Friday, September 16, 2011

Little Sally Walker (A Story. Tellin It Like It Is & Like It Was)

written by Azizi Powell

Latest Update: March 18, 2019

A Story. Tellin It Like It Is & Like It Was
(c) Azizi Powell, May 10, 2004

Little Sally Walker may not be as popular as “Miss Mary Mack” but she’s got a following all her own. And I’m one of her biggest fans.

Did you know that there once was a time that every Black child from North Carolina to New York knew Little Sally? My girl, Sally - she sure got around.

Little Sally’s got a lot of aliases. When I was growing up in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1950s, Sally was known as “Little Sally Ann”. Here’s how we sang about Little Sally Ann:

Little Sally Ann
sittin in the sand
a weepin and a cryin
for a nice young man.
Rise, Sally, rise.
Wipe your weepin eyes.
Now turn to the East
and turn to the West.
And turn to the very one
that you love best.

Well, I never knew what Sally’s last name was. But when I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the late 1960s, I found out that folks here said Sally’s last name was “Walker”, which I know a lot about ‘cause my sister and my cousin married some WaIkers. Anyway, here’s how children in Pittsburgh sing “Little Sally”:

Little Sally Walker
Sittin in a saucer
A weepin and a cryin for
a nice young man.
Rise, Sally rise.
Wipe your weepin eyes
Turn to the east and turn to the west
And turn to the one that you
love the best.

I hear tell that way back when, children down South added some more to that song tellin Little Sally to

put your hands on your hip
and let her backbone slip.
Aah, shake it to the east, Sally
Shake it to the west, Sally
Aah shake it to the one
that you love the best.

There’s even another version of Little Sally Walker that this famous Black singer by the name of Leadbelly (You ever heard of him?) used to sing. It went like this:

Little Sally Walker
sittin in a saucer
a’weepin and a’moanin
like a little turtle dove...

(That song isn’t sung much anymore, probably ‘cause folks nowadays don’t know that a turtle dove’s some kind of bird that acts all lovey dovey or something. That’s what I think anyways.)

My girl Sally even shows up in some songs they used to play on the radio like that “Spirit In The Dark” song that Aretha Franklin made. Aretha's song goes like this:

It’s like Sally Walker
sittin in her saucer
that’s how you do it.
Ain’t nothin to it.
Rise, Sally, rise.
Put your hands on your hips
and cover your eyes
and move with the spirit in the dark.

And talkin ‘bout movin, now I hear tell that Sally girl done really changed up. The other day my grand babies and their friends showed me a whole new side to Sally Anne Walker. Well, maybe it’s not new to you, but it was new to me. Here’s how she goes now:

Little Sally Walker
was walkin down the street.
She didn’t know what to do
so she stood in front of me.
I said ooh girl do your thing.
Do your thing, STOP!
I said ooh girl do your thing.
Do your thing, and SWITCH!

That switching thing isn’t about shaking their little hips back & forth. It means “changing places”. Here’s how they did it. My grandbabies and their friends made a circle and one girl-I guess she was “Little Sally Walker” was in the middle of the circle. So while the other children are singing that song, little Sally Walker’s walking around the circle, kinda struttin you know. And then when they sang “she stood in front of me”, Little Sally does just that. And then when the song goes “ooh girl do your thing”, little Sally does some kind of hip swingin dance. And that one Little Sally’s standin in front of starts doin the exact same dance, only she does it her way. Then when the song says “Stop!”, they both stop movin. They kinda freeze in place, you know what I mean. Then the other children playin that game start singing again, and Little Sally and the one she’s standing in front of go back to doin that same dance they were doin before. Then when the song goes “Switch!”, the old Little Sally Walker changes places with the one she was standing in front of, and the new Sally Walker starts struttin around the circle. When it comes time for her to do her dance, she does somethin different from the other Sally Walker. But whatever she does, you can see she puts her whole soul in it. Because if it’s one thing about Little Sally Walker that everybody knows, is that she’s got soul.

Which is funny in a way cause Little Sally Walker's really WHITE. No, wait a minute. I’m not kiddin. I found out her real name was Sally Waters and she was born overseas in Europe. How she got started was like this: way back when, a woman who was gettin married had to step over a saucer of water on her way to the wedding ceremony. I swear I’m not making this up. That’s how those Little Sally sittin in a saucer words came about. It was to purify the water. Ain’t that somethin? We jumped over brooms, and they stepped over saucers.

Anyway, I don't care if Sally first came from White people. We made her Black with all those shake it to the East Sally Shake it to the west Sally, let your back bone slip hip shakin motions. Not to mention that Black people are all mixed up with Black, White, Indian, Hispanic, and Asian and I don’t know what else kind of folks. That’s the way it’s been for a real long time, and that’s the way it’s probable gonna always be. Anyhow, ole Sally Walker’s all right by me. Wherever she came from, she’s one of us now. And that’s all I’m gonna say ‘bout that subject.

The end.

I believe that the title "Little Sally Waters" is the earliest version of "Little Sally Walker", "Little Sally Ann", and "Little Sally Walker Walkin Down The Street". From my reading, I gather that this children's game song originated as a British marriage and/or fertility ritual.

[Update: March 18, 2019- Unfortunately, the Billy Preston - "Little Sally Walker" (1965) example is no longer available on YouTube. I replaced that example with a sound file of "Lead belly singing "Little Sally Walker".]

Example #1: Bessie Jones - Little Sally Walker

ichagall | April 20, 2010
The beginning portion of this video features African American folklorist/author Bessie Jones instructing children & adults how to play a version of the children's game song "Little Sally Walker".

The other game song that is featured on that video, "Johnny Cuckoo", will be the subject of a seperate Pancocojams post. The words to that rhyme, and my comments about it can be found on the Cocojams link given at the end of this post.

Example #2: Rufus Thomas - Little Sally Walker

Uploaded by paul2mtr on Jul 15, 2011

Click for the lyrics to this song.

Example #3: Little Sally Walker Walking Down The Street

by AnnaGraceBananaFace on Feb 25, 2009
"Little Sally Walker Walking Down The Street" is an updated version of "Little Sally Walker". I remember seeing African Americans girls (around 7-10 years old) playing this game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the early 2000s. I think that the multiple number of "Little Sallys" toward the end of this video might have been done to make sure that as many children as possible got a turn in the middle. Whenever I've seen this game played, there has only been one "Sally" in the middle at a time, and only one person she or he stands in front of & then switches places with.

"Little Sally Walker Walking Down The Street" is a children's game. However, the much older game "Little Sally" is relegated to a very young children's game (pre-five year olds), while the newer "Little Sally" game is considered to be suitable for play by girls five years old and older, because it provides opportunities to show off dance moves. In my direct experiences, girls self-initiate this game and it is usually only played by girls. However, I've seen a number of YouTube videos in which coed groups of White teens/yound adults or an interracial coed groups of teens/young adults play this game. It's my sense that inspite of the opportunities to show off their dancing skills, African American and Latino boys over the age of five wouldn't self-initate this game and would be less likely to participate in this game or any other hand clapping game with or without solo dancing opportunities*. It should be noted that the name "Sally" doesn't appear to change if a boy happens to be picked to go in the middle. The use of that female name serves as documentation that this originated as a girls only game.

In my opinion, the number of YouTube videos of this game performed by children, and often teens & adults demonstrates how the African American influenced "show me your motion" children's circle (ring) games are still being played in updated fashions. As is the case with the "traditional" show me your motion games, in this updated version, the one who is picked to join the person in the middle is supposed to exactly imitate the dances and/or other movements that the middle person does. Of course, this rule is waived with very young children.

It's also worth noting that a number of YouTube videos document that certain populations of teens and young adults also may play "Little Sally Walker (walking down the street)" as a stress reducer or just for fun. That game may not be initiated by the students themselves but might be started at the suggestion or direction of a teacher (after a test or at the end of the school year) or a director of a theater production before the play's performance.

A similar "fun, stress reducer" children's game that has also been adopted by some teens and young adults is "Down By The Banks Of The Hanky Panky". I wrote "certain populations" because I have strong doubts that these games are played with the same frequency if at all by all or predominated African American or Latino classes or groups. It's my theory that those two children's games are examples of ways that race/ethnicity and not just age and gender can influence which playground games are played & sometimes even how those rhymes are played.

*I have seen African American boys over five years of age play the competitive hand slap game "Stella Ella Ola" (also known as "Slap Billy Ola"). However, in my experiences of this game (in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the late 1990s & the early 200s) was that boys didn't initiate this game, boys only played this game along with girls, and that boys didn't play this game after the age of 12 years or so (when they left elementary school). In other words, while the competitive nature of handslap games such as "Stella Ella Ola" and "Slap Billy Ola" make them more attractive to African American boys than non-competitive circle games, hand slap games (and handclap games) are generally considered to be girls games.

Example 4: Sally Walker- Leadbelly Lead Belly

songs1994, Published on Mar 3, 2009

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  1. In Louisiana in some parts the song ends on, "she didn't know what to do so jumped in front of me, she said gone girl do you thing do you thing stop turn to the East turn to West turn to the pretty girl you are the best

    1. Thanks Anonymous for sharing that ending.

      This is the first time I've heard it.

      Best wishes!


    1. You're welcome, Anonymous March 18, 2019.

      Thanks for your comment. :o)

  3. The way we do it in Ohio in the early 2000s went a little different from the modern version of the game...:

    'Little Sally Walker
    walking down the street
    she didn't know what to do
    so she jumped in front of me
    I said "go on, girl, shake that thang! shake that thang!
    go on, girl, shake that thang! shake that thang!
    roll it to the bottom, roll it to the top. Then turn around and turn around
    until you make it stop!"'

    Now, the part where we said "roll it to the bottom, roll it to the top" the girl (or boy) gets as low as they can- almost a squatting position- & stands back up. "Then turn around and turn around until you make it stop!" is where they spin in a circle much like when playing 'pin the tail on the donkey' or when your up to bat at the piƱata. & on the word "STOP!" the person you are face to face with goes next & the game resumes til all players have had their turn. An optional part is pointing straight ahead so you know who's next (much like 'spin the bottle')!

    1. Unknown, thanks for sharing your version of "Little Sally Walker" and thanks for including demographics.

      I remember "rumble to the bottom/rumble to the top/then turn around and touch the ground until we holler s.t.o.p. STOP". Kids sang this at the end of "Going To Kentucky" singing game (in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1980s, 1990s, early 2000s and now?)

  4. Wonderful piece! I've sent you an email as well, to the address above. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, rcarolinian.

      I appreciate your comment & email.

      Best wishes!

      Keep on making music the way you do.