Monday, March 21, 2016

Old Lady Sally Wants To Jump (African American Children's Game Song: words & sound file)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post features a text (words) version and a sound file of the African American children's ring game (circle game) "Old Lady Sally Wants To Jump".

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to folklorist Harold Courlander for collecting this and publishing this and other African American children's game songs. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to all those who are featured in this sound file.

"Old Lady Sally Wants To Jump" is an African American children's game song that is included in Harold Courlander's 1955 record Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 6: Ring Game Songs and Others
Various Artists
(FW04474 / FE 4474).* Here's an excerpt from a review of that record that is found at
"American folklorist Harold Courlander compiled this series (Negro Folk Music of Alabama) from recordings he made in rural Alabama in 1950. The album is an attempt to counter the stereotypes of black music that were popular in America during the middle of the 20th century. This sixth volume begins with ring and line games which were recorded at various rural Alabama schools. Ring games are played with children standing in a circle, often holding hands; the leader stands outside the circle performing some action....

RECORD LABEL Folkways Records
SOURCE ARCHIVE Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
COPYRIGHT 2004 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings / 1955 Folkways Records"
* The sound file that is given below is the same as the sound file that is used found on Harold Courlander's record. Notice that the above Smithsonian website gives the date of that record as 1955 while the date for the YouTube site gives the date as 1953. Probably for that reason, I've seen the date of this record given as "the 1950s".

The text of this game song that is found below is my transcription of that record.

Pancocojams Editor's Note:
Although the term "ring games" is seldom used now, that term usually referred to circle games (recreational games/play party songs that were performed by children and others who formed a circle). Often one person at a time stood in the center of that circle and performed some movement that the other participants' copied. "Pizza Pizza Daddy-O" is an example of that form of ring game. Click for a 1967 video of African American girls in Los Angeles playing that game. (Notice the text in that film clip refers to these girls as "Afro-American". That referent was only used for a brief time period after the referent "Negro" was dropped and before the term "African American" won the "contest" over which referent [besides "Black"] would be used for that American population. It's now unacceptable to use "Negro" or "Afro-American" as a referent for this population.)

In contrast, "Old Lady Sally Wants To Jump" is a children's line game. My sense is that since at least the 1970s, "Old Lady Sally Wants To Jump" has rarely been played by children as a self-initiated recreational activity. Instead (again I believe on rare occasions), girls and boys may learn this game during their schools' gym classes or other school classes. If so, it's likely that boys are very reluctant to play this game as singing games are usually considered "girls only" activities. Furthermore, in the United States girls over the age of six years old usually think that they are too old to play non-competitive singing games. ("Down By The Banks Of The Hanky Panky" and "Slap Billy Ola" are examples of competitive children's singing games. Since at least the early 2000s, both of these singing/hand games have also been played by some teenagers and some adults.)

Directions (from Harold Courlander's record notes)
"The children stand in two lines facing each other. They all sing. Both rows jump back and forth, each child with his feet together.

On the last line "Old Lady Sally wants to bow", the lines jump forward and each child bows to the one opposite him.

This is all sung and acted out very rapidly. Ordinarily, the children clap their hands. In June, however, after a day of chopping cotton, jumping back and forth was enough."*
* "In June [in the month of June]...jumping back and forth was enough." [because it was hot and the children were tired after working chopping cotton.],

FEATURED SOUND FILE: Old Lady Sally Wants to Jump

Lilly's Chapel School - Topic, Published on May 30, 2015

Provided to YouTube by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Old Lady Sally Wants to Jump · Lilly's Chapel School (Ala.)

Ring Games: Line Games and Play Party Songs of Alabama

℗ 2004 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings / 1953 Folkways Records

Released on: 1953-01-01

Old lady Sally wants to jumpty-jump
Jumpty-jump, jumpty-jump
Old lady Sally wants to jumpty-jump
And old lady wants to bow.

Throw that hook in the middle in the pond*
Catch that girl with the red dress on.
Go on, gal, ain't you shame?
Shamed of what?
Wearing your dress in the latest style.

Many fishes in the brook.
Papa catch 'em with a hook.
Mama fried them in a pan.
Baby ate 'em like a man.

Preacher in the pulpit.
Preaching like a man.
Tryin to get to Heaven on a 'lectric fan
Do your best, pappy.
Daddy do your best.
-Recorded at Lily's Chapel School, York, Alabama (1950s),
*An example of this song is found in the book Shake It To The One That You Love The Best by Cheryl Warren Mattox. In that book these lines are given as "Thrown that fish in the middle of the pond/Catch that girl with the red dress on".

It was considered to be sexually provocative for any woman, but especially for an older woman to wear a red dress.

Old Lady Sally is an old woman still trying to get a man. She goes "jumpty-jump" to appear young and she wears a red dress in the latest style to catch a man

In the Harold Courlander record and the Cheryl Warren Maddox records, the words to "Old Lady Sally Wants To Jump" are sung in unison by all of the participants. However, it's likely that this song was originally performed as a play with one girl acting out the role of "Old Lady Sally" and the other participants acting out the roles of the community that is criticizing her for not "acting her age".

Given that likelihood, the line "Go on, gal, ain't you shame?" (aren't you ashamed"), would be sung by all the participants excerpt "old lady Sally". Old lady Sally would then respond to that question with the statement "[a]Shamed of what"?" and the group would respond "Wearing your dress in the latest style.".

Old Lady Sally then might have responded to that line with the statement that there were "many fish in the brook". That saying has a dual meaning in that it could refer to actual fish but also could refer to lots of men waiting to be caught ("hooked").

"Eat 'em like a man" and "preaching like a man" means to do something with a lot of energy/force (gusto).

The line "tryin to get to Heaven... is found in a number of African American songs. For example, the line "tryin to get to heaven on the tail of a kite" is found in the children's rhyme "Ten Little Angels Dressed in White". That rhyme is included in Thomas W. Talley's now classic 1922 collection Negro Folk Rhymes Wise And Other Wise.

The lines "Do your best, pappy" and "Daddy do your best" are exhortations that were said to encourage the participants to do their best dance moves. Perhaps this line was originally directed to the person who played the role of old lady Sally. I think that the fact that those lines refer to "pappy" and "daddy" implies that at one time boys played this game with girls. But after "Old Lady Sally Wants To Jump" and other singing games became mostly "girls only" games, it appears that the male referents were retained innstead of replacing those referents with the female referent "momma". I doubt that the word "mammy" would have replaced "pappy"" as "mammy" had very negative connotations for Black folks even "way back" in the 1950s when that game song was collected.

I didn't learn "Old Lady Sally Wants To Jump" during my childhood in the 1950s (in Atlantic City, New Jersey). I'd love to "hear" from anyone who remembers playing this game. Please share when and how you played it. Thanks!

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