Sunday, May 12, 2013

What "Sukey Jumps" Means (information & song examples)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents definitions of and information about the meanings and possible origins of the term "sukey jumps". This post also showcases three sound files of the Folk/Blues musician/vocalist Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) performed at "sukey jumps".

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

Click for a post on the possibly related expression "ah sookie sookie now".

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"Sukey Jumps" is a long obsolete 19th century and early 20th century African American English referent for country dance gatherings for Black folks and the fast paced dance music that was performed at those gatherings.

The word "sukey" rhymes with "LOOK ee".

Most of the information about sukey jumps comes from several 1939/1940 recordings of Folk/Blues singer/musician Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) as well as interviews of Leadbelly that were conducted & recorded by folklorist/collector Alan Lomax. From Leadbelly's comments, it appears that the term "sukey jumps" was used in the Deep South (states such as Louisiana, Texas, & Mississippi) prior to the end of slavery in the United States (1865) and at least until 1940. In 1935 her book Mules To Men about life for Black people in rural Florida, Black folklorist Zora Neale Hurston also used the term "sukey jump" as a referent for a dance attended by Black people which was held outdoors around a bonfire.

According to online sources who quoted Leadbelly or others, the music for Sukey Jumps was provided by musicians/vocalists who played the accordion, fiddle, and/or guitar and sang accompaniment.

Here are several quotes about "sukey jumps":
[These quotes are presented in no particular order.]

Quote #1 from
"sukey (also "sookie") an early 19th-century word for a slave, so a "sukey jump" was a party in slave quarters. The term came to mean any lively get-together with music and dancing. (Leadbelly, who played for sukey jumps, said that he believed it to be an old word for "cow".)"

Quote #2 from [Google Book] World of a Slave: Encyclopedia of the Material Life of Slaves in the United States edited by Martha B. Katz-Hyman, Kym S. Rice; p. 220
“In most cases the [Black] slave fiddler developed at least two completely different repertoires for accompaniment and white dances, often called “frolics” or [for Black dances] called “sukey jumps”."

Quote #3 from [Google Book] The Devil's music: a history of the blues By Giles Oakley p. 65
"Leadbelly suggested an explanation for the last half of the phrase: “Because they dance so fast, the music was so fast and the people had to jump”. He would take his windjammer accordion his guitar and go over to play for the dancers

Jaw bone walk. Jawbone talk
Jawbone eat with a knife and fork

One of the first songs he heard was Poor Howard.

Poor Howards was a poor boy; he went all around the plantations playing for the sukey jumps. He was the first man who started sukey jumps all around the world. And when poor Howard was gone, everybody sang this song:

Poor Howard’s dead and gone
Left me here to sing this song.
Poor Howard’s dead and gone
Left me here to sing this song."

Quote #4: from [Google Book] the magazine Black World/Negro Digest Apr 1962 article about Leadbelly, page 22
"Besides the jumps, or play parties, there were breakdowns for square dancing. The accordion, fiddle, and guitar supplied the music, which usually kept on until dawn”...

While still a boy his uncle Bob taught him how to play the guitar. Then, at the sukey jumps, he learned about the accordion.
“I was good as they had on the windjammer,” he boasted. The first piece I ever learned to play was “Po Howard”, from Jim Fagin, an’ “Green Corn” from Bud Coleman.

These were dance tunes, and that was the beginning."

Quote #5: Req/ADD: Poor Howard/Green Corn (from Leadbelly)posted by BrooklynJay
Date: 17 Dec 10 - 09:51 PM
... Here are ... notes to Poor Howard, transcribed from page 53 of Lead Belly - No Stranger To The Blues:

Transcribed from 1940 Library of Congress sessions now available on Lead Belly/Gwine Dig A Hole To Put The Devil In, Rounder CD 1045....
"He [Po' Howard] was the first fiddler after Negroes got freed in slavery times. Po' Howard was a Negro, used to play for 'em at the sooky jumps and the number he played it was "Po' Howard, Po' Boy." ...Because they dance so fast, the music was so fast and the people had to jump, so they always called them sooky jumps...Sooky, well that's a cow - sometimes when you tell it "sooky, sooky, sooky", you know, sookin' the cow away."
Huddie Ledbetter, 1940...

Quote #6 from
"Sukey \s(u)-key\ as a girl's name. Diminutive of Susan (Hebrew) "lily". First used in the 18th century, and revived in the 20th [century]."

[commenter] Max Haymes:
"From Eric Partridge: "sukey. A kettle: low (-1823); ob.origin: cf. Welsh Gypsy 'sukar, to hum, to whisper.hence, 2, a general servant or SLAVEY: from ca 1820; ob. Ex 'Sukey'; a lower-class diminutive of 'Susan', a name frequent among servants." ("The Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang" p.927. [Penguin Books] 1986. Rep. 1st pub. 1937.)"
It's important to reiterate that enslaved Black people [females only?] weren't the only ones who were given the name or nickname "Sukey". For instance, here's an excerpt from an article about the children's rhyme "Polly Put The Kettle On"-which includes the line "Sukey take it off again":
"In middle-class families in the mid-eighteenth century "Sukey" was equivalent to "Susan That rhyme was first published in 1803.

Quote #7 from "Word Detective: Sukey Jumps"
"Leadbelly was absolutely right about the roots of “sukey.” The word “sook” has long been used in rural dialects in England and Scotland to mean livestock, specifically young animals (the word itself is a form of “suck,” as in nursing). In the US, “sook” is applied to mature cows as well, and “sook” or “sookie” is commonly used to call cows, pigs, etc. It’s certainly not difficult to imagine the term being applied in a demeaning sense to servants and slaves in the early 19th century US."

I'm unsatisfied with the explanation that Leadbelly gave to folklorist Alan Lomax that "sukey" in the term "sukey jump" was derived from the term for a cow, and was used to as a field call for cows.

First, the word "sukey" as it related to cows is pronounced differently than the word "sukey" in "sukie jump". Quoting the editor of the word detective. com site (Quote #7 given above) "sook" as it relates to cows is pronounced like the English word "suck". In contrast, the first syllable in the word "sukey" (that refers to the "Black slave quarter" dances is pronounced to rhymes with the English word "look".

I've also read that "sookie" as it relates to cows is pronounced "sue-eee". The first syllable is pronounced like the female name "Sue" or the English word "sue" and the ending "e" is elongated. Again, the word "sukey" in "sukey jumps" isn't pronounced that way. Thus, I think this is an example of words being spelled the same but having different pronunications and different meanings. Or, perhaps the pronunciation of that word has changed over a period of time.

Also, I think that that explanation that Leadbelly gave that the referent "sukey jumps" came from the field calls for cows doesn't ring true because there doesn't seem to me to be any connection between a cow, or calling a cow, and Black informal dance gatherings or the fast paced music that was performed at those gatherings. The only connection between cows and jumping that I can think of is the "Hey Diddle Diddle" nursery rhyme in which the cow jumps over the moon. Furthermore, in American society and perhaps other "Western societies", it's insulting to call a female a cow. I'm just not convinced that a dance gathering- outdoor or indoor- would be named after cows.

It's possible that Leadbelly actually believed the explanation that he gave to Alan Lomax. It's also possible that he was purposely pulling the wool over that White folklorist/collector's eyes -just for the fun of it.
In my previous title for this section, I used the word "Debunking" instead of "re-considering".

Given the information posted above that the female nickname/name "Sukey" was documented as a referent for servants and slaves in the early 19th century, I believe that a case can be made that the nickname or name "Sukey", a diminutive of the female name "Susan" ("Susannah"), could have been frequently given to enslaved Black females in the American South. Therefore, at least in some areas of the South, "Sukey" could have become a generic referent for Black female slaves.

It seems to me that a case could be made that those gatherings of Black people dancing could have been named "Sukey Jumps" as a reference to the Black women ["Sukies"] who would be found enthusiastically dancing [jumping all around] at those gatherings.

Example #1: Sukey Jump (Win' Jammer) Leadbelly (Accordion)

ERICAJUNDELYON, Uploaded on Dec 11, 2011

Huddie William Ledbetter (1888 - 1949) was a Louisiana folk and blues musician. He played mostly on guitar but on some recordings, the accordion (Cajun diatonic) ...
A "windjammer" is a small button acccordion.

Example #2: Green Corn - Leadbelly (come along cholly)

songs1994, Uploaded on Mar 3, 2009
"Cholly" is a nickname for "Charles" (similar to "Charlie").

LEAD BELLY ~ Poor Howard (Po' Howard)

3006khz, Published on Dec 30, 2012

Poor Howard (Green Corn). The audio is hard to hear, but, i think this is one of Lead Belly's coolest tunes.
Text examples of "Po' Howard"/"Green Corn" are found in the pancocojams post

ADDENDUM [added November 17, 2013]
It occurred to me that "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" is a sukey jump song as it is usually sung nowadays. The traditional, antebellum version of that song was a sad lament about the impossibility of picking a bale of cotton a day. But Leadbelly transformed that song into a fast paced, enthusiastic song in which he boasted ["lied" in the tall tale meaning of that word] about "picking a bale of cotton a day". Read this review of about that song written by Barry Weber That sukey jump form of "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" that was popularized by Leadbelly is the only form of that song that is known nowadays.

Part of my problem with "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" -and I admit that I really have a lot of problems with it when sung by young children as an easy to learn, movement song, is that those children-and their teachers-rarely know the history of that song, and mistakenly think that is how enslaved Black people sung it. I could go on and on about my concerns about the song "Pick A Bale Of Cotton"-and I'll probably publish a separate post about that song. But suffice it to say here that Leadbelly's style of singing "Pick A Bale of Cotton" was in the style of a "sukey jump".

Click for information about and lyrics for the songs "Po' Howard"/ "Green Corn".

Thanks to Leadbelly for his musical legacy. Thanks to those whose comments I quoted in this post, and thanks to the YouTube publishers of these sound files.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment