Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"This A Way Valerie" ("Strut Miss Lucy", "Strut Miss Susie", "This A Way Willowbee") Singing Games

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision including title - Dec. 20, 2021

This pancocojams post provides lyrics and five video examples of the African American and Caribbean children's singing game "This A Way Valerie" (also known as "Strut Miss Lucy". "Strut Miss Susie", "This a Way Willowbee" and more).

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the unknown creators of these singing games. Thanks also to all those who are featured in these videos. And thanks to the publishers of these examples on YouTube and all those who are quoted in this post.

The African American playground singing game "Strut Miss Lucy" was almost certainly inspired by the 1921 Ragtime song "Strut Miss Lizzie". Click for a pancocojams post on "Strut Miss Lizzie".

Note that these singing games use a longways set (Virgina Reel type) formation of two parallel lines facing each other with a space in the middle for someone to strut (or dance) down. These games are very similar to "Zudio" and that singing game formation was widely popularized in the American television show "Soul Train" as the Soul Train line". Click "The Roots Of The Soul Train Line Formation" for a pancocojams post that includes information and a video of "Zudio" (also known as "Here We Go Zoodio" and other similar titles.

A. From,201
References: Trent-Johns p. 14-17; Abrahams p. 130; Hawes-Jones (Zudie-0). I have also heard a tape of this game being played by Negro children in Austin, Texas. The children habitually played this game all the way through: That is, until everyone, whether skilled or inexpert, had had a turn to dance down between the lines. It is also notable that the basic formation never traveled during play; occasionally, the children, while holding hands during the first verse, would side-step slightly back to their original position. This was always done spontaneously, without direction or discussion.

This-a-way, Valerie,
Valerie, Valerie,
This-a-way, Valerie
All day long.

Oh, strut, Miss Lizzie
Lizzie, Lizzie
Strut, Miss Lizzie
All day long.

Oh, here come another one
Just like the other one,
Here come another one
All day long".
A small clip of this children's game is included in the Folkstream video given below as Example #1.

B. From
"This Way Valerie
This game works best with a fairly large group. You will need to have the girls get a buddy and then form 2 lines with the buddies facing each other. As soon as you have them in 2 straight lines they can start singing the song:

This way Valerie, That way Valerie,
This way Valerie all the way home.

Girls join hands with their buddy and sing this part while moving arms in a sawing motion - back and forth

Strut Miss Lucy, strut Miss Lucy,
Strut Miss Lucy all the way home.

Head girl in one line passes between the 2 lines making up any movement she wishes and falls in at the foot of the opposite line

Here comes another one just like the other one.
Here comes another one all the way home.

Buddy of the previous girl copies the movements just done by her buddy as she passes between the 2 lines and then joins the foot of the opposite line.

Both lines move up a wee bit and repeat the song over and over and over again until everyone has had a turn. The girls will eventually start getting quite creative in their actions if you play this many times."

C. From
"Strut Miss Lucy (This Way Valerie)
(to the tune of "Shortnin' Bread")

Thanks very much to Jean, Barb, and Gail, who all helped me to piece together this song.

The girls line up in two lines facing each other. Each girl grabs hands with their partner and move arms alternately forward and back while singing the verse:

This way Valerie, that way Valerie,
This way Valerie, all the way home.

Take a couple of steps back and the head couple do the next two verses while everyone else sings and claps their hands. The girl on the right side struts down the line doing any action she wants. When she gets to the ends she joins the line on the left:

Strut Miss Lucy, strut Miss Lucy,
Strut Miss Lucy, all the way home.

The girl on the left copies the actions of the first girl during the next verse and when she gets to the end she joins the line on the right.

Here comes another one, just like the other one,
Here comes another one, all the way home".

From [Sorry. I don't know how to embed this video.

Here's my transcription of this video and the performance descriptions:
[Girls stand in two vertical rows facing each other with a space in between. Each girl hold hands with the girl standing across from her and swings their arms back and forth to the beat while chanting.]

bell bell a bellabee
Dis a way a bellabee
All night long

So step back sassy
Step back sallassy
Step back sassy
All night long

[The girls in each row walk toward each other and change places and then walk through each other again until they get back to their original place.]

So walkin t’rough di alley 
walkin t’rough di alley
walkin t’rough di alley
All night long

[The girls stand facing each other in their rows, shaking their finger and moving their hips up and down while chanting.]  

See dat man on da toilet bowl
I betta five dollars he is big and bold

[The girls jump following the directions given in the singing game.]

To the front 
To the back
To the side side side
To the front
To the back
To the side side side"

These videos are given in chronological order based on their publishing date on YouTube with the video with the oldest date given first.

Example #1: Pizza Pizza Daddy-O

folkstreamer, Uploaded on Aug 3, 2006

A 1967 film by Bob Eberlein and Bess Lomax Hawes that looks at continuity and change in girls' playground games at a Los Angeles school
The very brief clip of "This A Way Valerie" is from .21 to .28 in this video.

Example #2: this a way valerie

rosierose62010, Uploaded on Aug 3, 2009

my little cousin dancing
Notice that the little girl is "strutting" (moving with a prideful, rhythmic step). For what it's worth, when I introduced the singing game "Here We Go Zudio" to (mostly) Black girls and boys [ages 5-12 years old] in the game song group that I held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and in nearby Braddock, Pennsylvania the children didn't know what "strut" meant and had some difficulty learning that way of walking. They usually ended up dancing instead of "strutting". That same unfamiliarity with "strutting" appears to be shown in the following videos and in other YouTube videos of "Strut Miss Lucy" singing games being taught to children and adult music students.

Example #3: Strut Miss Lucy

Rebecca Bichel, Uploaded on Oct 24, 2011
Click for a short video which shows the children learning this game.

Example #4: Rob Amchin—University of Louisville—Strut Miss Mary

Robert Amchin, Published on Nov 26, 2012

A traditional singing game in "longway sets." The music education majors enjoyed struttin'
their stuff in this singing game! It was only a shame that we had to end class!

Example #5: Troop 375 Strut Miss Lucy!

Claudette Davidson, Published on Apr 9, 2014

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  1. I learned a version of this dance in the 1980's from Canadian children's performers Sharon, Lois & Bram. In their 1980 book "Elephant Jam" they say they learned the dance from a third grader on a playground in Toronto. It seems they were unaware of its African-American roots.
    I recently taught their version, "Valerie", to 45 mostly seniors at an International Folk Dance workshop in Surrey, British Columbia (part of Vancouver). The dance was declared the hit of the 24 (mostly adult European) dances taught. A link to the results:

    I have a question - I associate longways set formations with European dance. Are there pre-colonial West African examples?


    Thanks for sharing your video with me and other pancocojams readers! Here's the video's hyperlink

    It looks like the participants were having fun and that's what it's all about. When I led a children's game song group I encouraged the parents and grandparents to join in. I believe that children need to see their caregivers having fun with them.

    Don, I know too little about African dance history to answer your question. It's one that I've been curious about. Hopefully, someone knowledgeable will share some information with us.

  3. Thanks for posting this! Somehow the Strut Miss Lizzie song came into my head tonight. I was born in 1951 and we used to play this at recess. I lived in an all white very blue collar area of Minneapolis.

    1. Hi Kathy.

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate you including demographic information for the folkloric record.

      I love how children's songs & rhymes just pop into our heads for no discernible reason.

      Best wishes!

  4. I play this game with my grandkids! I am a 65 yoAfrican American woman. We sang this with the words “ this is the way to Willowby!” Each child would strut down the line

    1. Hello, Mar.

      Thanks for your comment and thanks for keeping the culture and this song alive by sharing it with your grandchildren.

      I don't think I've found any examples of this singing game named "This is the way to Willowby". For the folkloric record, where (city/state) did you learn this version and in which decade) did you first play it? Also, where did you learn it (from other children, from teachers in school, etc)?

      I wonder if the word "Willowby" in your version of this song came from the place name "Willoughby" in England.

      Best wishes from one grandmother to another!

    2. I decided to do some online research on "This is the way to Willowby" and found this:
      Title: This is the way to Willowbee
      Contributor Names: Halpert, Herbert (recordist)
      Pharr, Ethel (singer)
      Murray, Gwendolyn (singer)
      Created / Published
      New York, New York.
      Subject Headings
      - United States of America -- New York -- New York
      1939 Prepared by WPA Project
      Among the work done under the WPA was to interview former enslaved people for the historical record. However, I don't know the race/ethnicity of the people who the WPA recorded singing this song.

  5. I learned this in the 50’s at a Saturday programme at the ‘Y’. This was in very white, very ‘British’ Canada. I had no idea that it had African American roots. I enjoyed it so much that it remained with me all these years! 😊

    1. Thanks for sharing where and when you learned this rhyme, Isabel Hinther.

      For the record, I'm an African American female and I grew up in the 1950s in Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA. I have no memory of the "Here We Go Valarie"/ "Here We Go Willowby"/ "Strut Miss Lucy" rhyme or that manner of playing it in (what I call a) "Soul Train" Line. However, I do remember being taught the closely related rhyme "Here We Go Zudio" at my church's summer Vacation Bible School. I also remember that our vacation Bible school teacher Mrs. Janie Mae Owens who taught us that rhyme said she knew it from when she was growing up down south (I think she said "North Carolina" but I'm not sure about that.) Mrs. Owens was African American and a member of our church. She was also my mother's friend and that's probably why I remember her first name.)

      Maybe the children I associated with and I didn't "need" to play "This A Way Valarie" because we played that very similar rhyme. But that doesn't explain why any of those rhymes were unknown to us and other kids in our neighborhoods.

      Best wishes!