Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Examples Of The 19th Century American Play Party Song - Old Sister Phoebe (The Juniper Tree)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides information, lyrics, and musical examples of the play party song "Old Sister Phoebe" (also known as "The Juniper Tree" and "Sister Phoebe".)

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

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

When I cleaned out an old filing cabinet today I found -among other things- a number of pages from New Music Horizon books that I had copied more than fifteen years. Among those pages were the words to the song "Sister Phoebe".

I believe that I copied the song "Sister Phoebe" that was given in book four of that children's music textbook because I mistakenly believed that it was of African American origin. Part of my reason for that conclusion was the fact that the title "Sister" was used by Black women in in the 19th century American South in substitution for the prohibited titles "Mrs." and "Miss". Those titles were reserved for White females only. I also jumped to the (I believe erroneous) conclusion that the song "Sister Phoebe" originated with Black Americans because I'm familiar with Black women calling each other "sister" and the title "Sister" being used among some church going African Americans- I think particularly in the predominately Black American Church of God in Christ congregations.

Although I now believe that "Sister Phoebe" probably didn't originate with African Americans, I think that that it's very likely that this game was played by African Americans. If so, it's appropriate that this game be shared on this blog that focuses on music and dance from African American and other Black cultures around the world.

These lyrics, information, and sound file examples of"Old Sister Phoebe" are given in somewhat random order, beginning with an example that has the most information about this song that I've found to date.

Example #1: Old Sister Phoebe

Matthew Sabatella and the Rambling String Band – Topic., Published on Nov 10, 2015

Provided to YouTube by CDBaby
Old Sister Phoebe · Matthew Sabatella and the Rambling String Band

Songs in the Life of Abraham Lincoln (Ballad of America Vol. 3)
℗ 2009 Slip Songs/ASCAP


"Lyrics to Old Sister Phoebe

Old Sister Phoebe, how happy were we
The day we sat under the juniper tree
The juniper tree, hi ho, hi ho!
The juniper tree, hi ho!

Place this had on your head, it will keep your head [warm]
And take a sweet kiss, it will do you no harm
But a great deal of good, I know, I know
A great deal of good, I know

Old Sister Phoebe, how happy were we
The day we sat under the juniper tree
Now around and around we go, we go
Around and around we go"
"Old Sister Phoebe

In the fall of 1816, after chaotic land laws caused the Lincolns to lose three different farms in Kentucky, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln moved with their two children - Sarah, 9, and Abraham, 7 - to southern Indiana. Abraham became skilled with the plow and axe as he assisted his father in the work that had to be done to survive on the frontier. In October of 1818, when Abraham was 9 years old, his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died of milk sickness.

Nancy had encouraged young Abraham to read and explore the world through books, which he did voraciously. Although the demands of life on the frontier left little time for formal schooling, Abraham educated himself and could often be seen carrying a book as well as an axe.

As he grew from a boy to a young man, Abraham was popular at community gatherings such as corn shuckings, logrollings, grubbings, and play parties. Play parties were a popular form of entertainment in frontier communities, especially ones in which religious beliefs did not permit "dancing" and considered the fiddle to be the "devil's instrument." Though based on European and English antecedents, play parties were truly an American phenomenon.

Abraham's favorite play-party game was Old Sister Phoebe , in which boys and girls join hands and circle around one girl in the center of the ring who holds in her hands a hat or coonskin cap. In keeping with the lyrics to the song, she places the cap on a boy's head and kisses him. She then takes the boy's place in the circle and he moves to the center. The game and song sometimes went on for hours.

Old Sister Phoebe, as recorded here, includes a Jew's harp, an instrument Lincoln once told a group of schoolchildren that he played as a boy."

Example #2
From The Play Party In Indiana: A Collection of Folk-Songs and Games with Descriptive Introduction, and Correlating Notes With Sheet Music & Lyrics By Leah Jackson Wolford, M. A, Published By The Indiana Historical Commission, 1916
[p. 80]
..."Mrs. Peter Geiling (Laurel, Ind.) states that the following games were played twenty-five years ago,�*"Miller, Weevily Wheat, Melven Vine, Skip Come-loo, Snap, Old Sister Phoebe, Getting Married, Chase the Squirrel, Needle's Eye and Marching to Quebec. The last six mentioned were 'kissing games.

Lyrics for Old Sister Phoebe. given with musical notations
1. Old Sister Phoebe, how merry were we, The night we sat under the juniper tree, The juniper tree, high-o, high-o, The juniper tree, high-o.
2. Take this hat on your head, keep your head warm,
3. And take a sweet kiss, it will do you no harm, But a great deal of good, I know, I know,53
4. But a great deal of good I know.
Mrs. Calvin Stark, Versailles, Ind.

[Note] 53. In the place of these last two lines, the following were often substituted: It will do you no harm, but a great deal of good, And so take another while kissing goes good.
The question mark was included on that page. Twenty-five years from that book's first publication date is 1891.

Example #3: New Music Horizons Fourth Book – 1945
by McConathy et al (Author)

Publisher: Silver Burdett Company; page 184

1. Old Sister Phoebe, how happy were we
The day we sat under the juniper tree
The juniper tree, high ho, high ho!
The juniper tree, high ho!

2. I’ve a young daughter and she sleeps upstairs.
She’s always complaining being ‘fraid of the bears,
Being ‘fraid of the bears high ho, high ho
being ‘ fraid of the bears, high ho.

3. Rogers came out with his old rusty gun
And said he would shoot us if we didn’t run
If we didn’t run high ho, high ho
If we didn’t run high ho

4. Rise you up, daughter and choose you a man,
Go choose you the fairest that ever you can,
So rise you up, daughter, and go, and go,
So rise you up, daughter and go.

5. Rise you up, sonny, and choose you a wife,
Go choose you the fairest you can in your life.
Go rise you up, sonny, and go, and go
Go rise you up, sonny, and go.

6/8 The time signature tells us that there are six beats in a measure and that an eight note equals one beat. How many beats will a quarter note get? A dotted quarter note?
Scan the words and clap the accents. How many accents are there in each measure? There are only two strong accents in each measure because the music moves quickly and lightly. A dotted quarter note equals one beat. Song with autoharp accompaniment."
*This song is given with musical notations and is listed as an “American Singing Game”.

Example #4: The juniper tree or Oh, Sister Phoebe - a children's circle game

Dany Rosevear, Published on Jun 9, 2015

For music, chords and how to play this as a game visit:
A traditional resource for children, teachers, child care providers, librarians, parents and grandparents or just nostalgia enthusiasts. Visit to find many more songs including those from other countries and also to find out how to play this as a game and see it in the context of teaching singing games for children.

Oh, Sister Phoebe, how happy were we,
The night we sat under the juniper tree,
The juniper tree, hi-o, hi-o,
The juniper tree, hi-o. rise you up sister, and go, and go,

Put this hat on to keep your head warm,
And take a sweet kiss, it will do you no harm,
Will do you no harm, I know, I know
Will do you no harm, I know.

Go choose you a partner, go choose you a one,
Go choose you the fairest that ever you can,
Now rise you up sister and go, and go,
Now rise you up sister and go.
"Fairest" here means "the most physically attractive".

Example #5: The Juniper Tree

swissinus Uploaded on Jan 13, 2012

Arkansas Folk Song, arr. by Kenneth Carter

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