Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Four Examples Of "Round The Corn, Sally" (African American Corn Song)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a three part series about the African American corn song "Round De (The ) Corn, Sally". Part II presents several text examples of "Around The Corn, Sally". An Addendum to that post showcases a video example with a lengthy summary of the "Sea Shanty Around The Corner, Sally".

Click for Part I of this series. Part I provides excerpts from two online books about corn husking in the Southern United States during slavery. Part I also includes some comments about pre-mechanical corn husking in the United States apart from United States slavery.

Click for Part III of this series. Part III provides video examples and lyrics of the children's song "Go Around The Corn, Sally" which is adapted from the work song "Around The Corn ,Sally".

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the performers and collectors of this song. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

Example #1:
From Afro-American Folksongs, A Study In Racial And National Music by Henry Edward Krehbiel (1914, p. 48) [online book]
...“The paucity of secular working songs has already been commented on. Of songs referring to labor in the field the editors of "Slave Songs of the United States" were able to collect only two examples. Both of them are "corn songs," and the first is a mere fragment, the only words of which have been preserved being "Shock along, John." The second defied interpretation fifty years ago and is still incomprehensible:
Five can't ketch me and tea can't hold me—
Ho, round the corn, Sally I Here's your iggle-quarter and here's your count-aquils—
Ho7 round the corn, Sally] I can bank, 'ginny bank, 'gmny bank the weaver—
Ho, round the corn, Sally!"

Example #2
From Slave Songs of the United States edited by William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison (1867)
[Musical Notation for "Round the Corn, Sally"]
Five can’t catch me and ten can’t hold me
Ho, round the corn Sally
Ho, round the corn, round the corn, round the corn
Ho ,Ho, Ho round the corn Sally.

Example #3:
Posted By: Charley Noble
23-Oct-02 - 11:27 AM
Thread Name: Origin: Johnny Come Down to Hilo
Subject: Lyr.Add. Round' de Corn, Sally
...Most of us nautical singers are familar with the old sea shanty "Round the Corner, Sally" in which the corner refered to has been ascribed to Cape Horn. Well, try this old plantation corn husking song on for size:


(corn husking song collected by slaveholder James Hungerford's The Old Plantation and What I Gathered There in an Autumn Month, c. 1832, quoted in THE MUSIC OF BLACK AMERICANS by Eileen Southern, pp. 180)

Grand Chorus:

Hooray, hooray, ho! Roun' de corn, Sally!
Hooray for all de lubly (lovely) ladies! Roun' de corn, Sally!
Hooray, hooray, ho! Roun' de corn, Sally!
Hooray for all de lubly ladies! Roun' de corn, Sally!

Dis lub's er (a) thing dat's sure to hab you, Roun' de corn, Sally!
He hole (hold) you tight, when once he grab you, Roun' de corn, Sally!
Un (an) ole (old) un (one) ugly, young un (one) pretty, Roun' de corn, Sally!
You needen try when once he git you, Roun' de corn, Sally! (CHO)

Dere's Mr. Travers lub Miss Jinny, Roun' de corn, Sally!
He thinks she is us (as) good us any, Roun' de corn, Sally!
He comes from church wid her er (on) Sunday, Roun' de corn, Sally!
Un (He) don't go back ter town till Monday, Roun' de corn, Sally! (CHO)

My interpretations in ()'s.
Charley Noble

Example #4:
[This excerpt of "Round De Corn, Sally" was documented to have been sung by Black people while they marched around the plantation as part of their Christmas festivities, after going to the main house to receive gifts from their former master/mistress.]

From The Literary Digest, Volume 10 1895 “Christmas In The South Long Ago”[p 236]

Hooray, hooray, ho
Round de corn, Sally
Hooray for all de lubly ladies
Round de corn, Sally
Dere a Master Howard lub Miss Betty
Round de corn, Sally
I tell you what, she a mighty pretty
Round de corn, Sally...
This is followed by other lines that are difficult for me to decipher. However, it appears that those lines are other complementary comments about other (White) people on the plantation.


Round the Corner, Sally [389-390] (297-298)

hultonclint Uploaded on Mar 26, 2009

A halyard chantey, which Hugill learned from Harding. …. Of note: Hugill connects the phrase "Round the corner, Sally" to a line in a Christy's Minstrel song, "Aunt Sally" -- and "Aunt Sally" is a character in versions of "Sister Susan" chantey or another minstrel song, "Shinbone Al."

Another song is a candidate as a source for "Round the Corner, Sally." It appears in the text of a James Hungerford, in which the author describes a visit to his cousin's plantation in Maryland in 1832. With it's musical notations, it is considered to be the first extant text to contain slave songs. "Roun' De Corn, Sally" is described in the context of rowing a boat, but properly attributed as a corn-husking song. In his 1989 book, ORIGINS OF THE POPULAR STYLE, pg.206, Peter Van der Merwe makes a connection between the similar phrase in the slave song and the chantey, thinking that "round the corn" was a corruption of the chantey phrase, due to confounding the "corn" context with the original meaning. The original phrase, as supposed by Hugill, was a sort of "gal on the street," later reinterpreted as a sailor's lady-friend of locales that were around the "corner": Cape Horn. However, some recent interpreters seem to suggest that the plantation song was a source. At least that is how I interpret the inclusion of "Roun' De Corn, Sally" in the repertoire of the sea chantey group The Johnson Girls:

No doubt, any number of individuals made the connection between the phrase in these two songs before Van der Merwe's published statement. I actually stumbled myself upon the Hungerford text in a volume by Eileen Southern, READINGS IN BLACK AMERICAN MUSIC (1971) that I picked up by chance in a used book store in Mass. This is a supplemental text of primary sources meant to accompany her book THE MUSIC OF BLACK AMERICANS. My guess is that the chantey group Forebitter, who note a connection in one of their CD's liner notes, followed by the Johnson Girls, had discovered the plantation song in Southern's main text. However, the full set of verses is only found in "READINGS..." ("Roun' De Corn" was also reproduced, in abbreviated form, in a book by Epstein, 1977.)

For what it's worth, besides the characteristic phrase, the plantation song and the chantey don't show much similarity. They do appear to be contemporary though. The plantation song is from 1832 and the chantey is cited by name in Dana's TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST in which he describes events along the California coast in the 1830s.

Lyrics in available versions suggest that the chantey was used in the trade of nitrates from the West Coast ports of South America. Although a good amount of the lyrics in my rendition are my own, I've kept to that theme.

Please check out the whole chanteys project playlist, at
For those who may be interested, hultonclint posts on Mudcat as "Gib Sahib". "The Advent and Development of Chanties"
is one of the discussion threads on sea shanties that he started at that folk music site

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