Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"In The Pines" (also known as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" and "Black Girl") - Information & Comments

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series about the song "In The Pines"(also known as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" and "Black Girl").

Part I presents information and comments about "In The Pines". The 1926 Dock Walsh lyrics for this song are also included in this post.

Part II showcases seven YouTube examples of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night".

The content of this post is presented for folkloric purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the composers of this song. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

I. Wikipedia page
" "In the Pines", also known as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" and "Black Girl", is a traditional American folk song which dates back to at least the 1870s, and is believed to be Southern Appalachian in origin. The identity of the song's author is unknown, but it has been recorded by many artists in numerous genres. Traditionally, it is most often associated with the American folk and blues musician Lead Belly, who recorded several versions in the 1940s, as well as the American bluegrass musician Bill Monroe, who helped popularize the song (in a different variant, featuring lyrics about a train) among bluegrass and country audiences with his versions recorded in the 1940s and 1950s.

The song, performed by The Four Pennies, reached the UK top twenty in 1964. A live rendering by the American grunge band Nirvana, which reinterpreted Lead Belly's version and was recorded during their MTV Unplugged performance in 1993, helped introduce the song to a new generation...

Early history[edit]
Like numerous other folk songs, "In the Pines" was passed on from one generation and locale to the next by word of mouth. The first printed version of the song, compiled by Cecil Sharp, appeared in 1917, and comprised just four lines and a melody. The lines are:
"Black girl, black girl, don't lie to me
Where did you stay last night?
I stayed in the pines where the sun never shines
And shivered when the cold wind blows"

In 1925, a version of the song was recorded onto phonograph cylinder by a folk collector. This was the first documentation of "The Longest Train" variant of the song, which includes a verse about "The longest train I ever saw". This verse probably began as a separate song that later merged into "In the Pines". Lyrics in some versions about "Joe Brown's coal mine" and "the Georgia line" may refer to Joseph E. Brown, a former Governor of Georgia, who famously leased convicts to operate coal mines in the 1870s. While early renditions which mention the head in the "driver's wheel" make clear that the decapitation was caused by the train, some later versions would omit the reference to the train and reattribute the cause. As music historian Norm Cohen pointed out in his 1981 book, Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong, the song came to consist of three frequent elements: a chorus about "in the pines", a verse about "the longest train" and a verse about a decapitation, but not all elements are present in all versions.[1][2]

Starting in 1926, commercial recordings of the song were made by various folk and bluegrass bands. In her 1970 Ph.D. dissertation, Judith McCulloh (1935-2014) found 160 permutations of the song.[3] As well as rearrangement of the three frequent elements, the person who goes into the pines, or who is decapitated, is described as a man, woman, adolescent, husband, wife, or parent, while the pines can be seen as representing sexuality, death, or loneliness. The train is described as killing a loved one, as taking one's beloved away, or as leaving an itinerant worker far from home.[1]"...

In The Pines
Weasel Fetlocks (talk) 20:23, 2 July 2008 (UTC)
"I would prefer to see this article titled "In the Pines", with "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" redirected to it. "In the Pines" was the title most familiar to the folk, country, roots & bluegrass musicians who popularised the song, & most recorded versions also have this title.

"Where Did You Sleep Last Night" is the title only of Lead Belly's rendition of the song, & the title used by others like Nirvana who have specifically covered Lead Belly's version (often wrongly believing that he authored it). I think that calling this article "Where Did You Sleep" rather than "In the Pines" is just perpetuating the myth that this is Lead Belly's song more than anybody's else's. Any thoughts? Weasel Fetlocks (talk) 14:45, 20 June 2008 (UTC)

Since nobody has objected or responded, I have gone ahead with the move. In the interests of diplomacy, & acknowledging both commonly known titles, I have called the article "In The Pines (Where Did You Sleep Last Night?)". Please do not move the article back to old location without first discussing your reasons for wanting to do so. Thanks. "
I reformatted this comment to enhance its readability.

III. Except from a Mudcat folk music forum 'In the Pines' revisited

[Pancocojams Editor - These comments are numbered for referencing purposes.]
From: Stewie
Date: 02 Sep 01 - 09:58 PM

"To muddy the waters a little more, see Paul Oliver's 'Songsters & Saints' page 20 for a discussion of Peg Leg Howell's 'Rolling Mill Blues' that was recorded for Columbia in April 1929. Oliver points out its lyrics appear to have derived from a song cluster in the white tradition that included 'In the Pines' and 'The Longest Train'. The headless body is 'lovin' Corinne' and linked to a mining train accident. Here is Oliver's partial transcription:...

Oliver goes on to refer to Judith McCulloh's unpublished Ph.D thesis for Indiana University (1970), titled 'In the Pines: The Melodic-Textual Identity of an American Lyric Folk-Song Cluster', which was based on the study of 160 variants of the song on record and in print. McCulloh believes the mine references were to mines in Dade County, Georgia, owned by Governor Joseph Emerson Brown in the 1870s. She suggests the railroad accident with the gruesome headless body image probably originated in the Reconstruction period. In Oliver's words, 'Howell was synthesising verses that had been in currency for over half a century'.

For a discussion of the interweaving of the songs 'The Longest Train', 'In the Pines', 'Reuben's Train', 'Train 45' and '900 Miles' see Norm Cohen 'Long Steel Rail' Uni of Illinois Press pp 491-517."

2. From: Ell
Date: 04 Sep 01 - 12:11 AM

"I first heard this song sung by Long John Baldry, many years ago, when I was entirely ignorant about the blues, and it made a lasting impression on me. I was confused by the singer's hard and bitter words to a young woman who had obviously suffered a terrifying loss and then spent the night cowering in the cold and forbidding forest. The words,"Black girl, black girl, don't you lie to me..." sounded particularly shocking when sung by a white man, though of course I later realized that Baldry's sources were the original blues singers. The song stuck with me, and I eventually came to see that it evokes an existence where violence was sudden and unpredictable,even by today's standards. The undercurrent of fear in the lives of poor blacks at the time would have affected relationships at all levels, as writers like Toni Morrison have made clear. The explanation of the lynching makes perfect sense to me. The fact that it's not explicit adds to the power of the song, and blues singers were very familiar with the practise of encoding messages, just as the early gospel singers put their hope for freedom into gospel songs. As for the song being a "zipper song", the folk tradition is full of songs where old lines are used to new effect. This song seems to me to be far too bitter and powerful to be only about betrayed love."

From: Suffet
Date: 03 Sep 01 - 11:47 PM

..."I, too, am uneasy when I hear "Black girl, black girl..." transformed into "My girl, my girl..." or into "Little girl, little girl..." It takes half the punch out of the song."...

4. From: Dicho
Date: 04 Sep 01 - 12:17 AM

"Four versions are on the Max Hunter site, all collected in Arkansas. They concern a man whose girl left him, or his jealousy because she accepted gifts from another man. I have always assumed that the song came from the piney woods of Arkansas-East Texas and the extension of that region into Missouri (no evidence, just a feeling). Versions quoted here with train verses seem to be a mixture, they do not hang together. "Black Girl" suggests that the tune was employed differently by whites and blacks to suit their disparate experiences. A third theme is the railroad and separation. A fourth is concerned with a railroad accident and a fifth with mines. There doesn't seem to be enough yet to indicate that a lynching was involved in any of the versions. This is all conjecture and unfortunately I don't have Cohen's book yet, but it does seem to be a folk song cluster as McCulloh proposes, with many strains by different versifiers. What is compelling about all the versions is the tune, which is haunting and memorable."

From: Q
Date: 23 Mar 04 - 08:39 PM

"The study by Judith McCulloh of 160 texts concluded that "The Longest Train" cluster and the "In the Pines" cluster once constituted two different songs that have been yoked (folked?) together. See "Long Steel Rail," Norm Cohen, p. 493."...

6. From: Q
Date: 22 Mar 04 - 06:20 PM
..."It may have been mentioned before, but the 'Black Girl' verse was first collected in 1917 by Sharp and Karpeles, from Lizzie Abner, KY."

From: Q
Date: 22 Mar 04 - 08:24 PM

"Lyr. Add: In the Pines
Dock Walsh version, 1926

In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shine,
And I shivered when the cold wind blow.

Oh, if I'd minded what grandma said,
Oh, where would I been tonight?

I'd-a been in the pines, where the sun never shine
And shivered when the cold wind blow.

The longest train I ever saw
Went down the Georgie line.

The engine it stopped at a six-mile post,
The cabin never left the town.

Now darling, now darling, don't tell me no lie,
Where did you stay last night?

I stayed in the pines, where the sun never shine,
And I shivered when the cold wind blow.

The prettiest little girl that I ever saw
Went walking down the line.

Her hair it was of a curly type,
Her cheeks was rosy red.

Now darling, now darling, don't tell me no lie,
Where did you stay last night?

I stayed in the pines, where the sun never shine,
And shivered when the cold wind blow.

The train run back one mile from town
And killed my girl, you know.

Her head was caught in the driver wheel,
Her body I never could find.

Oh, darling, oh darling, don't tell me no lie,
Where did you stay last night?

I stayed in the pines, where the sun never shine,
And I shivered when the cold wind blow.

The best of friends is to part sometimes,
And why not you and I?

Now darling, oh darling, don't tell me no lie,
Where did you stay last night?

I stayed in the pines, where the sun never shine,
And I shivered when the cold wind blow.

Oh, transportation has brought me here,
Take a money for to carry me away.

Oh darling, now darling, don't tell me no lie,
Where did you stay last night?

I stayed in the pines, where the sun never shine,
And I shiver when the cold wind blow.

April, 1926, first commercial recording, Dock Walsh, Columbia 15094-D; CS 9660.
Frank C. Brown obtained a text from Pearl Webb, North Carolina, in 1921-1922, that included the 'In the Pines,' longest train couplet, and 'transportation' verse. Other versions he collected in 1921 also had the couplet about the long train on the Georgia, Georgie, Georgy line.

Song and notes above all from "The Long Steel Rail," Norm Cohen, pp. 491-502."

From: Suffet
Date: 05 Feb 06 - 05:39 PM


Whatever its antecedents, I still agree with Eric Levine and Matt Jones that the racialized version of In the Pines, the song which we call Black Girl, tells of a lynching."

This concludes Part I of this series.

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