Monday, July 21, 2014

Versions Of "Shortnin' Bread" Song (1900-1950)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Revised December 30, 2017

This post showcases seven examples of the song "Shortnin' Bread" from 1900 to 1950. Information about the "shortnin' bread" dish is also included in this post.

This post is part of a pancocojams series on African American songs that include lines about "calling the doctor" because of hunger.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to those unknown people who composed these versions of this song. Thanks also to the collectors of this song, and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. In addition, thanks to the publisher of this sound file on YouTube.

As referred to in the song with that title, "shortnin bread" is homemade bread that is mixed with bacon bits or bacon gravy. "Shortnin bread" was sometimes called 'cracklin' bread.

The Wikipedia article on the song "Shortnin Bread" describes it as "a fried batter bread, the ingredients of which include corn meal, flour, hot water, eggs, baking powder, milk and shortening."'_Bread

"Shortnin' Bread" is often thought of as a traditional plantation song. However the first version was written by white poet James Whitcomb Riley in 1900. His song was named "A Short'nin' Bread Song—Pieced Out", the chorus of which is:
Fotch dat dough fum the kitchin-shed—Rake de coals out hot an' red—Putt on de oven an' putt on de led,—Mammy's gwineter cook som short'nin' bread.[1]

Titled "Shortened Bread", E.C. Perrow published the first folk version of this song in 1915, which he collected from East Tennessee in 1912.[2] The folk version of the song—as with Riley's— does not have any distinct theme, but consists of various floating lyrics, some relating to "shortnin' bread", some not. The traditional chorus associated with the folk song goes:

Mammy's little baby loves short'nin', short'nin',Mammy's little baby loves short'nin' bread.

Although "Shortnin Bread" is now considered a light hearted children's folk song, its beginning verses reflect the fact that Black Americans often lack/ed adequate food.

In contemporary versions of this song, the first verse is given as "two little boys/laying in bed/one was sick/and the other almost dead". The reason why the boys were in those conditions was because they were suffering from malnutrition because of the inadequate food rations that enslaved families were given.

In this song, the doctor was called to examine the children. His prescription was that the children be given some food. However, in actuality, enslaved Black people rarely saw any doctors. Also, shortnin bread and coffee were rare treats for enslaved Black people.

Short'nin' Bread - Cartoon

DarbyCrashIsDead, Uploaded on Apr 8, 2008
Here's a comment from this cartoon's discussion thread:
Barry I. Grauman, 2008
[This cartoon was] "Originally released as a Paramount "Screen Song" in March 1950. The song heard at 1:00 is similar to the one featured two months later in the Little Audrey "Noveltoon", "Tarts and Flowers" (with similar characters featured in 'Cakeland')."
The song "Shortnin' Bread" begins at 3:23 in this cartoon. This portion of the cartoon is in a "follow the bouncing ball "audience sing-along format. The song is introduced as an "old Southern favorite". A drawing shown during the song is of a white or light skinned woman wearing old clothes and a bandana (scarf) worn over her hair and tied in the front, in the manner of African American "Aunt Jemimas". However, in another drawing that is shown during the song, the two boys lying in bed appear to be White.

The lyrics to this song are given as Example #5 below.

Read the Information section above for examples of this song from 1900 and 1915.

These examples are presented in chronological order based on their publication dates.
Note: For the most part, I've retained the dialectic English that was used in these examples, although I strongly believe that this song shouldn't be sung that way now. However, I've substituted "the n word" for the referent for Black people that was fully spelled out in these examples.


Two liddle [the n word] sick in bed,
One jumped up an' bumped his head.
W'en de Doctah come he simpully said:
"Jes feed dat boy on shorten' bread."

T'other liddle [the n word] sick in bed,
W'en he hear tell o' shorten' bread,
Popped up all well. He dance an' sing!
He almos' cut dat Pigeon's Wing!

Source:, originally published in 1922 (p. 173)
"cut the Pigeon's Wing" = performed the dance step with that name

Example #2:
One liddle [the n word] a-lyin' in de bed;
His eyes shet an' still, lak he been dead.
Two liddle [the n word plural] a-lyin' in de bed;
A-snorin' an' a-dreamin' of a table spread.

Three liddle [the n word plural] a-lyin' in de bed;
Deir heels cracked open lak shorten' bread.
Four liddle [the n word plural] a-lyin' in de bed;
Dey'd better hop out, if dey wants to git fed!

Source:, originally published in 1922 (p. 187)

Example #3:
Mammy’s little baby loves short’-nin’, short’-nin’
Mammy little baby loves short’-nin bread
Mammy’s little baby loves short’-nin’, short’-nin’
Mammy little baby loves short’-nin bread

Put on de skillet
Put on de led
Mammy's gwine to make
A li'l short'nin’ bread
Dat ain't all
That she's gwine to do.
She's gwine to make
A li'l coffee too.

Chorus [2x]

Three lil [the n word plural]
lyin in bed
Two wus sick
An t'other 'most dead
Sent fo' de doctor
An' de doctor said
"Give dem [the n word plural
Some short'nin' bread!"...

Source: Dorothy Scarborough, editor, On The Trail Of Negro Folk Songs, originally published in 1925

Example #4:
Put on the skillet, put on the lid
Mama's gonna cook some shortnin bread

Oh Mammy loves shortnin bread.


Two little boys layin in the bed
One turned over and the other one said
My mama cookin shortnin bread


Two live chickens ?] off that lid.
Pour the [?]

[guitar playing]

Oh, mammy loves shortnin bread.


Two little boys layin in the bed
One turned over and the other one said
My mom's ???
My mama cookin shortnin bread
-Source: record by Mississippi John Hurt, 1928

Click for a pancocojams post on this record.

Example #5
Two little [the n-word plural] lyin’ in bed,
One of ‘em sick an’ de odder mos’ dead.
Call for de doctor an’ de doctor said,
Feed dem darkies on short’nin bread
Mammy’s little baby loves short’nin short’nin
Mammy’s little baby loves short’nin bread

Source: John Avery Lomax and Alan Lomax, American Ballads and Folk Songs, first published 1934)

Example #6:
Shortnin bread.
Shortnin bread.
Shortnin bread.
Mama’s gonna make some shortnin bread.

Shortnin bread.
Shortnin bread.
Shortnin bread.
Mama’s gonna make some shortnin bread.

[Verse #1]
Get that wood out out of the shed.
Oh mercy! Lookee there.
Boys, mother’s gonna make some shortnin bread.

[Verse #2]
Two Senegambians* layin in bed.
One turned over to the op** and said
“Fine, fine, fine fine bread”
Spoken “Serve it. Serve it mama. Serve it!”

[Verse #3]
Hey delivery man, where have you been?
Oh mercy, it sure is a sin.
Mama mama don’t be fast.
Do not show your big fine……shortnin bread.


[Instrumental portion]

[Yelled over instruments playing]
Come on mama!
Open it up!
Open it!

[Spoken at the end of the recording]
What kind of bread is that?
It must be good bread.

-Source: record by Fats Waller, 1941
*"Senegambians" = although "Senegambians" refers to people from a specific part of West Africa, in this song, it is used as a general referent for "Black people"

** "turn over to the op" = [a vernacular way of saying "turned over to the other", with "op" [pronounced "ohp" meaning the word "other"]

Click for a pancocojams post about this version of "Shortnin Bread"

Example #7
Mammy’s little baby loves short’-nin’, short’-nin’
Mammy little baby loves short’-nin bread
Mammy’s little baby loves short’-nin’, short’-nin’
Mammy little baby loves short’-nin bread
feed dem chillum some shortnin

Two lit-tle chil-lun lyin’ in bed
One of ‘em sick an’ de odder mos’ dead
Call for de docter an’ de doc-torr said
“Feed dem chillun on short’-nin’ bread

Goin to da kitchen an’ put on da led
Put on da skillet for short ‘nin bread
Short ‘nin bread an’ bake it thin
Al-ways make dem chil-lun grin

Chorus [2x]

Mossin ‘round da kitchen lak a bus-y bee
Da busi-est mammy you ever did see
Gotta hurry up wid da short ‘nin bread
Gotta git dem chillun right out-ta bed

Chorus [2x]

“How ‘bout dat short-nin bread
When I gonna git that short’-nin’ bread”
Cried a lit-tle baby a-lyin’ in bed
His eyes were shut like he ben dead

Chorus [2x]

De odder little fel-la sick in de bed
When he hear tell of short’-nin’ bread
Popped up well, he dance and sing
He al-most cut da pi-geon wing

Source: [1950 cartoon]

Example #8
Two little ni&&ers lyin in bed,
One of 'em sick an' de odder mos' dead.
Call for de doctor, an' de doctor said,
"Feed dem darkies on short'nin bread."

Source: Southern Cook Book Of Fine Old Recipes, compiled & edited by Lillie S. Lnstig, S. Claire Sondheii, Sarah Rensel [with] decorations [illustrations] by H. Charles Kellui; published by Culinary Arts Press, Reading, Pennsylvania, 1935) ; republished on
This example was added December 30, 2017.

The "n word" is fully spelled out in this song fragment and in other song fragments in that book.

Thanks to Anonymous December 30, 2017 at 1:11 AM on the somewhat related pancocojams post entitled "The Racist Roots Of The "Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed" for alerting me to this archived 1935 Southern Cookbook. Most of the pages of this cookbook include Southern Black American or minstrel song fragments and drawings of Black people from the 19th century United States South.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitors' comments are welcome.


  1. Never heard Amy of these, but did know a vaguely similar one, Molly had a dolly
    Molly had a dolly/That was sick sick sick/ So she sent for the doctor/To come quick quick quick/ The doctor came and he shook his head/And he said Miss Molly/Put her straight to bed/He wrote her a paper for a pill pill pill/ I'll be back in the morning with my bill bill bill'
    Predates social medicine :)

  2. Hi, slam 2011.

    I think "Miss Molly" was probably inspired by "Shortnin Bread".

    I understand that you are from Britain. Don't you have to pay for any medical service? That's great!

    In the USA and a number of other nations, most patients usually still get billed for medical services :o(

  3. Thanks for posting this. I appreciate finding the origins and various versions of these old songs. Angie from Australia

    1. You're welcome, Angie.

      I'm glad that I've found a kindred spirit in Australia. :o)

    2. Hi Azizi, I stumbled across this post while looking for info on my own blog post about this song: I quote you in it. Keep up the good work!

    3. Thanks for your comment, Steve. I appreciate the link to pancocojams & including quotes from me in your interesting article about "Shortenin'

      I favorited your blog and look forward to reading other posts there. THROWBACK THURSDAY: An All-You-Can-Eat Buffet of Shortnin' Bread

  4. It is doubtful that Shortnin' Bread originated with the white poet James Whitcomb Riley. Are we to assume that folk musicians read the Riley poem at the library, set it to music, and disseminated it in the rural South?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

      I don't know if the Wikipedia statement is accurate that folk versions of "Shortnin'Bread" had their source in the poem by James Whitcomb Riley. But I think it's possible that that could be true. Folk musicians don't need to read poems in a library to read or hear of those compositions. Besides which, folk musicians in the rural South in the early 20th century could read.

  5. Were the versions of this song that used racial slurs and referenced black children who were sick from malnutrition -- were these added on by regional whites with the intention of demeaning black people and mocking their social and economic circumstances?

    1. Thanks for your question, robbes.

      I'm sorry, but I have no way of knowing that.

  6. omg g i cant believe on the message of the song, I feel pity for those black people back on time- reader from Philippines

    1. Thanks for your comment, Unknown.

      Yes, things were really very bad for Black people in the United States and for other people thoughout the world.

      And the sad fact is that there are a lot of people now who
      still believe that some people are inferior because of their race, skin color, and other physical features.