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Saturday, October 11, 2014

19th Century & 20th Century Examples Of "Aunt Jemima's Plaster" ("Sheepskin And Beeswax")

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information and examples of the song "Aunt Jemima's Plaster". This song is also known by the title "Sheepskin And Beeswax" and by the title "Bees wax".

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this page and thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

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EDITOR'S COMMENT
UPDATE 10/12/2014
I had previously written that I thought that the song "Aunt Jemima's Plaster" influenced the brand name "Aunt Jemima's Pancake. I also wrote that the song "Aunt Jemima's Plaster" therefore influenced the use of the name "Aunt Jemima" as an insult (i.e. "a female "Uncle Tom", a Black person who acts in ways that are detrimental to Black people). However, I have since learned that there was an earlier "Aunt Jemima" song that influenced the name of that brand of pancake mix-and later the brand of syrup and the use of the name "Aunt Jemima" as a slur.
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Aunt_Jemima
"Old Aunt Jemima" was a popular American song composed by African American comedian, songwriter and minstrel show performer Billy Kersands (c. 1842–1915). The Old Aunt Jemima song was the inspiration for the Aunt Jemima brand of pancakes, as well as several characters in film, television and on radio named "Aunt Jemima".

Kersands wrote his first version of "Old Aunt Jemima" in 1875"...
-End of Update-

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There are multiple versions of "Aunt Jemima's Plaster", and many of those versions are "santitized", meaning they include no racial references (or no references that people nowadays think are racial). It appears that many people who know this song now aren't aware that it originally had any racial content.

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MEANING OF THE NAME "JEMIMA" AND "PLASTER"
The female name "Jemima" means "dove" in Hebrew and "little dove" in Arabic.

In the 19th century the title "Aunt" was used in the United States for elderly Black women in place of the title "Mrs." since "Mrs" was reserved for White women only.

In the context of the song "Aunt Jemima's Plaster", "plaster" refers to "a pastelike mixter applied to the body for medicinal purposes..."
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/plaster
-snip-
Adhesive bandages have largely replaced the use of plasters as described in the song "Aunt Jemima's Plaster" (and other songs that mention medicinal plasters).
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adhesive_bandage
"An adhesive bandage, also called a sticking plaster (and also known by the genericized trademarks Band-Aid or Elastoplast) is a small dressing used for injuries not serious enough to require a full-size bandage. "Bandage" or "Band-Aid" is the common American English term, while "plaster" is the term in British English usage...

History
The sticking plaster is a development from previous dressings such as the court plaster. The court plaster is a cloth coated with an adhesive substance (typically isinglass or glycerin on silk) used to cover superficial wounds or for cosmetic purposes. The name is due to the use by ladies of the court in the mid 1700s to create artificial beauty marks."

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INFORMATION ABOUT & TEXT EXAMPLES OF THE SONG "AUNT JEMIMA'S PLASTER"
These excerpts are given in no particular order.

From Google Books: The Alabama Folk Lyric: A Study in Origins and Media of Dissemination edited by Ray Broadus Browne
(p. 314)
"This comic song [Aunt Jemima's Plaster) dates back to Negro minstrelsy of the 1850s and was circulated in various forms. What may have been a later version was attributed to H. Devine and sung by Frank Moran (Moran’s Songster, N.Y., 1871, p. 13.) I quote two of six stanzas (the others are not very similar, and the chorus.

Oh, white folks, now I’ll sing to you about my Aunt Jemima
She used to make de best of plaster
Down in ole Carolina.

[Chorus]
Sheep skin, bees wax
‘Gundy pitch and plaster
The more you try to pull it off
The more it sticks de faster

Uncle Tom, he caught a cold,
I really don’t know how sirs
The put the plaster on his head
And drawed him out his trousers.

One version or another appeared in numerous songsters"...
-snip-
"Songsters" is a no longer used term for books that contained the words of various songs. Often the musical scores of those featured songs were also included in those books.

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From Google Books: Folk Songs of Middle Tennessee: The George Boswell Collection edited by Charles K. Wolfe
(pp.130-131)
"[The] Minstrel song called “Bees Wax” introduced by famed singer/composer Daniel Emmett (1840-1850) was very popular during the Civil War.

By 1910, collectors were finding folk versions of it in North Carolina’ oral traditions

One example sung by Mrs R. Lynn Farrar, Nashville, on July 4, 1950, probably learned from her mother:
[given with musical score]

Aunt Jemima was very old, but very kind and clever
She had a notion of her own that she would marry never
She said that she would live in peace and none would be her master
She made a living day by day by selling of a plaster.

Refrain:
Sheepskin and beeswax made this awful plaster.
The more you try to pull it off, the more it sticks the faster.

2. She had a sister very tall and if she kept on growing ,
She might have been a giant now, in fact there is no knowing.
All of a sudden she became of her height the master
And all because on each foot Jemima put a plaster.
Refrain

3. There was a thief both night and day kept stealing from the neighbors,
But none could find the rascal out with all their tricks and labors.
She set a trap upon her step and caught him with a plaster
The more he tried to get away, the more he stuck the faster.

Refrain

4. Her neighbor had a Thomas cat that ate like any glutton,
It never caught a mouse or rat, but stole both milk and mutton.
To keep it home, she tried her best, but ne’er could be its master
Until she stuck it to the floor, with Aunt Jemima’s plaster.

Refrain

5. Aunt Jemima had a dog, his tail was short and stumpy.
She put a plaster on his back, and drawed him to a monkey.
Aunt Jemima had a cat, we thought that we would fool her
We wrapped a plaster round each paw, she danced the hula hula.

Refrain
6. Now if you have a dog, cat, a husband, wife, or lover,
That you should wish to keep at home, this plaster just discover.
And if you wish to live in peace, avoiding all disaster,
Take my advice, and try the strength of Aunt Jemima’s plaster.

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TEXT EXAMPLE OF ANOTHER VERSION OF "AUNT JEMIMA'S PLASTER"
From http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=128733
"Lyr Add: Old Aunt Jemima & Aunt Jemima's Plaster", posted by Q, 10 Apr 10

SHEEPSKIN, BEESWAX
19th. C. songsheet

Now I'm gwine to sing a song
'Bout old Aunt Jemima,
Who used to make the Blister Plaster,
Down in North Carolina.

Chorus-
Sheepskin, beeswax,
Bergindy pitch and plaster,
The more you try to pull it off,
It only sticks the faster.

2
Old Aunt Jemima had a dog,
His tail was rather stumpy,
She put the plaster on his back,
And draw'd him to a monkey.
3
She bought a box of blacking,
So big, or a little bigger,
She put de plaster on de box
And draw'd it to a ni&&&r*.
4
She had a horse and cart,
They stalled upon de level,
She put de plaster on de cart
And draw'd 'em to de debble.**
5
Old Aunt Jemima's dead and gone,
You mayn't believe the story,
Dey put de plaster on her head,
And draw'd her up to glory.

J. Andrews, No. 38, Chatham St., N. Y.
American Memory.
-snip-
*”n word” fully spelled out

**"debble" = devil
-snip-
That Mudcat thread also includes other text examples of "Aunt Jemima's Plaster" as weell as text examples of other 19th century minstrel songs that refer to "Aunt Jemima".

An Aunt Jemima song that appears in Thomas W. Talley's 1922 collection Negro Folk Songs and those "Aunt Jemima songs in that Mudcat thread (that aren't versions of "Aunt Jemima's Plaster") will be featured in a pancocojams post that will be published ASAP.

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FEATURED VIDEOS

Example #1: Early Skyland Scotty - Aunt Jemima's Plaster (1934)



mrblindfreddy9999 Published on May 29, 2013

Recorded 23 March 1934 Chicago, IL -- Skyland Scotty aka Scott Wiseman (vcl/gt),Tommy Faile (rh/gt),David Johnson (violin,mandolin,dobro),Kevin Grant (bass/harmonica),Jimmie Wiseman (fiddle),Wayne (Skeeter) Haas (bass),Jerry Whitley (mandolin)...

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Example #1: Aunt Jemima - a song for soothing a child who needs a plaster



Dany Rosevear, Published on Dec 6, 2012

A traditional resource for children, teachers, carers, parents and grandparents

This is a song I enjoyed singing at school especial;ly when a child grazed a knee. ...
-snip-
Here's my transcription of that video:
The woman talking:
"Hello. [holding a small stuffed tiger]. Tiger skinned his knee and needs someone to look after it. I think I shall call for my aunt Jemima.

Jemima!

[woman begins singing]

Now I'm going to sing to you,
About my Aunt Jemima.
She makes plaster of the best,
Down in Carolina,

Sheepskin and the bees good wax,
Thunderpitch for plaster,
If you try to pull it off,
It will stick the faster.

Skinna-ma-lick my die-dle down,
Skinna-ma-lick my die doe,
Skinna-ma-lick my didle down,
Skinna-ma-lick my die doe.

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4 comments:

  1. The 'skinna-ma-lick' chorus on the last version reminds me of a rude little Scottish street-song about a character called 'Skinny Malinky' :)

    I wonder why it is people like to write comic songs about old ladies and their homemade cure-alls? There's also 'Auntie Maggie's Remedy'( 1940s) and 'Lily the Pink' (1968).

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    Replies
    1. Good catch, slam2011. I thought that "skinna-ma-link" came from a song h which was aknew that chorus remined me of something, but I couldn't think of it. I vaguely know that "Skinny Malinky" song. That name was may have contributed to the American childhood insult "skinny Minnie" for a girl who is thin.

      I don't know those other two songs. I'll have to check them out.

      On a serious note, could it be that people were afraid of the power that women with knowledge about natural healing cures had, and so they made up comic songs about them?

      Btw, when you described the "Skinny Malinky" song as rude, did you mean "nasty"?

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    2. Not nasty, just satisfyingly shocking - Skinny M goes to the cinema and breaks wind with considerable force:))

      Yes, I think there may be a revenge-motive in the mockery of older women and their potions. Most of us as small children were obliged to swallow something 'good for us' by our mums or grannies!

      'Lily the Pink', according to wikipedia, was apparently a riff on a US folk ballad dedicated to an actual 19thc medicine marketed by a savvy lady called Lydia Pinkham. Her cure was actually for 'female complaints' - which in the ballad became increasingy ribald.

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    3. Here's the link to that Wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lily_the_Pink_(song)

      And here's a quote:
      The U.S. American folk (or drinking) song on which Lily the Pink was based is generally known as "Lydia Pinkham" or "The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham". It has the Roud number 8368...the compound was mass-marketed in the United States from 1876 onwards.

      The song was certainly in existence by the time of the First World War. F. W. Harvey records it being sung in officers' prisoner-of-war camps in Germany, and ascribes it to Canadian prisoners...

      During the Prohibition era (1920–33) in the United States, the medicine (like other similar patent medicines) had a particular appeal as a readily available 40-proof alcoholic drink, and it is likely that this aided the popularity of the song. A version of the song was the unofficial regimental song of the Royal Tank Corps during World War II.[3]"

      Delete