Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Five Traditional African American Game Songs (Green Sally Up; Little Sally Walker, Johnny Cuckoo, Barb A Needle, & Zoodio)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Revised August 2, 2019

This pancocojams post showcases five traditional African American game songs (singing games.)

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the unknown composers of these songs. Thanks to all those who are featured in these embedded videos and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.


Mattie Garder, Mary Gardner, Jesse Lee Pratcher - Green Sally, Up

Uploaded by IvchoBrasil on Sep 13, 2009

A black children's singing game performed by a group of women in Como, Miss. Moby sampled this song for his song Flower.
Click for my theories about why American electronic rock musician Moby titled his song "Flowers". That post also includes my comments about the possible connection between "Green Sally Up" and "Ring Around The Rosie", and more.

Little Sally Walker & Johnny Cuckoo - Bessie Jones

uploaded by ichagall on Apr 20, 2010

Note: The "Little Sally Walker" segment ends at 1:51 and is followed by an interview with Bessie Jones. The Johnny Cuckoo segment begins at 3:31.
Click for information about Bessie Jones.

GAME #4: BARB-A NEEDLE (also known as Bob A Needle)
Rev. Dan Smith | Barb-A Needle

Uploaded by SwampBluesTed on Dec 23, 2009

"Barb-A Needle" is a song by (Rev.) Dan Smith from his album "Now Is the Time, Vol. 2", released on the Biograph label back in 1975.


Click for more information about Rev. Dan Smith


Uploaded by Lotties Flock [JustTheFam] on Aug 2, 2009


Green Sally Up, Green Sally down.
Last one squat got to tear the ground.

Old Miss Lucy dead and gone.
Left me here to weep and moan.

If you hate it fold your arms.
If you love it clap your hands.

Source: Disc 4 of Alan Lomax: Sounds of the South, A Musical Journey from the Georgia Sea Isles to the Mississippi Delta (Atlantic 787496-2; 1993).

Little Sally Walker
Sittin’ in a saucer
Cryin and weepin'
Over all she has done.
Rise up on your feet
And wipe your cheeks
Turn to the East
Oh, turn to the West.
And put your hands on your hip
And let your backbone slip.
Oh, shake it to the East
Oh, shake it to the West
And shake it to the very one
That you love the best
-as sung by Bessie Jones

1st verse:
Here comes one Johnny Cuckoo
Cuckoo; Cuckoo
Here comes one Johnny Cuckoo
On a cold and stormy night

2nd verse:
What did you come for
Come for
Come (here) for
What did you come for
On a cold and stormy night

3rd verse:
I come for me (We come for us)
A soldier, soldier,
I come for me (We come for us)
A soldier
On a cold and stormy night

4th verse
You look too black and dirty
Dirty dirty
You look too black and dirty
On a cold and stormy night

5th verse
I'm (We're) just as good* as you are
You are. You are.
I'm (We're) just as good as you are
On a cold and stormy night

* sometimes given as "just as clean as you are"
Source: Bessie Jones, Bess Hawes Lomax: Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs & Stories from the Afro-American Heritage. "Johnny Cuckoo" is also included as as #10 on the 3rd CD of "A Musical Journey From The Georgia Sea Islands To The Mississippi Delta", Alan Lomax; 1993 Atlantic Recording
Performance description for Johnny Cuckoo
(by Pancocojams Editor based on video embedded above)

One person from the group (female or male) plays the role of “Johnny Cuckoo”.

The rest of the group stands in a horizontal line some distance from Johnny Cuckoo but facing her or him. The group perform individual hand claps [clap their own hands) to the beat while singing this song.

1-2nd verses
“Johnny Cuckoo” starts strutting/marching toward this line to the beat when the group sings the first and second verses. Most of the time "Johnny Cuckoo" struts/marches in place to the beat.

3rd verse
Everyone sings the entire song although technically the third (and 5th verse) is supposed to be Johnny Cuckoo singing alone. "Johnny Cuckoo" is still standing in place while strutting/marching and the rest of the group is still standing facing her or him and clapping their hands while they sing.

4th verse
On the 4th verse, all of the players in the line turn their backs on "Johnny Cuckoo" and switch their hips to the beat. There is a significant increase in the speed of the singing in the 4th first as the group sing and perform a double offbeat clap. Johnny Cuckoo continues to stand in place but this time doesn't strut or march.

5th verse
Keeping that same fast beat, "Johnny Cuckoo" turns her or his back to the group and does the same hip swinging dance the group does while clapping his or her hands. The group has turned back the way they were facing in the beginning of the song. At the end of this verse, "Johnny Cuckoo" begins strutting/ marching toward the group until she or he reaches the line. "Johnny Cuckoo" then arbitrarily picks someone to be the second Johnny Cuckoo with her or him.

The song immediately repeats from the beginning with the group singing "Here comes two Johnny Cuckoos etc

This continues with multiple Johnny Cuckoos until everyone is a Johnny Cuckoo.

Note: parenthesis represent lines sung by group

(Bob-a-needle is a running)

(Bob-a-needle is a running)

Better run, bob-a-needle
(Bob-a-needle is a running)

Better hustle, bob-a-needle
(Bob-a-needle is a running)

I want bob-a-needle
(Bob-a-needle is a running)

Want to find bob-a-needle
(Bob-a-needle is a running)

Going to catch bob-a-needle
(Bob-a-needle is a running)

Turn around, bob-a-needle
(Bob-a-needle is a running)

Oh bob, bob-a-needle
(Bob-a-needle is a running)
-Source: Bessie Jones & Bess Lomax Hawes: Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs & Stories from the Afro-American Heritage (University of Georgia Press, 1972, pps. 163-164)

Here we go Zoodio, Zoodio, Zoodio
Here we go Zoodio all night long.

Oh, step back Sally Sally, Sally
Step back Sally all night long.

Walkin down the alley, alley, ally
Walkln down the alley all night long.

[repeat from the beginning]

I remember learning this song in the 1950s from a vacation Bible school teacher who was from Georgia. I've phonetically spelled that word "Zoodio", but I've seen it written "Zudio", or "Zodiac".

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