Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rockin Robin (Tweeleelee) - Analysis, Performance Activity, & Text Examples

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Revision: July 21, 2022

This is Part I of a two part pancocojams series on the playground rhyme "Rockin Robin" (also known as "Tweeleelee", "Tweet Baby" and similar sounding names). Part I includes a general overview, performance information, text analysis, and several text examples of this rhyme.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II of this series showcases selected videos of the Rock & Roll records that inspired this rhyme, as well as selected videos of the rhyme itself.

My thanks to all those who contributed examples to this post.

The "Rockin Robin" ("Twee Lee Lee") rhymes originated with African Americans. These rhymes are based on Michael Jackson's January 24, 1972 recording of the R&B song "Rockin Robin" as no version of  "Rockin Robin" hand game can be found prior to that 1972 date. (Note that the first "Rockin Robin" record was released in 1958 by African American Bobby Day.) [Correction. Thanks, Anonymous July 21, 2022 at 4:11 PM.  

The earliest "complete" versions of a "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") rhyme that I have directly collected (from observation or from face to face interviews) are from the 1980s. However, I've read online that some commenters remember playing "Rockin Robin" hand games in the 1970s. Some commenters recall playing this hand game while listening to and/or singing along to the 1972 Michael Jackson record "Rockin Robin". Other commenters recall that two, three, or four children recited certain verses while playing this hand game.

In 1992, while I was conducting informal written surveys of playground rhymes at my work place, several African American women (ages mid 30s-mid 40s) from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania indicated they knew that rhyme from the 1970s, and that they recited "Rockin Robin" while doing a handclap routine. Unfortunately, those informants couldn't recite the entire rhyme, but shared that "the words were like the "Rockin Robin song". One informant indicated that "it began with something like "tweet baby/tweet baby"/you're butt [or "your breath"] stinks". Those introductory lines or similar lines are still a common part of the "Rockin Robin" handclap rhyme.

Click'_Robin_(song) for more information about the song "Rockin Robin". More information about the text of "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") is found below.

"Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") is a handclap rhyme that usually appears to have been (and still is) performed by girls between the ages of 6-12 years old. That said, in the game song sessions that I conducted between 1992-2005 in numerous mostly African American communities in & around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I observed that boys ages 6-8 years old also knew this rhyme, and sometimes boys within those particular age ranges would be as eager as the girls to perform that rhyme in front of their peers and in front of adults. As a matter of fact, it appeared to me that "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") was the most well known and well liked handclap rhyme among the children who I encountered throughout my years facilitating those non-profit foundation sponsored game song after-school and summer programs.

Like almost all handclap rhymes, "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") is chanted in unison. Usually performers are standing while chanting this rhyme. Chanters who are standing usually perform an over/under hand slap and dipping up & down motions that are done to the beat of this rhyme. I've observed this type of handclap routine performed with some other rhymes, but it still is rather unique.

"Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") is also unique among playground rhymes in that its usual manner of performance -at least in the USA- appears to be as a four person partner handclap rhyme (two sets of partners facing each other in a square formation). At specific times in the hand clap routine, one set of partners clap over while the other set claps under. I've witnessed this formation used with a few other handclap rhymes, it appears that this pattern of four players is "the way Twee Lee Lee" is supposed to be played", rather than a formation that is arbitrarily done when four people who are interested in playing a hand clap game at the same time. In addition to observing this four person, over/under manner of performing "Rockin Robin" 'in real life' in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, I've also observed it in various YouTube videos. 

All of the performances of Rockin Robin  (Twee Lee Lee") that I observed were done by four people (two sets of partners) or, less often, by three people in a triangle formation. All of the clappers were standing and all of these performances were done while chanting versions of  "Rockin Robin" ("Twee Lee Lee") rhymes. I never observed any performances that were done to the record "Rockin Robin" by Michael Jackson (or by anyone else). However, there are several YouTube videos of people doing a hand clap routine along with the Jackson Five's R&B record-sometimes without singing the words to that song and sometimes singing along. Here's a link to one of these YouTube videos: "Twee-Lee-Lee (Rockin Robin) Hand Game" Girl Conductor, April 12, 2021

That video shows an African American woman teaching three other women how she plays the "Rockin Robin" ("Twee Lee Lee") hand game.

Here's my transcription of the verse she chants at 1:49 (Prior to that, she and the other women are singing along with that record).
I went downtown
To see James Brown
He gave me a nickel
to buy me a pickle
The pickle was sour
He gave me a flower
To take in the shower
Rockin Robin…"
Anonymous, December 24, 2019  shared another example of this verse within "Rockin Robin" ("Twee Lee Lee") rhymes in the comment section below.

There are also a very "dirty" verses in some versions of "Rockin Robin" ("Twee Lee Lee") rhymes. Some notes about those verses (but not the complete lines themselves) are given below. 


"Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") has the following characteristics that many other African American hand clap rhymes have: 
1. Introductory phrase
An introductory rhyming or non-rhyming line or phrase is usually chanted before the actual "Rockin Robin" rhyme begins.

This introductory phrase can be considered the first verse of the rhyme except that the movement activity for the introductory words is different from the movement activity of the actual rhyme. Usually, the two sets of partners who form the four person square swing hands while reciting this passage.
For that reason, I consider that phrase or line/s to be an introduction to the rhyme and not the first verse of the actual rhyme. 

Here are two examples of these introductory lines for the "Rockin Robin" rhyme. There are other examples besides these.
"Twee lee lee
Tree top!
Twee lee lee
My prop.
Popsicle, popsicle
Your butt stinks!"

"Swing swing swing to the USA
Hey hey"

This "twee lee lee" phrase has its source in the introduction to Michael Jackson's "Rockin Robin" song
"Tweedily deedily dee, Tweedily deedily dee
Tweedily deedily dee, Tweedily deedily dee
Tweedily deedily dee, Tweedily deedily dee
Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet"

-end of quote-

2. Verses consist of two sets of rhyming couplets.
Verses of the actual handclap rhyme are composed of two sets of rhyming couplets (AABB rhyme scheme).

3. In longer forms of this rhyme, verses are lifted from other rhymes or songs.   

In "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") rhyme, the first verse is almost exactly the same as the Michael Jackson's borrowed from the "Rockin Robin" song:

"He rocks in the tree tops all day long
Hopping and a-bopping and singing his song
All the little birdies on Jaybird Street
Love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet"
-end of quote-

Some "Rockin Robin" rhymes have some interesting folk processed variations for the line "all the little birds on J-Bird street". And some "Rockin Robin" rhymes may (also) contain a purposely dirty (vulgar) substitution for the phrase "tweet, tweet, tweet" .

 3. Examples of the rhyme often include "floating" verses (lines from other stand alone (independent) rhymes and/or songs .

As discussed below, many of the floating verses for the "Rockin Robin" song are lifted from dirty (vulgar) African American songs. It's likely that most children (and pre-teens, teens, and adults) chanting these verses don't know that they come from bawdy songs. It's also quite likely that some children, especially younger children, don't "get" the vulgar meanings of the words that they are chanting.

That said, common movements of switching your hips and patting down your butt while chanting the words "fruit cocktail" in the line "sister on the corner selling "fruit cocktail" strongly suggests that children have at least an inkling that these words refer to "sister" being a street prostitute.

The main source for "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") is the 1958 R&B song "Rockin Robin" and, specifically, Michael Jackson's 1972 cover of that song that begins with "Twee Lee Lee".

However, a number of versions of the "Rockin Robin" recreational (playground) rhyme contain a verse that is knowingly or unknowingly adapted from several African American lewd (sexual explicit) songs.

For instance, here's a relatively clean version of a  verse in a version of "doing The Dirty Boogie" 
"Mama in the kitchen, Papa in jail.
Sister on the corner singing "pussy for sale".
It's a dirty, dirty boogie that's what I crave.
Dirty, dirty boogie gonna drive me to my grave."

One example of those cleaned up verses in Rockin Robin rhymes is :
Momma's in the kitchen, cookin' rice
Daddy's on the corner, shootin' dice
Brother's in jail, raisin' hell
Sister on the corner selling fruit cock tail"

In longer forms of the "Rockin Robin" rhyme, t
he verse about James Brown lying in the gutter that often follows the "momma's in the kitchen" verse and the "grandma grandma sick in bed" verse that usually follows it (in some long form examples that I've collected) are particularly sexually explicit. I've experienced children self-censoring and cleaning up those words or refusing to share those verses when reciting "Rockin Robin" for me. 

Click for a 2018 pancocojams post entitled "Documenting Some Examples Of The "Mama's In The Kitchen" Verse From The Adult Only Songs "Doing The Dirty Boogie" & "Ala Boogie" In "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") Hand Clap Rhymes" for comments about certain other risque verses that are found in some versions of "Rockn Robin" ("Tweeleelee") .

Because pancocojams is a family friendly blog, I only include amended forms of curse words (including those whose that refer to violent actions).  

All the other words in those examples are presented "as is" (without any corrections of typographical errors)


swing swing swing to the usa
hey hey
rockin in a tree to
all day long
huffin and a puffin
and singin that song
all the lil birdies on jaybird street
love to here therobins
go tweet tweet tweet

rockin robin
tweet tweetalee rockin
robin tweet tweetalee

mama in he kitchen cookin fried rice
daddy oUt side shootin some dice
brothA in jail drinkin gingerale
sista roun te corner sellin FRUIT COCTAIL

rockin robin tweet tweetalee
rockin robin tweet tweetalee

batman and robin flyin in the air
batman lost his underwear
batmn said i dont care cause
robin goin to by me azillion more pair

rockin robin tweet tweetalee

iwent down town to getsum btta*
saw james brown sittin ina gutta
gotta piece of glass stuck it up his
i neva seen a black man
runso fast
rockinrobin tweet tweet alee
- j-mil; 3/19/2005 ; (African American male; Maryland),
btta=butta (butter)

Note: This link is no longer active. (also known as "Whee Blog") was a multi-page blog with a small group of members who knew each other off-line. My understanding from communicating by email with one of those members was that the page of playground rhymes was the only page that was open to non-members. I added several examples of rhymes on that page, and asked j-mill if he would share information about his race and state. Thankfully, he did so for the folkloric record.

...remember hand games....

tweedle tweedle dee
tweedle tweedle dee
tweet baby tweet baby
your mama says

she rocks in a treetop
all day long
huffin and puffin
and saying a song
all the little birds
james bell street
love the little robins
go tweet tweet tweet

rockin robin
tweet tweet tweet
rockin robin
tweet tweet tweet

i went down town to get a stick of butter
and saw james brown sitting (people cursed on my block) in the gutter
i took a piece of glass and stuck it up his (you know what)
i never saw a (kids are mean) run so fast.
we even played that in college.
hmmm...those hand games were violent and had curses in them, huh?
holla at me if you remember
-MaMaBuddha; [African American female]; Harlem, New York, New York}; 7/31/2000]

Note: Commenters on this blog were members of Black Greek lettered sororities who lived in the United States and were sharing their memories of childhood games.

There was also the street Rockin Robin that I heard/played in the same [Boston summer] camps.

Tweedily diddly dee(3x)
tweet tweet, your breath stinks.
Rockin' in the treetop all day long
huffin' and a puffin' just singin' that song
all the little birdies on jail bird street
love to hear the birdies go tweet tweet tweet

Rockin' robin tweet tweet tweet
Rockin' robin tweet tweet tweet
All the little birdies on jail bird street tonight
tweet tweet tweet

Momma's in the kitchen, cookin' rice
Daddy's on the corner, shootin' dice
Brother's in jail, raisin' hell
Sister's on the corner selling fruit cock tail

Rockin' robin tweet tweet tweet
Rockin' robin tweet tweet tweet
All the little birdies on jail bird street tonight
tweet tweet tweet
-Guest, Spain (Boston, Mass); ,I'm Rubber. You're Glue: Children's Rhymes, 5/30/2006

Tweet baby tweet baby,
my mama said:
shes rocking in the tree top
all day long
huffing and a puffing and singing that song
all the little girls on dainburn street
love to hear the birds go tweet tweet tweet,
rocking robin tweet twirly
rocking robin tweet twirly.
Batman and robin flying in the air
batman lost his underwear
batman says I don't care
mamas gonna buy me a brand new pair,
rocking robin tweet twirly
rocking robin tweet twirly,
I went down town to get a stick a butter
all i saw was james brown sitting in a gutter
took a piece of glass shoved it up his ahhhhh...
never saw a motha sucka run so fast (crazy isnt it)
rocking robin tweet twirly
rockin robin tweet twirly,
went to the movies to see king kong
all I saw was a rubber ding dong
rocking robin tweet twiyly
rocking robin tweet twirly,
mothers in the kitchen cooking rice,
poppa's in the bathroom shooting dice,
brothers in jail raising hell,
sister's in the corner selling fruit cocktail
rocking robin (some children sing other parts not to sure what they are, the words were the same since I was young but now they add things that relate to their time)
-Guest KLC,(East Harlem, New York, New York, ; Folklore: Do kids still do clapping rhymes?; July 11, 2008

In response to my request for demographical information, KLC posted this information on that same Mudcat thread:
"The children that play these games range from 5 - 12 years old. Both boys and girls play these games but girls are more into it and know a lot more hand games then the boys. The children that I see playing these games are Hispanic, African American, Caribbean, Caucasian and Asian because that is the population that I serve at my program."

the new one is "ching ching ching to the rythm to the beat,were gonna rock to the tree top all night long huffin n a puffin n a singing that song,all the lil birdies on daver's street huffin and a puiffin singin tweet tweet tweet,rockin robins ,tweet-tweet a-leet,rockin robins,tweet-tweet a-leet,momma's in the kitchen,cookin fried chicken,daddy's in bed,half-way dead,sister's in school acting all cool/like a fool,brother's in jail eating fruit cock tail.!!
-Larasgun3, "Rockin Robin", 2011

Note: Another common version of the "brother's in jail" line that I've read since at least 2005 or so is "brother's in jail/drinkin ginger ale".

Twee lee lee
Tree top
Twee lee lee
My bra 
Popscicle popscicle
Your breath stinks.

He rocks in the treetop all day long
huffin' and a puffin' and singin' that song.
all the little birdies on jay bird street
love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet.

Momma's in the kitchen, cookin' rice.
Daddy's outside shootin' dice .
Brother's in jail ringin that bell.
Sister's outside playing fruit cock tail.

I went to the store to get a stick of butter 
I saw Chris Brown singing in the gutter .
He had a piece of glass stuck up his sssh
I never knew a Black man run so fast.
-Naijah S. (African American girl, age 9, Hazelwood section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) ; January 14, 2011; collected by Azizi Powell
I had the good fortune of collecting several examples of rhymes from Naijah when she came early to an African storytelling presentation that I did in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for some families of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

After she shared other rhymes with me, I specifically asked Naijah did she know the rhyme "Twee lee lee". She said yes, she had been thinking of that rhyme [to share with me], but it wasn't a good rhyme. I said yes, I know what she meant, but I asked her to share that rhyme with me for the sake of the collection. Without any further hesitation, Naijah began reciting that rhyme.

Naijah was very reluctant to say the word "bra". When I reassured her that it was alright to say it for the sake of this collection, she spelled out that word. I repeated it out loud to make sure that that was the right word, and Naijah said that was right but that some of the girls who do this (and she said only girls did these rhymes) didn't like saying that word.

Naijah ended her recitation with the "Mama's in the kitchen verse". I asked her did she know another verse, and she said yes, but that "It was bad". I again asked her to share "for the sake of this Internet collection". She then recited the verse that is found above.

Naijah said that some girls say "James Brown" and others say "Chris Brown". She then said that line using the name of "Chris Brown" (who is a currently popular young African American R&B singer and actor).

Naijah said that "We say 'shss' when they are supposed to say a "bad word". I asked her did she know what it was. She said yes, but that when they said this part, she and all her friends said "Sssh! (meaning "Be quiet").

twee twee twee, and the way we go,
so rocking in the tree top,
all the days long,
rocking and puffing and singing the song,
all the little girls from JBC,
like to here the robin go twee twee twee,
go wash bagie,
twee twee twee
jonny and i went to the beach
jonny bruk a bottle and throw it on me,
mom told dad,
dad told mom,
mom got a beaten with a mmm stick,
so freezy american cheese,
don't skin your dirty teeth
colgrate is very cheap.
-babygirl200922, , March 2012 (Jamaica)
"bruk"= broke

Ha i heard of a handshake kinda simliar to this but I don't know the whole thing here it is (dont know if u looking for this)

Swing,Swing,Swing to the U S A Hey hey!
Momma's in the kitchen cooking fried chicken
Dad's in bed half way dead
Sisters at School Looking like a fool (or acting like a fool)
Brothers In Jail Drinking Ginger Ail
And i dont know the rest...”
- GUEST,Kjnnhh22, 17 Dec 10, "Lyr Req: Boogie Woogie ???????????????"
WARNING: Some of the examples on that page contain profanity and sexually explicit references.

This concludes Part I of this series.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Me and my friends sing it like this

    Twee de lee de lee
    Tweet baby tweet baby
    Mommy said a rock in the treetop all day long,
    Huffin' and a puffin' and a singin' that song.
    All the little girls on Jaybird street
    Like to hear the robins go tweet tweet tweet
    Rockin robin.
    Tweet twee de lee
    Rockin Robin
    Tweet twee de lee.

  2. We sand it different too.. you missed one or 2. Lol . Momma's in the kitchen cooking rice.daddys outside shooting dice's in the crock fast asleep while brothers in jail raising hell and sisters on the corner yelling pu_ _y for sale.
    Tweet litt leet .......

    Grandma ,Grandma your not sick all you want is grandpa's d_ck. Rocking Robbin tweet tweet rocking Robbin tweet tweet...

    1. Dang spell check messed it up. Babts in the Cradle fast asleep. Lol

    2. Maria Wyatt,

      Thanks for sharing that version of "Rockin Robin" and thanks for correcting the word "crock". I wondered what that meant :o)

      The addition of the line "Babes in the cradle" wouldn't scan well for the rhythm pattern that I'm used to hearing for the street version of "Rockin Robin". But I guess you and your friends made it work.

      Best wishes!

  3. Hi! I’m originally from Oakland, CA and I came across your blog searching for the old hand clap games. We used to do this rhyme in the mid-80s when I was a kid, and it was one of our favorites. Our *local* lyrics went:

    Rockin robin, tweet tweelee
    Rockin robin, tweet tweelee
    All the lil birds they really gonna rock tonight
    Tweet tweet tweelee

    Mama’s in the kitchen burnin’ rice
    Papa’s at the corner shootin’ dice
    Brother’s in jail raisin’ hell
    Sister’s on the corner sellin’ fruit cocktail


    Mama’s on the bottom
    Dad’s on the top
    Baby’s in the middle yellin’ “move on pop!”


    Sittin’ in the roller coaster
    Nothin’ to do...
    Along comes a spider and
    Coo chi coo chi coo!
    (You attack tickle each other)

    Now that I’m grown, I know darn well that wasn’t fruit cocktail sister was selling �� anyway, thank you for posting all of your work on this project! It’s really interesting to see how the lyrics change over time and according to geography.

    Best wishes xoxo Jenni

    1. Hello. Jenni.

      Thanks for adding to this collection of examples of "Rockin Robin" ("Tweeleelee") rhymes. And thanks for including demographics (where and when you chanted this rhyme)

      I don't recall reading or hearing your ending verse before- I'm glad you happened upon this blog and took the time to share.

      Best wishes!

  4. When I was younger it went like this

    SWing SWing to my limosuene
    hey hey then clap x2
    Rockin in the tree top alll day long
    Huffin n Puffin
    n signing that song
    all the little birds around my strret ll the little birds go tweet tweet tweet rocka rocka tweet twirly x2
    i went downtown to meet Chris Brown he gave me a nickel to buy me a pickel
    the pickel was sour he gave me a shower
    the shower was cold
    he gave me a bowl the bowl was craked and then he gave me a slap
    idk bu ththats why we said

    1. Thanks for sharing this example, Anonymous.

      Because your version includes the name of singer, dancer Chris Brown, in addition to it being featured in this post's comment section, I included it in this pancocojams post: Children's Rhymes That Include Names Of Famous People (Part II).

      I'd love to know when you remember first reciting this rhyme so I could note that information along with that version.

      Best wishes!

    2. The version I grew up with in the 90s was very similar to yours. I grew up in West Philly so this one includes places around there.
      Swing Swing Swing to the river stream ( referring to the Schuylkill River)
      Hey hey clap 2x
      Rocking in the tree top all day long
      Huffin n puffin
      And singing that song
      All the little girls on Cambridge street
      like to hear the Robin going tweet tweet tweet
      Rockin Robin tweet tweet tweedle 2x
      I woke up Saturday morning
      Looked up on the wall
      I saw a gang of roaches playing basketball
      1, 2, tweet tweet tweet
      Mama's in the kitchen cooking rice
      Daddy's outside shooting dice
      Brothers in jail rasing hell
      Sisters outside selling fruit cocktail
      Chorus I woke up

    3. I just re-read this example and want to say a belated thank you to Unknown March 30, 2020. I don't why I didn't realize I hadn't thanked her or him before this time. My bad...

      I also want to mention that this version is an example of how people localize versions of rhymes. Notice that the introductory lines say "Swing swing swing to the river stream" and the contributor writes what that means to the people doing this hand clap.

      Also, the line "all the girls on Cambridge street" is a localized folk process form of the words "Jay Bird Street" that are usually chanted.

  5. I went to 7th and 8th grade in Erie, PA and the girls taught me this song but our variation was:
    mothers in the kitchen cooking rice,
    poppa's in the bathroom shooting dice,
    brothers in jail raising hell,
    sister's in the corner body for sell
    rocking robin

    Thank you for helping me remember some of the other lyrics I'd forgot. We did another chant with a dance as well that was risque and I didn't realize it until I was older and my sister and I were trying to remember and singing some of the songs. I'm happy to share the other one I remember if you're interested.

    1. Hello, Tam Francis.

      Thanks for sharing that version of "Rockin Robin". I've never come across that version before. Thanks also for remembering to include the city where you learned that version.

      I'd love for you to share the other risque children's song you remember, but if it includes any curse words, please modify the spelling.

  6. I made it to this post via your Twee Lee Lee posts from this week and I was surprised to see this post identify Bobby Day as a White American. I don’t think that’s accurate. Feel free to remove this comment if it’s not productive.

    1. Hello, Anonymous. Thanks for catching that error. You're correct.,Day%20to%20perform%20and%20record.
      "Robert James Byrd, Sr. (born July 1, 1930 in Fort Worth, Texas; died July 27, 1990 in Los Angeles, California) was an early African American Rock & Roll and R&B singer-songwriter. As a member of the group The Hollywood Flames he used the stage name Bobby Day to perform and record. "...

      I'll correct that erroneous information in that pancocojams post.