy), some are Greek (Jerome), and some are in the same, modern "made-up" category as Breelee and Jaxin (Beyonce). They are very similar to caucasian/Anglo American names in this respect.

In the "made-up" category, I do sometimes wonder how and why certain sounds became more popular amongst black Americans, and others more popular amongst white Americans. When sounds like La, Sha, Ja, nae, shae, and iqua are combined, it seems more likely that the parents are African-American, and when sounds like Bree, Hay, Ana, leigh, and lin are combined, it seems more likely that the parents are white. It just goes to show that we are still name-brainstorming in somewhat segregated circles, I think."
-snip-
I also wonder about the cultural or racial preference for certain sounds in personal names regardless of whether those names were created a long time ago or were recently coined. I think that the prefix "Le" may have been a beginning sound that African Americans preferred for male names, but it appears to me that that sound has given way to the prefix "De" (pronounced DEE or sometimes DAY") and "Sha" (pronounced SHAH) and Ja (pronounced JAY) among other prefixes for male (and at least with regard to "Sha" and "Ja" also female African American names.

I wouldn't be surprised if in the late 19th century to at least the mid 20th century some Black Americans gave the name "Leroy" to males because that "Leroy" was considered (and rightfully so) a royalty name. As such that name should have had the same positive connotations as the name "Prince" or "King" (two European royalty titles that have been used by African Americans as personal names*). I'm not sure when or why the name "Leroy" began to carry negative social connotations, but there's no doubt that it still carries those connotations.

It's interesting to note that the birth name of the African American poet, playwright, author, and activist Amiri Baraka (October 7, 1934 – January 9, 2014) is "Everett LeRoi Jones" and "LeRoi Jones" was the name that he used before adopting that "free name"**. Amiri Baraka's father's name was "Coyt Leverette Jones". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amiri_Baraka As an aside, the name "Leverette" begins with the prefix "Le" and ends the prefix "ette". I think that "ette" used to be a common American (not just African American) prefix for female names (such as "Paulette" and "Suzette"). However, it seems to me that since the mid 20th century the "ette" prefix has lost its popularity in the United States.

Please add any information or comments that you may have about the use of the name "Leroy" within racial groups. Thanks!

*The African American singer/composer "Prince" (birth name Prince Rogers Nelson, born June 7, 1958) is an example of that European royalty title given as a birth name. "Queen", "Queenie", and "Princess" are examples of European royalty names given to female African Americans. However, since the mid 20th century it seems to me that those particular names are less often given to African American than previously.

**"Free name" was the term that afrocentric African Americans used for African language or Arabic personal names and (less often) last names that they chose or were given to replace their European or Hebrew birth names. Those names were considered to be "slave names".

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INFORMATION ABOUT THE SONG "HEY LEROY"
From http://www.allmusic.com/album/hey-leroy-mw0000837510
Review by Ron Wynn
"Long before Jimmy Castor became a successful humorist and funkmeister, he scored a Latin hit with "Hey Leroy, Your Mama's Callin' You," a smoothly performed bit of samba with jazz touches by Castor. It was such a hit that he issued an entire album of similar tunes, none of which did anywhere near as well as the single, which cracked the R&B Top 20 (number 16) and pop Top 40 (number 31)."

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SHOWCASE SOUND FILE: Hey Leroy, Your Mama's Calling You - Jimmy Castor - Nov. 1966 HQ



xunclexx, Published on Dec 25, 2012

Jimmy Castor, born and raised in New York City, started his musical career when he formed "Jimmy Castor and the Juniors" as a young teen. He was very good friends with Frankie Lymon in the early 1950s as well as being from the same neighborhood. His group was very popular locally. By 1960, Castor began playing the saxophone which would become his signature throughout his career. His first "eye opener" hit was "Hey Leroy" in 1966. He would record other singles but was going nowhere. In 1972, he formed his own band "The Jimmy Castor Bunch" and the rest was history
-snip-
Click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Castor for more information about the African American musician and composer Jimmy" Castor (January 23, 1940 – January 16, 2012). Additional information about Jimmy Castor is found in the summary statement of the sound file given below.

Also a video of a 1973 performance of "Hey Leroy" by the Jimmy Castor Bunch can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5sd_4k6fwM
[Embedding disabled by request]

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LYRICS: HEY LEROY
(Jimmy Castor)

Hey, Leroy
"What?"
Your mama,
She callin you, man.

[Laughter and indistinguishable chatter by males]

[instrumental]

Oh, your mama.
Oh, your mama.
Oh, your mama.
Oh, your mama.
Oh, your mama.
Oh, your mama.
Oh, your mama.

[instrumental]

Hey, Leroy
"What?"
Your mama comin
She's mad, man.
Oh!!!

[instrumental]

Hey, Leroy,
What you gonna do
Your momma's walkin down here

[instrumental]

Oh, your mama.
Oh, your mama.
Oh, your mama.
-snip-
This is my transcription of "Hey Leroy" from the featured examples. I gave the repeated line as "Oh your mama" because that's what it sounds like to me, and it's what I remember singing and hearing sung*. Although online lyric sites give that as "Go to your mama", it seems to me that the "Oh, your mama" words seems truer to the song's storyline of other (teenage?) boys alerting Leroy that his mother is calling him [to come home] and teasing him for that reason.

*I remember this record and another popular Latin record by Joe Cuba entitled "Bang Bang" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MenOmqIBmIM being danced to at a house party in Bedford–Stuyvesant (Brooklyn, New York City), 1967). That was the first time that I had ever seen African American dancing the Samba.

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INFORMATION ABOUT THE SONG "BAD BAD LEROY BROWN"
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bad,_Bad_Leroy_Brown
..."The song ["Bad Bad Leroy Brown"] is about a man from the South Side of Chicago who, due to his size and attitude, has a reputation as the "baddest man in the whole damn town." One day, in a bar, he makes a pass at a pretty, married woman, whose jealous husband proceeds to beat Leroy brutally in the ensuing fight"...
-snip-
Jim Croce was an Italian American singer songwriter (January 10, 1943 – September 20, 1973) was an American singer-songwriter. Click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Croce for information about Jim Croce.

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SHOWCASE VIDEO OF "BAD BAD LEROY BROWN"

Jim Croce - Bad Bad Leroy Brown (Midnight Special - 1973)



John1948SevenA, Uploaded on Aug 11, 2011

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8 comments:

  1. My daughter reminded me that the main character (and his father) in the 1985 African American karate movie The Last Dragon was named "Leroy". The character Sho'Nuff in that movie kept saying "Hey Leroy, who's the master?"

    Also, my daughter reminded me that "Leroy" was the name of the central African American male dancer in the 1980 American movie and 1982 television show Fame (That movie was remade in 2009).

    ReplyDelete
  2. The noted singer, actor and political activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976) had the middle name Leroy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for that information, slam2011.

      I also read on that same yahoo answer thread or on another website that African American actor Samuel Jackson's middle name is "Leroy". His Wikipedia page confirms that. Samuel Jackson was born on December 21, 1948.

      My guess is that since the mid 20th century few boys (Black or non-Black) in the United States have been given the birth name "Leroy" except for those males who were given their father's first and/or middle name or those boys who were given the name of another male in the family whose name is/was Leroy.

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  3. My theory that the name "Leroy" has become less popular since the mid 20th century is substantiated by a chart found at http://www.thinkbabynames.com/meaning/1/Leroy
    "Leroy is a very popular first name for men (#144 out of 1220) and also a very popular surname or last name for all people (#4068 out of 88799) (2000 U.S. Census)."

    That same chart shows that the popularity of the name Leroy has significantly decreased since the mid 1960s, although that name is holding steady since 2006 or so.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Also, with regard to the song "Bad Bad Leroy Brown", I wrote that one reason that I thought that character was a Black man was because of his last name "Brown". Actually, according to the latest United States Cenus (2000), the last name "Brown" ranks #4 in frequency among White Americans, and overall U.S. rank. http://names.mongabay.com/data/white.html.

    The last name "Brown" ranks #5 in frequency among Americans who indicated that their race was Black/African http://names.mongabay.com/data/black.html.

    That said, I believe that song "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" likely refers to a Black man.

    ReplyDelete
  5. One reason why the name "Leroy" may have decreased in popularity in the mid 20th century is the 1958 Rock & Roll record entitled "Leroy" by White Canadian/ American singer Jack Scott .. That song's lyrics are about a man named Leroy who goes to jail. Click http://www.songlyrics.com/jack-scott/leroy-lyrics/.

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  6. It may be the decrease is due to the name being seen as belonging to an older generation, though?
    Association between Leroy and African origin is still found in Europe however - a German film about an Afro-German teenager is called 'Leroy'. (2007)(www.washingtonpost.com/gog/movies/Leroy,1162159.HTML )

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I think that's a factor. But there are other old male names that aren't considered "old timey" (such as John and David and Michael).

      Thanks for sharing information about that German film.

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