Friday, May 5, 2017

"Old Aunt Dinah" & The "Get Up Grandma. You Ain't Sick. All You Need Is A Hickory Stick" Lines In Children's Rhymes

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision - June 23, 2023

This post is part of a continuing pancocojams series that showcases American folk songs, rhymes, and minstrel songs that feature the name "Dinah" and/or "Old Aunt Dinah." Click the "Dinah and Old Aunt Dinah songs and rhymes" tag below for other posts in this series.

This pancocojams post documents some examples of the "Old Aunt Dinah" rhymes and the later "Grandma Sick In Bed" children's rhymes that include the lines "Get up ["Dinah" or "Grandma"]. You ain't sick/All you need is a hickory stick".

Addendum #1: presents one example of my mentioning "grandma sick in bed/all you need is a hickory stick" in a Mudcat folk music discussion thread.

Addendum #2: presents information about the meaning of "hickory stick" used for beating and cites two examples (including blog postings) from people other than me about hickory sticks being used for beatings. That addendum also presents an example of an old American rhyme that includes a line about Grandma carrying a stick and chasing people to give them a beating.

Addendum #3: [Added May 18, 2017] - presents information about the use of the name "Dinah" in 19th century United States as a generic name for Black women.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Click for the related pancocojams post: Four Examples Of "Grandma Grandma Sick In Bed" (Also known as "Down Down Baby" & "The Grandma Rap")


Here are some examples of that rhyme that I've found online:
[These examples are given in no particular chronological order.]

Example #1:
"Diannah Hillsman Farrar Pruitt Whaley
Birth: May 19, 1806
Franklin County
Georgia, USA
Death: Jan. 16, 1894
Carter County
Oklahoma, USA



An old poem handed down in the Pruitt family:

"Old Aunt Dinnah, sick in the bed
Sent for the Doctor
And the Doctor said,

Old Aunt Dinnah, you ain't sick
All you need is
A Hickory stick." "
Note that Diannah Hillsman Farrar Pruitt Whaley was White (as surmised from that genealogy report).

The fact that this very old example of this rhyme is from a White woman raises the possibility that I was wrong that this rhyme/song is of African American origin. There was a lot of cross-cultural mixing of secular music and rhymes in the American South and the Appalachian, making it difficult to determine the actual racial origins of some music. That said, the other early sources of that rhyme (song) that I've found to date are from Black Americans . 

Example #2
From The Games Black Girls Play: Learning The Ropes From  Double--Dutch to Hip Hop by kyra D Gaunt (New York: New York University Press, 2006, pps 99-100
"I discovered an interesting connection to the Grandma, Grandma-sick in bed” section of “Down Down Baby” that speaks to the long and slow generation of folklore as it is traditionally conceived. .If you were to take the notions of the lyrics literally, the cure for what ails you is to apply rhythm to parts of your body (heads, hands, toes, and pelvis), or perform rhythmic, in some cases, sonic actions, through embodies display (clapping, stomping, gyrating).

In my earlier work [1997] I indicate that girls are learning how to move their hips in unison ,or synchrony; associating them with words or ideas. The undulation of the voice saying “hot-dog” is matched in time and space with the rotation of the hips.  Girls (as well as boys) need to learn this to become proficient dancers who can socialize well within different contexts of a black community.

How are they preparing to learn a life-long repertoire of social dances that often involve pelvic thrusts, hip rotations, and torso contractions and releases (as percussive and visual punctuations)? Such danced gestures would play a role in discovering another connection between
Down, Down baby” and mass popular culture.

In the 1930w, Lydia Parrish collected folklore in the Georgia Sea Islands among people of African descent residing there. The material was originally published in 1942 as Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands and reprinted in 1965. This island is known as one of the richest regions of African retention in the United States to this day. Since the islanders did not suffer under the watchful eye and penetrating rule of whites [because the whites were primarily absent from the island). , Africanisms  were allowed to thrive in forms of language and behavior that scholars have been able to observe throughout the twentieth century.

Among a variety of stories and games, Parrish documents a game called “Ball the Jack”. In her transcription of the game, I stumbled upon a familiar lyric that bears a striking resemblance to “Down, down baby”.  Compare the two segments:

Hot dog [another name for the"Down Down Baby" rhyme] 
Grandma, grandma / sick in bed
Called the doctor/ and the doctor said

Ball the jack:

[page 100]

Old Aunt Dinah/ sick in bed
Send for the doctor and the doctor said


In a chapter titled “Ring-Play, Dance ,and Fiddle Songs she  describes the practice in possessive characterizations that reflect the power-laden discourse of earl-twentieth century folklorist-one who also had certain privileges as a white woman:

Several of our Negroes ”Ball the Jack”, as well as the African performer who dis a similar serpentine wiggle. [Parrish suggest “snake hips” as a far more appropriate nickname for the [dance]…


Susy’s head and shoulders are stationary and so are her feet, but there is a flow of undulating rhythm from chest to heels, with a few rotations in the hip region, done to this rhythmic patter:

Ole Aunt Dinah
Sick in bed
Send for the doctor
The doctor said:
Get up Dinah

You ain’t sick
All you need is a hickory stick.
An’  I ball the jack on the railroad track.

And so on ad infinitum: the words are of no particular moment, only sounds to carry the rhythm. A box and stick would do as well."...
I disagree with that conclusion, as some of my comments in this post indicate.

Example #3
From: [Google Book: Melody Sheet Music Lyrics Midi]
Richard Hewlett, Sep 4, 2014]

Ole Aunt Dinah went to town,
Riding a billy-goat, leading a hound.
Shake that little foot, Dinah, O
Shake that little foot, Dinah, O

Hound dog barked, billy-goat jumped
Set Aunt Dinah straddle of a stump.
Shake that little foot, Dinah, O
Shake that little foot, Dinah, O

Old Aunt Dinah sick in bed
sent for the doctor and the doctor said
Shake that little foot, Dinah, O
Shake that little foot, Dinah, O

Get up, Dinah, you ain't sick
All you need is a hickory stick.
Shake that little foot, Dinah, O
Shake that little foot, Dinah, O
"Shake your foot" means to dance.

Example #4:
"Old Aunt Dinah

DESCRIPTION: "Old Aunt Dinah, ho pee, ho pee... Gwine away to leave yer..." "Old Aunt Dinah -- sick in bed... Send for the doctor... You ain't sick... All you need... is a hickory stick." Alternately, Dinah may have four daughters and wants one to marry the singer
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1921 (Brown)
KEYWORDS: separation doctor disease
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Jackson-DeadMan, pp. 126-128, "Old Aunt Dinah" (1 text, 1 tune)
BrownIII 487, "Old Aunt Dinah" (1 fragment)
BrownSchinhanV 487, "Old Aunt Dinah" (2 tunes plus text excerpts)
Scarborough-NegroFS, pp. 187-188, "Ole Aunt Dinah" (1 fragment, plus a second which inserts Aunt Dinah into an "Old Dan Tucker" stanza)
Parrish, p. 117, ("Ole Aunt Dinah") (1 text)
Roud #11803

NOTES: There is no particular reason to associate the Brown and Scarborough fragments, since they describe different events and have different nonsense refrains. But both are about Aunt Dinah, both are fragments, both have nonsense refrains, and both seem unique.

The fullest text is Jackson's, which is a song of Dinah and her children; she offers the singer money to marry one of them, but he prefers a different daughter. It ends with standard work song stanzas.
It would appear that Old Aunt Dinah is little more than a framework character. If we had more versions, we might split the songs, but with the versions as they are, there seems little point. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1"
If the information given in Example #1 of this post is correct -that "Diannah Hillsman Farrar Pruitt Whaley who died in 1894 considered "Old Aunt Dinnah Sick In Bed" to be her favorite rhyme- then the earliest date of 1921 that is cited above for this song/rhyme is incorrect.

Example #5
From Yo Mama!: New Raps, Toasts, Dozens, Jokes, and Children's Rhymes from Urban Black America
by Onwuchekwa Jemie (Temple University Press, 2003; page 104
"Grandma, Grandma sick in bed
Called for the doctor and the doctor said
Grandma, Grandma, you ain't sick
All you need is a hickory stick."
The examples in this book were "Collected primarily in metropolitan New York and Philadelphia during the classic era of black street poetry (i.e., during the late 1960s and early 1970s)" [Google book review]

If you know any examples of this rhyme or have found any examples online, please add those examples in this post's comment section of this post, along with demographics and/or citations such as online links. Thanks!

Here's one example of my mentioning "all you need is a hickory stick" line in Mudcat discussion threads about other rhymes/play party songs.
Example #1:
"Subject: RE: Folklore: Play Ground Hand Jives
From: Azizi
Date: 30 Jun 07 - 06:43 AM

I have seen lines in some children's rhymes about grandma hitting someone or being hit herself with a hickory stick. For example there's this verse:

"Grandma, grandma sick in bed
called the doctor and the doctor said.
Get up grandma, you aint sick
All you need is a hickory stick.

This is from Talley's "Negro Folk Rhymes" and I've seen it published elsewhere, though Talley may be the oldest printed source there is.

Children chant this verse nowadays by rote memory without thinking about its lyrics or the historical information it contains. However, I believe that this 19th century or older verse shows how slave masters treated older enslaved people who were ill {and, by extension, any enslaved person who was ill}. Their illnesses would be discounted and if the sick person didn't get up from bed, they'd be beaten by a hickory stick."
I was mistaken that this verse is included in Thomas W. Talley's 1922 collection entitled Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise And Otherwise.

The notes given in Example #3 "Old Aunt Dinah" that mentioned Dorothy Scarborough's 1925 book On The Trial of Negro Folk Songs helped me identify that that was probably the book that I read the example of what I remembered as "grandma sick in bed/all you need is a hickory stick". I'm fortunate to have copies of both Talley's book and Scarborough's book and in my comments on Mudcat's discussion forum I often confused rhymes for one of those books with another.

As background, Thomas W. Talley was an African American university professor who collected non-religious Black American folk songs from his students and also added songs that he knew. In contrast, Dorothy Scarborough was a White American collector of Black American non-religious folk songs that she had heard or that other White people sent to her from their memories or direct experiences of hearing Black people sing.

Here's the preface to the "Old Aunt Dinah" rhyme and that rhyme itself as it is given on page 187-188 in Dorothy Scarborough's On The Trail Of Negro Folk Rhymes (1925):

"The unknown author of the song contributed by Mrs Bartlett seems to have felt strongly on her subject. Mrs. Bartlett writes: "There is another that Mr. Bartlett used to delight the children with. I used to know a colored chambermaid at Hollins, named Penny, who said something lie it, only her speech had to do with a rabbit; but she used the same nonsensical interruptions and assumed the same expressions of inspired idiocy that Mr. Bartlett deems fitting for the proper interpretation of Ole Aunt Dinah:

"Old Aunt Dinah---sick in bed,
Eegisty ----ogisty!
Sent for the doctah ----doctah said,
Eegisty ----ogisty!
"Get up, Dinah, _
You ain't sick
Eegisty ----ogisty!
All you need
Is a hickory stick!
Eegisty ----ogisty--Ring-ding-ah-ding--ah! !

The dashes stand for peculiar "spitting and puffings with the lips that defy expression. However, they are an important part of the rhythm of the incantation."...
That excerpt continues with comments about and an example of the "Ole Aunt Dinah went to town/riding a billy goat" version of this song*. Dorothy Scarborough wrote that the sounds that she had previously described also "accompanied" that "riding on a billy goat" version of that song. [given as part of verse #1 and verse #2 of Example #2 above.]

I wonder if those "peculiar spitting and puffings with the lips" could have been an early example of what we call "beat boxing". From "Beatboxing (also beat boxing or b-boxing) is a form of vocal percussion primarily involving the art of mimicking drum machines using one's mouth, lips, tongue, and voice.".

Click for a pancocojams post that focuses upon this speculation.

ADDENDUM #2: Information about hickory sticks used for beatings and examples of that use:
A switch is a flexible rod which is typically used for corporal punishment, similar to birching.

Punitive switching
Switches are most efficient (i.e., painful and durable) if made of a strong but flexible type of wood, such as hazel (also used for a very severe birch) or hickory; as the use of their names for disciplinary implements."

There are a number of citations of hickory sticks being used for beatings. Here are two such examples:
1. From
[Quotes an excerpt from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass An American Slave by Frederick Douglass, published 1845 [No page number was given for this excerpt.]
"Severe, the overseer, used to stand by the door of the quarter, armed with a large hickory stick and heavy cowskin, ready to whip any one who was so unfortunate as not to hear, or, from any other cause, was prevented from being ready to start for the field at the sound of the horn."

2 From
"re: BITTERBETTY DA BOMB!!! [This discussion thread may not be suitable for children's reading.]
Posted by BitterBetty 2004-09-30 15:31:13
"Undi - dont make me come after you with my hickory stick too...."

Here's an example of an old rhyme that mentions a stick being used to beat someone with:

Subject: RE: Folklore: Play Ground Hand Jives
From: EuGene
Date: 30 Jun 07 - 12:03 AM

I grew up for part of my early years in the remote Ozarks area of North Arkansas where there were no African Americans. Yet in the 1950's and early 1960's a variation of that "I like coffee, I like tea" song was a common jump rope ditty in our area that went like this:

"I went down to Granpa's farm,
Billy goat chased me 'round the barn.
Chased me up an apple tree;
This is what he said to me:

I like coffee, I like tea,
I like pretty girls, they like me.
Hurry! Hurry! Kiss me quick,
Here comes Granny with a stick!"
(clap!) (Clap!)

This ditty ended with two loud hand claps. It was sung to that tune about "Down at Papa Joe's" . . . I don't know the name that song, but as kids we could always start with a black Eb key on a piano and easily pick it out using mostly the black keys."...
The "clap! clap!" is the sound of someone being beat with a stick.

ADDENDUM #3: Excerpt About the use of the name "Dinah" in 19th century United States
"[Dinah"] Symbol of black womanhood
In 19th-century America, "Dinah" became a generic name for an enslaved African woman.[12] At the 1850 Woman's Rights Convention in New York, a speech by Sojourner Truth was reported on in the New York Herald, which used the name "Dinah" to symbolize black womanhood as represented by Truth:
In a convention where sex and color are mingled together in the common rights of humanity, Dinah, and Burleigh, and Lucretia, and Frederick Douglas [sic], are all spiritually of one color and one sex, and all on a perfect footing of reciprocity. Most assuredly, Dinah was well posted up on the rights of woman, and with something of the ardor and the odor of her native Africa, she contended for her right to vote, to hold office, to practice medicine and the law, and to wear the breeches with the best white man that walks upon God's earth.[12]
Lizzie McCloud, a slave on a Tennessee plantation during the American Civil War, recalled that Union soldiers called all enslaved women "Dinah". Describing her fear when the Union army arrived, she said: "We was so scared we run under the house and the Yankees called 'Come out Dinah' (didn't call none of us anything but Dinah). They said 'Dinah, we're fightin' to free you and get you out from under bondage'."[13] After the end of the war in 1865 The New York Times exhorted the newly liberated slaves to demonstrate that they had the moral values to use their freedom effectively, using the names "Sambo" and "Dinah" to represent male and female former slaves: "You are free Sambo, but you must work. Be virtuous too, oh Dinah!"[14]
The name Dinah was subsequently used for dolls and other images of black women.[15]

12. Footnote 3 to "Women's Rights Convention", The New York Herald, October 26, 1850; U.S. Women's History Workshop.
13. Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves, The Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938. Library of Congress, 1941.
14. Gutmann, Herbert. "Persistent Myths about the Afro-American Family" in The Slavery Reader, Psychology Press, 2003, p.263.
15. Husfloen, Kyle. Black Americana, Krause Publications, 2005, p.64.
I've noticed that "Dinah" is often given as "old Aunt Dinah" ("ole Aunt Dinah") in 29th century songs (including African American social dance/game songs and Anglo-American minstrel songs). Those references were for older Black women, "aunt" being a substitute for "Mrs" which conveyed more status and respect and was (therefore) reserved for White women. ("Uncle" -instead of "Mr." - was the equivalent title for older Black men.

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  1. Instead of the word "stick", the word "quick" is often used in a number of examples of various children's rhymes as a 'near rhyme" for the word "quick".

    There are LOTS of examples of "sick"/"quick" rhyming verses. Here are three examples:

    1. From a Black American children's ring game [with one person in the center] that is included in Altona Trent John's 1944 book "Playsongs of the Deep South."

    Water-flower, water-flower,
    Growing up so tall,
    All the young ladies must surely, surely die;
    All except Miss 'Lindy Watkins,
    She is everywhere,-
    The white folks say, the white folks say,
    Turn your back and tell your beau's name.

    Doctor, Doctor can you tell
    What will make poor 'Lindy well?
    She is sick and 'bout to die,
    That will make poor Johnnie cry!

    Marry, marry, marry, quick!
    'Lindy, you are just love sick!

    Johnnie is a ver' nice man,
    Comes to the door with hat in hand,
    Pulls off his gloves and show his rings,
    'Morrow is the wedding-day."
    Italics added by me to highlight that verse.

    2. From

    Miss Polly had a dolly who was sick, sick, sick.
    So she phoned for the doctor to be quick, quick, quick.

    The doctor came with his bag and his hat
    And he knocked at the door with a rat-a-tat-tat.
    He looked at the dolly and he shook his head
    And he said “Miss Polly, put her straight to bed!”
    He wrote on a paper for a pill, pill, pill
    “I’ll be back in the morning yes I will, will, will.”
    I'm not sure when this rhyme was first chanted, but it may be from the United Kingdom.

    Uno, dos, siesta *
    I said a-east, a-west
    I met my boyfriend at the candy store
    He bought me ice cream, he bought me cake
    He brought me home with a belly ache
    Mama mama, I'm so sick
    Call the doctor quick quick quick

    Doctor, doctor will I die?
    Count to five and you'll be alive
    I said, a-one, a-two, a-three, a-four, a-five
    I'm alive!
    - Kyle Bryant & Dana Bryant ; (performed as a hand clap game on Season 1, Episode 22 of The Cosby Show; 1984; The Slumber Party, transcription from

    This rhyme appears to be known outside of many African American communities because of its inclusion on the The Cosby Show. Notice that verses of this rhyme are found in the "I Like Coffee" rhyme that is given above.
    * This phrase is usually "uno dos tres" ("one, two, three" in Spanish. "Siesta" is a Spanish word that means "nap" in English).
    I think that the "sick"/"quick" rhyming lines are used more often now by children than the "sick"/"stick" rhyming lines.

    1. Example #3 in my May 5, 2017 at 11:07 AM comment was quoted from my cocojams2 blog on children's rhymes. Other examples of "I Like Coffee I Like Tea" are found on that page

      Also, I just checked the link given for The Cosby Show, "The Slumber Party". That link is still active, but it no longer includes any mention of that hand clap rhyme.