Friday, September 5, 2014

The Old Time Music Roots Of The Camp Song "The Jaybird Died Of The Whoopin' Cough"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a pancocojams series about two groups of songs that mention whooping cough. This post provides information about the infectious disease known as "the whooping cough" and provides some informaton and comments about a small sample of Old Time Music (fiddle and banjo) songs that include the verse "the jaybird died of the whoopin cough". Examples of contemporary [children's] camp versions of that song are also featured in this post.

Click for Part II of that series. Part II focuses on the Blues song "Cat's got the Measles And The Dog's Got The Whoopin' Cough". That post will be published ASAP.
Thanks to the composers and the collectors of these songs. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks to all those who are featured in the videos and thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Thanks to all health workers who are helping the people who have ebola or are at risk of having ebola, the newest scary infectious disease. Thanks also to those who are helping combat and provide care for the whooping cough disease that people around the world still suffer from.

"Pertussis—commonly called whooping cough … is a highly contagious bacterial disease caused by Bordetella pertussis. In some countries, this disease is called the 100 days' cough or cough of 100 days.[1]

Symptoms are initially mild, and then develop into severe coughing fits, which produce the namesake high-pitched "whoop" sound in infected babies and children when they inhale air after coughing.[2] The coughing stage lasts approximately six weeks before subsiding.[citation needed] Prevention by vaccination is of primary importance given the seriousness of the disease in children…. It is currently estimated that the disease annually affects 48.5 million people worldwide, resulting in nearly 295,000 deaths...

Pertussis is one of the leading causes of vaccine-preventable deaths world-wide.[30] 90% of all cases occur in developing countries.[30]

Before vaccines, an average of 178,171 cases were reported in the U.S., with peaks reported every two to five years; more than 93% of reported cases occurred in children under 10 years of age. The actual incidence was likely much higher. After vaccinations were introduced in the 1940s, incidence fell dramatically to less than 1,000 by 1976. Incidence rates have increased since 1980. In 2012, rates in the United States reached a high of 41,880 people; this is the highest it has been since 1955 when numbers reached 62,786,”...

From “Down in the Valley - Whooping Cough & American Music” David Perry, September 4, 2013
"What diseases show up in contemporary music? Cancer? AIDS? I've never really looked, but I suspect there are pretty few songs referencing Whooping Cough or Polio playing on the radio these days.

But if you dive into the American folk tradition, there's plenty to be found...

This is a long post with lots of music, because I like music, but I want to put my point right here: we've rendered a common terror irrelevant thanks to vaccines. Kids flap their arms and whoop, laughing about the jaybird dying of whooping cough, where once this disease permeated our culture. Let's not go back."...

"Origin: Limber Jim"*; comment posted By: John Minear, 08-Jul-02 -07:21 AM

...."From White's AMERICAN NEGRO FOLK-SONGS, pp. 242-43:
Over de hills and a great way off
De jaybird died with de hookin' cough,
An a way down in a big muddy pon'
Oh dis jaybird died wid his breeches on.

'Way down yonder, and a long way off,
Jaybird died wid der whoopin' cough.

From the Frank Brown collection of North Carolina Folklore, Vol. III,
....And back on the previous page, 201,
Jay bird died with the whooping cough,
Black bird dies with the colic;
'Long came a toad-frog with his tail bobbed off
And that broke up the frolic.

[that blogger writes: “And I like”],
Way down yonder, a long way off,
A jay bird died with the whooping cough.
Stiff shirt collar, three rows of stitches,
Square-toed boots and short-legged breeches.

There is a series of articles in the JOURNAL OF AMERICAN FOLKLORE by E.C. Perrow, #25(1912), pp.137-55; #26(1913), pp.123-73; and #28(1915), pp.129-190, entitled "Songs and Rymes from the South" that is worth looking at. And once you get in there you'll be lost for the rest of the day discovering stuff that no one has looked at in nearly a hundred years. From Volume XXVI, p.125, from Mississippi:
I hitched my horse to the poplar trough,
The poplar trough, the poplar trough, the poplar trough,
And dar he cotched de whoopin'-cough,
De whoopin'-cough, de whoopin'-cough, de whoopin'-cough.
I hitched my horse to the swingin' lim, etc.
And dar he cut de pidgin-wing, etc."
That discussion thread includes lots of examples of Old Time music songs from the USA that include this verse, as well as some recollections of similar children's verses from the United Kingdom.

"breeches" = pants

"colic: = cholic, a disease or condition

"pidgin wing" - a [southern] Black American plantation dance

"cotched" = caught

"lim" - limb (branch of a tree}

"poplar trough" = a trough [a long, narrow open container for animals to eat or drink out of] made out of a poplar tree

The only videos of "Jaybird Died With The Whooping Cough" that I've found-besides the children's camp version- are instrumentals. Here's one example:

Jaybird Died With The Whooping Cough - The Onlies Live at the Royal Room

The Onlies, Published on Apr 2, 2014

The Onlies perform at the Royal Room in Seattle, October 6, 2013.

Leo Shannon (fiddle)
Riley Calcagno (banjo)
Sami Braman (guitar)

Example #1: BLUEJAY

Way down yonder not far off
A bluejay died of the whooping cough
Well he whooped and he whooped and he whooped so hard
He whooped his head and his tail right off

Second verse, same as the first
A little bit louder and a little bit worse
I've also read that some people say at the end of each iteration "a whole lot louder and a whole lot worse"

Example #2: JAYBIRD
From May 4, 2012 ~ Campsongs

"Jaybird" is described as "a spoken word, repeat after me" song with no accompanying actions.

"The song is often repeated many times, getting louder each time. The last line “and his tail right off” is spoken quietly each time. The very last time, the entire song is spoken quietly to end the song."

[Repeat each line]

Way down the road
Not so very far off
A jaybird died
Of the whooping cough
Well he whooped so hard
And he whooped so long
That he whooped his head
And his tail right off
Unfortunately, I couldn't find any videos of camp versions of "The Jaybird Died With A Whooping Cough" that I felt were of high enough quality for this post. However, here's a sound file of Burl Ives singing "Buckeye Jim". That song included the line "the old woman died of the whooping cough".

Burl Ives - Buckeye Jim


Rock-The-Jukebox.Com, Uploaded on Oct 7, 2009
Click for the lyrics to that song.

Also, click This pancocojams posts features two Old Time Music songs that include the line "jaybird [or some other bird, animal, or old woman] died of a whooping cough" verse or are closely related to those songs.

That pancocojams post showcases the children's rhyme "Miss Lucy Had A Baby". I believe the line in that song about the baby "dying with a bubble in his throat" refers to the infectious disease Diptheria.

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