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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Two Early 20th Century Examples Of The Singing Game "There Stands A Blue Bird"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents two early twentieth century examples of the American singing game "There Stands A Blue Bird". The first featured example is from 1927 (wit another title) hand the second featured example is from 1936.

Addendum #1 showcases a video entitled Zora Neal Hurston Fieldwork 1928. A portion of that video shows Black children in the 1930s playing a ring game with one child in the middle. "Here Stands A Blue Bird" has that performance structure.

Addendum #2 provides provides play instructions for "There Stands A Bluebird" that are given on an internet site. I also share my memories of playing "Here Stands A Bluebird" (from Atlantic City, New Jersey in the mid 1950s) and also share how groups of children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and some surrounding communities who learned "Here Stands A Bluebird" from me added a little bit to that singing game's play instructions.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Dr. Frank C. Brown and to Zora Neil Hurston and Alan Lomax for collecting this folkloric material. Thanks to all those who were featured in these embedded YouTube examples. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and all those who published this sound file and video on YouTube.
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"Here Stands A Blue Bird" isn't the same singing game as "Blue Bird, Blue Bird Through My Window". Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2016/11/bluebird-bluebird-through-my-window.html for a pancocojams post on the latter singing game.

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FEATURED EXAMPLES
These examples are given in chronological order with the oldest dated example given first.

EXAMPLE #1
This example is listed under the title "What's the Lady's Motion?", [example #] 87 on page 124
From https://archive.org/stream/frankcbrowncolle03fran/frankcbrowncolle03fran_djvu.txt The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore; the folklore of North Carolina, collected by Dr. Frank C. Brown during the years 1912 to 1943, in collaboration with the North Carolina Folklore Society

DUKE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

[...]

Genera! Editor
NEWMAN IVKY WHITE

"This game song appears to have been reported hitherto only from Virginia (JAFL xxxiv 119). 'Monkey Motions' (TNFS 133) is something like it but not the same song.

'Skip o'er the Mountain.' Reported in 1927 by Julian P. Boyd from the singing of Catherine Bennett, one of his pupils in the school at Alliance, Pamlico county. The first line and the refrain are repeated with each stanza.

Skip o'er the mountain,
Tra-la-la-la-la,

Skip o'er the mountain,

Tra-la-la-la-la.

Ski[p] o'er the mountain,

Tra-la-la-la-la,

Oh, she loves sugar and cheese 1

2 What's the lady's motion?

Oh, she loves sugar and cheese!

3 It's a very lovely motion.

Oh, she loves sugar and cheese!

4 Yonder goes a red-[b]ird.

Oh. she loves sugar and cheese!"
-snip-
One instance of "skip o'er [over] the mountain is given as "Ski])"
"red-bird" was given as "red-hird", which is clearly a typo.
I'm not sure what the citation number "1" is in reference to.

No racial inforamtion is given for Catherine Bennett or the school of Alliance in Pamlico county (North Carolina). Note that all the schools during that time would have been segregated by race (i.e. White, non-White).

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EXAMPLE #2: Zora Neale Hurston - There Stands a Bluebird



WallakAt Thursday, November 3, 2016

"Bluebird Bluebird Through My Window" (lyrics & playing instructions)
Rec. 12-1936

There stands a bluebird, tra la la la
There stands a bluebird, tra la la la
Gimme sugar, coffee and tea.

Now trip around the ocean, tra la la la
Now trip around the ocean, tra la la la
Now trip around the ocean, tra la la la
Gimme sugar, coffee and tea.

Now show me a motion, tra la la la
Now show me a motion, tra la la la
Now show me a motion, tra la la la
Gimme sugar, coffee and tea.

Now choose your partner, tra la la la
Choose your partner, tra la la la
Choose your partner, tra la la la
Gimme sugar, coffee and tea.

(Pic: Zora Neale Hurston with three boys in Eatonville Florida, 1935. Hurston interviewed children and had them demonstrate their games as Alan Lomax documented the action)

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ADDENDUM #1: Zora Neale Hurston Fieldwork 1928



Andrew Rasmussen, Published on Aug 11, 2013

I do not claim anything original from this video.

The film was shot by Hurston in 1928 and I got it from here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqWH5b

The audio is Hurston herself, as recorded in the mid 1930's.
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The segment of this showcased film clip that shows children playing a ring game (with a boy in the middle dancing) is from 3:24 to 4:50 in that YouTube video.

I'm not sure which ring game the Black girls and boys are playing in this particular film clip. However, it's almost certainly an example of a "show me your motion" ring game (i.e. a circle game in which people take turns going into the center of the ring and performing a dance or some other movement/s).

The sound that is heard during that segment is Zora Neale Hurston singing the African American song "Mule On The Mount" and not the children singing the ring game.*

*Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2017/03/african-american-folk-song-mule-on.html for the related pancocojams post "African American Folk Song "Mule On The Mount" (information, lyrics, & sound files)"

Here's my description of that ring game as shown in that film:
"Girls and boys forming the ring (circle) hold hands with person at either side and skip counterclockwise at a fast pace around a boy who is standing in the middle of the circle.

When the boy begins to dance, the children stop moving around the circle. They drop hands and begin to clap their hands. It doesn't appear that the children are singing throughout this dance performance or even at any time during that dance performance. The film captures glimpses of the children forming the ring stamping their left foot (and some children moving both of their knees and feet) while they watch the boy dancing in the center of the ring.

The boy is doing fast foot work that is accompanied by a flip into a half split several times during his dance performance. (I wonder if this half-split is a precursor to the voguing dance move that is called a "death drop"). I'd label the type of dancing he's doing as "buck dancing" and/or "a jig", but I'll leave a more detailed description of this dance to those who can name it and describe it better than me.
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Here's one of very few comments from that YouTube video's discussion thread:
Andre Wilson, 2014
"Fantastic! Very important footage that documents the real lives of African Americans. I particularly love the footage of the children's game. Zora documents games in "Mules and Men" and included the lyrics and description of the game "There Stands a Blue Bird" which is probably what this film footage represents."
-snip-
Unless it is noted in that Hurston's 1928 Children's Game film clip, I don't think that there's any definitive way of knowing which game song the children are playing. However, "There Stands A Blue Bird is played this way.
-snip-
Note: I featured this film segment on this pancocojams post: https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2017/03/heres-fantastic-find-1928-film-clip-of.html. That post includes information about Zora Neale Hurston. This description of the ring (circle) game is also found on that post.

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ADDENDUM #2
Part #1
From http://www.culturalequity.org/rc/ce_rc_lessons_bluebird.php
..."Directions to Playing "There Stands a Bluebird"

1. Children stands in a circle; one child is chosen to be the "bluebird" in the center.

2. On verse 2, the "bluebird" skips around the circle, going through windows (arches) at will.

3. On verse 3, the "bluebird" returns to the center of the circle and improvises a motion or movement to the beat, which the rest of the circle imitates.

4. On verse 4, the "bluebird" flies around the circle and chooses a partner to take her place before the song ends."
-snip-
This site also includes the same words for "There Stands A Blue Bird" that are given in Example #2 above.

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Part #2
I found Zora Neale Hurston's YouTube sound file of "There Stands A Bluebird" while searching for YouTube examples of children playing the ring game (circle game). This was the only sound file of this song that I've found to date. Other YouTube videos were of the singing game "Bluebird Bluebird Through My Window".

I played "Here Stands A Bluebird" in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1950s. Note the the word we used was "Here stands" and not There stands" a bluebird".

The song that I remember singing has the same tune as the song in Zora Neale Hurston's sound file, but I don't recall speeding up the tempo for the "let me see your motion" part of the game as Zora Neale Hurston appeared to do in this sound file. Here are the words that I remember singing for "Here Stands A Blue Bird":

Here stands a bluebird, tra la la la
Here stands a bluebird, tra la la la
Here stands a blue bird, tra la la la
Oh, she loves sugar and tea.

Let me see your motion, tra la la la
Let me see your motion, tra la la la
Let me see your motion, tra la la la
Oh, she likes sugar and tea.

Oh, who do you choose, tra la la la
Who do you choose, tra la la la
Who do you choose, tra la la la
Oh, she likes sugar and tea.
-snip-

The way that we played this game is described above, except for #4. Instead of purposely picking the next person to take her" place, while the rest of the group sung "Who do you choose?", the middle person stood in the center of the circle, closed her eyes, put her left hand over her eyes, extended her right arm and pointed her right hand while turning around in that spot. The middle person stopped turning on the word "tea" and the person she was pointing to took her place in the middle of the circle.

Around 2002-2005, I taught "Here Stands A Blue Bird" singing game to children who participated in my Alafia Children's Ensemble game song groups (after school groups that met for 1 1/2 hours once a week at two sites in mostly African American neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. I also taught this singing game to some children who attended various special programming activities that I performed at (also, in mostly African American neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.

The first Alafia after-school group in Braddock, Pennsylvania was composed almost entirely of girls between the ages of 5- 12 years. In addition, there were usually about two boys under the age of 9 in attendance. The second Alafia after-school group was only attended by girls who were ages 5-0 years old (as per the school principal's directive. The special programming events were usually sponsored by elementary school age community groups attended by girls and boys ages 5-12 years.

It appeared that none of the children who attended any of these groups/events knew "Here Stands A Blue Bird".

The only addition we made to the performance activity was that when we sang "She likes sugar and tea", we mimicked eating a cube of sugar and drinking a cup of tea.

*It's been my experience that most children consider non-competitive singing circle games to be for "little kids". For preschoolers and kindergarten girls and boys the most popular circle game by far is "Ring Around The Rosey". Children over six who I've worked with in the USA tend not to play non-competitive circle games on their own. If there are exceptions, for instance a game such as "Going To Kentucky", those games are usually considered the province of girls. However, in my experience, elementary school age boys (5-12 years old) wouldn't initiate play, but would join with girls who initiated such competitive circle games as "Stella Ella Ola" (also known as "Slap Billyola" and other names), and "Down By The Banks Of The Hanky Panky" (the hand slapping game and not the partner hand clapping game, since hand clap games usually are considered "girls' things".

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