Saturday, September 22, 2012

Huddie Leadbetter - Jim Crow Blues (Comments, Lyrics, & Videos)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision - December 12, 2019

This pancocojams post provides information about the term "jim crow", lyrics of Leadbelly's song "Jim Crow Blues", as well as a sound file & a video of selected performances of that song.

The content of this post is provided for historical, folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to Hudie Leadbetter for composing and performing this protest song. Thanks to Lead Belly for his musical legacy. Alsp, thanks to Odetta and Cow Cow Davenport for their musical legacies. Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these examples on YouTube.

"The Jim Crow laws were state and local laws in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965. They mandated de jure racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern states of the former Confederacy, with, starting in 1890, a "separate but equal" status for African Americans. The separation in practice led to conditions that tended to be inferior to those provided for white Americans, systematizing a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages."
A person of color being "jim crowed" meant/means being treated in a discriminatory manner [being treated worse than White people in general because of one's race/ethnicity.]

A "Jim Crow town" is one whose White residents had discriminatory laws & customs.

Excerpt #1:
"The origin of the name "Jim Crow" is obscure but may have evolved from the use of the pejorative "crow" to refer to African Americans in the 1730s. Jim may be derived from "Jimmy", an old cant term for a crow, which is based on a pun for the tool "crow" which today we call a "crowbar". Before 1900 crowbars were called "crows" and a short crowbar was and still is called a "jimmy", a typical burglar's tool.

The folk concept of a dancing crow predates the Jump Jim Crow minstrelsy and has its origins in the old farmer's practice of soaking corn in whiskey and leaving it out for the crows. The crows eat the corn and become so drunk they cannot fly, but wheel and jump helplessly near the ground where the farmer can kill them with a club."
Click that link for information about & lyrics to the 1828 USA minstrel song "Jump Jim Crow".

Excerpt #2
From comment posted by d_r_siva 2009
"The reality of the term [Jim Crow] has nothing at all to do with crows, crow’s feet, or crow’s beaks. The term comes to English via the Nordic languages….probably as far back as Viking settlements in England.

The term refers to a cow’s foot. In Danish a cow is a kue. In Norwegian a cow is a ku. In Swedish a cow is called a ko and is pronounced “coo” like a dove sounds. And a crowbar today in Swedish is a kofot….a “cow’s foot.” And one must mention that the bar’s pulling end [two fingers around a nail] resemble a cow’s foot and thus the English derivation of crowbar has nothing to do at all with the crow, but with cows or a ko. Our crowbar is named after a cow’s foot. This is the true etymology of the word.

One false etymology is that the term crowbar derives from Jim Crow and that they were used by blacks to perform menial tasks, giving it racist origins. Jim Crow was alive at least 400 years after the origin of the crowbar, so it is highly unlikely that he had anything to do with its name. This has been discredited by Snopes.

A crow has a powerful pointed beak with which it can, crows being very smart birds, pry open darn near anything it wants. So when humans invented a long iron bar with a hooked end to pry things open, they named it after the clever crow. In fact, the original crowbar (known simply as a "crow" back in 1400) sported one end shaped into a beak, rather than the flattened surface seen on modern crowbars.".

(Huddie William Ledbetter (January 1888 – December 6, 1949)[stage name: Lead Belly; usually given as Leadbelly)

Gotta get together let it __
don’t be no stone
Well we’ll all be in the same boat rather* ["together"]?

Okay now you gonna want this “Jim Crow Boys” enn
That man mus makes a man wear out his shoes when I give en the Jim Crow playin. **

[Actual song]

Bunk Johnson told me too, This old Jim Crowism dead bad luck for me and you
I been traveling, i been traveling from shore to shore
Everywhere I have been I find some old Jim Crow

One thing, people, I want everybody to know
You're gonna find some Jim Crow, every place you go

Down in Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia's a mighty good place to go
And get together, break up this old Jim Crow

I told everybody over the radio
Make up their mind and get together, break up this old Jim Crow

I want to tell you people something that you don't know
It's a lotta Jim Crow in a moving picture show

I'm gonna sing this verse, I ain't gonna sing no more
Please get together, break up this old Jim Crow

Source: [Video #3 below]
*Transcription of the first part of the sound file by Azizi Powell.
The first three lines appear to be the end of another song that Leadbelly sang before starting "Jim Crow Blues". The last two lines prior to the actual song are Leadbelly's introduction on that occassion for his performance of "Jim Crow Blues". My "translation" of the last sentence Leadbelly said is:
"That man's music [that song/my playing that song] makes a man wear out his shoes [dancing] when I play "Jim Crow Blues".

Additions and/or corrections to this transcription are welcomed.

Example #1: Jim Crow Blues- Leadbelly

Uploaded by 427monkeyman on Jun 9, 2010

This is a protest song from the 1930's written and preformed by the great blues musician Leadbelly. For those who do not know, the Jim Crow Laws where laws that prevented African Americans and other minorities from having the same rights as Whites. Many of the pictures are of blues musicians and civil rights activists such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and W. E. B. Du Bois. This video is intended to be anti-racist so I do NOT want to see comments saying I am.

Example #2 -Odetta - Jim Crow Blues

Zé Paulo Gouvêa Lemos, Nov 3, 2011

Do show "História do Blues, em 2005
This example replaces the previous example that is no longer available.

Example #3:Cow Cow Davenport Jim crow blues

Blues Blues, Oct 28, 2017
This sound file was added to this pancocojams post on December 12, 2019

Click for information about Blues songs which include the term "Jim Crow". Included in that post is a lyric excerpt of the 1925 song "Northbound Blues" performed by by Maggie Jones which contains the phrase “Jim Crow town”. That post also features an excerpt of a 1927 Blues song by Cow Cow Davenport which is also entitled "Jim Crow Blues".

Click for Part I of a three part Pancocojams series on the Jamaican character/symbol "John Crow".

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcomed.


  1. This is how I hear the intro:

    "Gotta get together, let it... - don't be no stormy weather
    and we'll all be in the same boat brother."

    Always enjoyed this song. Not until reading Paul Mooney's book did the lyric

    "I want to tell you people something that you don't know
    It's a lotta Jim Crow in a moving picture show"

    click with me. Hollywood is a very bourgeois town, per Mooney and Richard Pryor (second-hand).

    1. Thanks, anonymous.

      I appreciate your comment and you sharing what you hear that intro.

      I can't say that I enjoy this song, but I really appreciate its historical/cultural value.

    2. hey is there any metaphors in this song?

    3. Unknown, thanks for your question. The answer is yes- throughout the entire song.