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Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton

DigiTrad:
PICK A BALE OF COTTON
PICK A BALE OF COTTON


Related threads:
Chord Req: Pick A Bale of Cotton (17)
PC-Where is thy sting?-'Pick a Bale of Cotton' Ban (150)


GUEST,JTS 08 Apr 06 - 01:11 AM
GUEST,Ron Davies 08 Apr 06 - 01:16 AM
GUEST,JTS 08 Apr 06 - 05:42 PM
Azizi 08 Apr 06 - 06:07 PM
GUEST,JTS 08 Apr 06 - 06:16 PM
Azizi 08 Apr 06 - 06:49 PM
NH Dave 08 Apr 06 - 08:16 PM
Jeri 09 Apr 06 - 10:44 AM
GUEST,Nina 15 Apr 06 - 08:45 AM
GUEST,M.Ted 15 Apr 06 - 11:26 AM
gnu 15 Apr 06 - 12:30 PM
PoppaGator 16 Apr 06 - 02:08 AM
katlaughing 16 Apr 06 - 02:14 AM
Q 16 Apr 06 - 01:52 PM
Jack the Sailor 17 Apr 06 - 01:22 PM
Kaleea 17 Apr 06 - 05:28 PM
GUEST,Gerry 17 Apr 06 - 09:11 PM
Cool Beans 18 Apr 06 - 11:14 AM
Mr Happy 11 May 06 - 08:31 PM
GUEST 11 May 06 - 09:22 PM
NH Dave 12 May 06 - 01:42 AM
GUEST,sujord 24 Jan 07 - 10:11 PM
Q 24 Jan 07 - 10:51 PM
GUEST,Black Hawk 25 Jan 07 - 03:09 AM
Azizi 25 Jan 07 - 05:20 AM
Scrump 25 Jan 07 - 05:58 AM
Azizi 25 Jan 07 - 07:00 AM
Scrump 25 Jan 07 - 07:08 AM
Azizi 25 Jan 07 - 07:33 AM
GUEST,Black Hawk 25 Jan 07 - 11:55 AM
W y s i w y G ! 25 Jan 07 - 01:53 PM
Azizi 25 Jan 07 - 04:54 PM
Azizi 25 Jan 07 - 04:57 PM
W y s i w y G ! 25 Jan 07 - 05:17 PM
Scrump 26 Jan 07 - 07:24 AM
Tweed 26 Jan 07 - 09:34 AM
Scrump 26 Jan 07 - 11:09 AM
Tweed 26 Jan 07 - 03:27 PM
Scrump 27 Jan 07 - 12:42 PM
Q 27 Jan 07 - 12:51 PM
GUEST,Black Hawk 29 Jan 07 - 06:32 AM
Scrump 29 Jan 07 - 06:46 AM
GUEST,Black Hawk 29 Jan 07 - 10:21 AM
GUEST,guest 19 Jun 07 - 08:33 AM
GUEST,Music history lady 10 Feb 11 - 08:43 AM
GUEST 17 Apr 13 - 04:15 PM
GUEST,Autoharper 18 Apr 13 - 08:31 AM
GUEST,leeneia 18 Apr 13 - 09:20 AM
Azizi 18 Nov 13 - 11:22 AM
Azizi 18 Nov 13 - 11:41 AM
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Subject: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: GUEST,JTS
Date: 08 Apr 06 - 01:11 AM

Please tell me everthing you know about the origins and usage of this song. Someone else asked me and I told him what I could but I bet y'all know a whole lot more than I could find online. Thank you.


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: GUEST,Ron Davies
Date: 08 Apr 06 - 01:16 AM

If you just type Pick A Bale into the filter with 180 days, you get several threads on this--including a really hot controversy--about 146 posts.


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: GUEST,JTS
Date: 08 Apr 06 - 05:42 PM

There are two threads. I read them both. Not much about the origins or history of the song except that LeadBelly sang it. Its that all there is?


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: Azizi
Date: 08 Apr 06 - 06:07 PM

"My name is Bess
and I ain't in this mess"

-traditional African American saying

;o)


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: GUEST,JTS
Date: 08 Apr 06 - 06:16 PM

I read how you feel about it Azizi. I understand your position. That is one of the reasons I'd like to know more. I guess Leadbelly didn't see the song as a symbol of slavery. In fact here in the south I find folks, both black and white, associate picking cotton with work you do when you can't find anything else.


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: Azizi
Date: 08 Apr 06 - 06:49 PM

JTS,

I appreciate the sincerity of your question and your opinion about "Pick A Bale Of Cotton", but I've been down this road before and nothing has changed but the weather.

Hopefully, others will respond to your specific questions on this song.

Best wishes,

Azizi


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: NH Dave
Date: 08 Apr 06 - 08:16 PM

From the introductions I have heard I have always thought it a Black "Bragg Song", like John Henry, where a superhuman John was said to have beaten a steam powered drilling machine, hand drilling with a "ten pound singlejack hammer", a steel drill, and a shaker, a man who holds the top of the drill, and turned it a small fraction of a turn after each hammer blow, so the next blow would land on an unstruck place in the bottom of the hole.

   Cotton picking was hard, hot, bent back, labor; done by the black slaves in the early 19th century. Unless you had a field with extremely prolific cotton plants, picking 500 lbs of cotton, a "standard bale" in one day, was an ideal impossibility, something to aim for. Thus a claim to be able to pick a bale of cotton would be like Paul Bunyan yoking Babe to a length of windy road and "pulling out the slack/turns" and by doing so, gained enough road to service the entire logging camp, or Pecos Bill riding a tornado to a frazzle; something impossible but still something held up as an ideal.

   The fact that cotton picking was done by black slaves before our Civil War, and by people of both races, for hire, afterwards, is a matter of fact, and should not be taken as derogatory or demeaning of or to blacks. It was a fact of life, just as Irish dug many a canal, sunk many a caisson down to the rock below the surface of the river to set one of the pillars or towers for a bridge, or, along with Chinese laborers on the western half of our transcontinental railroad, laid hundreds of mile of railroad track in good and horrible weather, for poor wages. The fact that these people were "free" as in "not physically enslaved", as opposed to being limited in the type of job any of these groups of new immigrants could or were allowed to do, does not detract from their feats.

   Yes, many of our southern plantation owners treated their black slaves horribly, but others treated them better, and often taught them a bit of reading and simple mathematics, actions forbidden by law, to better themselves, or become more value to their owners and masters. Yes, slavery was an abomination, just as the segregation that took its place, and paying or treating folks differently based on their sex. What we need to remember is, it was a white man who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, it was a white retired colonel from Missouri, a former slave state, who signed the bill integrating our military. It was another white, retired army General, from Texas, a slave state, who sent the federal marshals and National Guard to the Little Rock Schools so blacks could attend the same schools as the whites. And it was yet a fourth white man, from Texas, who pushed through his dream of "The Great Society" so blacks could get a fairer chance for work, schooling, and even welfare as needed.

   It was a black doctor who studied and taught agriculture to the people around him to better themselves. It was a black, raised in slavery, who was freed and eventually became a member of Congress, who served the country well and by so doing, helped his people. The first black Army General, was a graduate from West Point, fifty odd years before the military was integrated, and his son, became the second black serving line officer, serving in both the Army and Air Force General, much of his service in a segregated army air corps. He served with the "Tuskegee Airmen", a trial fighter squadron taught to fly near Tuskegee Institute, George Washington Carver's school for black youth. These black pilots, flying P-51 fighters escorted American medium and heavy bombers from Italian air fields in bombing raids over Ploieste, in Romania, to take out German oil production, and have the distinction of never losing a bomber to fighter action during this campaign, a claim no other fighter outfit can make. The "Red Ball Express", a fast hauling logistical transport group who drove day and night to move food, equipment, and arms from Atlantic ports to front line areas, to support the Allied advance from the D-Day landings to the eventual fall of Germany, predominantly relied on black drivers and mechanics.

   Blacks were unfairly oppressed during the slave days, and then as free men, all the way up to the 1960's, but by and large, given the chance to learn or serve in our military they distinguished themselves, one reason why Truman integrated the services around 1947, and Eisenhower sent Federal Marshals and Army troops into the south to enforce integrated schools. Both periods are important in their gaining their eventual freedom and the respect of their fellow men. It isn't completely over, but objecting to singing of songs of the slave days does little to advance equality, as compared with gaining an education, and proving by one's achievements what the black people can do when allowed to try.

   Dave


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: Jeri
Date: 09 Apr 06 - 10:44 AM

Pick a Bale of Get A Clue by Penda (MontiLee)
"Pick a Bale of Cotton" is one of my favorite folk songs. Huddie Ledbetter did the most famous version. ABBA has covered it. We used to sing it in Girl Scouts and talked about where it came from. This song is a part of our history, and when people decide that parts of history are too painful and insensitive to revist, they become forgotten or worse, dimished. This song has survived despite slaves not being considered humans worthy of rights. This is a part of our history, but we'd better not dwell on it because we don't like to remember we were slaves once.
...and that's why I feel the way I do about it.

Now for something on topic, and probably stated on some other thread. As to the currently (un)popular version, Pete Seeger, as quoted in Rise Up Singing, said on Pete Seeger Sings Leadbelly and At Carnegie Hall, "A good work song makes the long day seem shorter. In the fields this was sung medium slowly. Leadbelly made a party song out of it by speeding it up and adding guitar."

The Leadbelly version of the song is still ©Folkways Music Publishers Inc. Older versions appear to be Public Domain


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: GUEST,Nina
Date: 15 Apr 06 - 08:45 AM

It is a song that slaves would sing to make work pass by more easily.
Some how they feel better when they sing and the masters liked a singing
slave because a sining slave was a happy slave a happy slave was a hard working slave.


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: GUEST,M.Ted
Date: 15 Apr 06 - 11:26 AM

Sort of like the old saying, "A Fartin' Horse will never tire, a fartin' man is the one to hire."


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: gnu
Date: 15 Apr 06 - 12:30 PM

Gosh. I learn something new here every day... about so many things. This is a fascinating and eye-opening discussion.


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: PoppaGator
Date: 16 Apr 06 - 02:08 AM

My name is Paul, and that's between y'all! (i.e. ~ leave me out of this!)


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: katlaughing
Date: 16 Apr 06 - 02:14 AM

My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, was from Baton Rouge and also was white. She told us, many times, of the long, hard days of picking cotton and, once, of a snake which crawled into her bag of cotton.

The first version I ever heard of this song was on a record my sister had of Harry Belafonte.


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: Q
Date: 16 Apr 06 - 01:52 PM

So much written in these threads on this song, mostly reiterated mis-information or un-informed opinion. Of the more than 160 posts listed, perhaps half a dozen show some knowledge of the song, and the history and importance of cotton in America.


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: Jack the Sailor
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 01:22 PM

Thanks everyone. I have learned much.

Q, I won't speak for others, but I didn't ask about the importance of cotton. It seems that there just isn't all that much known about the origins and usage of the song. But that is useful information.

Again, thanks everyone for telling me what you do know.


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: Kaleea
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 05:28 PM

Depending upon where you live, you might be able to get first hand information from an elderly person. When I was an activities director at a nursing home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I once asked a roomfull of our residents how many of them had picked cotton in their lives. Almost all of the people-about 50-raised their heads or nodded. Only one lady happened to be not white. I then asked them to tell about it. There were some young people there that day who learned quite a bit.


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 09:11 PM

Jeri quoted Penda,

"This is a part of our history, but we'd better not dwell on it because we don't like to remember we were slaves once."

This is an odd thing to read during Passover.


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Subject: RE: Pick a Bale of Cotton.
From: Cool Beans
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 11:14 AM

An amendment to NH Dave's excellent post:
Tuskegee was, of course, founded by Booker T. Washington, not George Washington Carver.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Mr Happy
Date: 11 May 06 - 08:31 PM

'What we need to remember is, it was a white man who....... '.

At those times, would there've been an equivalent non-caucasian officer, v.i.p. etc to authorise these emancipatory changes?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: GUEST
Date: 11 May 06 - 09:22 PM

Sometimes a song is just a song.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: NH Dave
Date: 12 May 06 - 01:42 AM

Mr. Happy, with the exception of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed by President Lincoln, all the other events took place in the period between 1945 and 1975, and all were accomplished by sitting presidents. President Truman, a retired National Guard Colonel from Missouri, signed the bill integrating the militaary, President Eisenhower, a retired General of the Armies from Texas, sent the Federal Marshals and the National Guard into southern states to forcefully integrate the schools there, in accordance with the laws of the land at that time, and it was Johnson, a former Navy Commander also from Texas, who who pushed through his dream of "The Great Society" so blacks could get a fairer chance for work, schooling, and even welfare as needed.

Those times were mostly recent, and all of these people were US presidents who didn't need a black person, or person of color, to authorize those changes.

Dave


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: GUEST,sujord
Date: 24 Jan 07 - 10:11 PM

My daughter's fourth grade honors choir is singing this song and I am somewhat taken aback by them singing it. These children know not of what they sing. It offends me that the arranger has called this a traditional folk song. It is not only that. I consider it to be included along with Steal Away or Down By The River side etc. I apologize if these aren't the correct titles. I don't mind them singing it if they understand that it was not fun jumping down to pick a bale of cotton. It was not by choice that we picked a bale a day. Yes, it's ok to celebrate history and remember the song, but give African Americans their (our) due and respect. It is at least a Negro Folk song or a Negro Spiritual. But not an American/traditional folk song-its way more than that. Let's not diminish the labor of my (our American) ancestors and the growth of America and the African-American by belittling the effort/abuse it took to jump down turn around and pick a bale of cotton.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Q
Date: 24 Jan 07 - 10:51 PM

sujord, one hell of a lot of white folks picked cotton. Nowadays it is machines.
Lead Belly made the song famous, but whether he ever picked cotton when on a prison farm, I don't know (and doubt).
No one EVER picked a bale a day. It is impossible. The song is meant for bragging.
It seems to have been composed by Iron Head Baker and prisoners on a Texas State prison farm about 1930.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: GUEST,Black Hawk
Date: 25 Jan 07 - 03:09 AM

Dolly Parton stated that if she and Johnny Cash had picked all the cotton the media reported there would be none left for other to pick.
(Both picked cotton in their youth for their poor white families)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Jan 07 - 05:20 AM

"Picking cotton" has come to be simplistically associated
in many people's minds with 17th 19th century African American slavery.

It is certainly true that that cotton picking wasn't the only form of labor that enslaved African Americans were forced to do. It is also certainly true that non-Black people and Black people picked cotton prior to and after the end of the US Civil War.

It is also true that "PIck A Bale of Cotton" can be considered a bragging song.

However, if Americans and other White people throughout the world had not [and still often do not] view Black people in such hightly contemptuous and ridiculing ways, and if the truth about African   & African Diaspora cultures-including Black cultures in the United States-were fully taught from public schools on, and were accurately portrayed in the mass media, then perhaps, just perhaps Black people and other people would be less concerned about 'fun' songs like "Pick A Bale Of Cotton".


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Scrump
Date: 25 Jan 07 - 05:58 AM

So should we sing this song or not? It sounds as if it might cause offence to some people. I wasn't aware of this and just thought it was a simple singalong song.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Jan 07 - 07:00 AM

As some people have indicated, "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" was probably written after US slavery was abolished. Still, this song is definitely associated with African American slavery.

Some Black people still don't want to acknowledge that fact that our ancestors sung songs other than field hollers and spirituals during slavery. The view is that to draw attention to the social songs and social dances that enslaved African Americans did would be to give credence to the "slavery wasn't so bad/happy darky" viewpoint.

My position is that social songs and dances, as well as field hollers & spirituals helped Black people to survive the horrors of enslavement, and the difficulties that free and freed Black people encountered from the 17th-mid 19th century USA. Therefore for aesthetic & historical reasons, Black American social songs & dances of those centuries are worthy of study.

Rightly or wrongly, the fact of the matter is that "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" has become a symbol song for "the happy darkies" stereotype.

I won't sing that song. And I won't teach "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" to children as a fun & games singalong.

I won't sing "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" and other songs that I consider to be demeaning of Black people and/or or ridiculing and dismissive of Black pain & suffering regardless of whether these songs were written and/or popularized by Black people, White people, or Martians from out of space. I'm thinking of song like "Old Black Joe" and "Why Was I Born Black & Blue" etc etc etc.

What other people do is their decision, though I can voice {and am voicing} my objections to those decisions, just as people can voice their objections to what I say and do or the manner by which I say and do whatever.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Scrump
Date: 25 Jan 07 - 07:08 AM

Ah, I've just looked at the version in DT and that uses the 'n-word', which of course I wouldn't sing because that would cause offence. Now I can see your objection, Azizi.

But the Lonnie Donegan version doesn't use that word, so that should be OK to sing?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Jan 07 - 07:33 AM

The "n-word" makes that song more offensive. However, I stand by the points I've made as to the reasons why I won't sing the song or teach it as a fun singalong.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: GUEST,Black Hawk
Date: 25 Jan 07 - 11:55 AM

Azizi - I've just looked at the DT version and seen the 'N' word. Never have seen/heard it before in any version I have heard sung. Being English, I first heard Lonnies version as a youngster. 50+ yrs later, it is still sung here as a singalong song. No-one I have met ever associated it with slavery of any sort - just hard, low paid work and bragging 'I am the best'. I find that persons with a 'hard' viewpoint on any topic will turn any subject to their view. Most singers will of heard Leadbellys version (by a black man - recorded well after slavery was abolished)and based their rendition on this. No-one is condoning slavery/racism of any sort but if all songs with an unsavoury connection were abolished the traditional British songs of 'taking the Kings shilling' and being shanghaied etc. would die out.
I won't sing any Irish protest songs due to the IRA atrocities but that is my decision. I also admit that they are good, rousing songs though.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: W y s i w y G !
Date: 25 Jan 07 - 01:53 PM

It's about so much more than the N-word, and it's presence or absence. And to sing or not sing a song like this is not within Azizi's power to grant as OK-- it's bigger than any individual. You have to THINK about it for yourself and find your peace with what is true about it, the best you can.

Every year there's Black History Month in schools, focused mostly I guess on lifting up the positive role models of African American culture-- and I'm glad that happens, but it seems to happen in a vaccum where the rest of the year, both the positives and the painful realities are again absent from mainstream education.

In the last year I've seen three different "History of the KKK" programs that make the issues crystal-clear. It's difficult to see how the graphic adult reportage there can be transferred to what children can handle, but the challenge remains. I don't know what to do about that.

All I know is, no matter how much "better" anyone can say things are today, there are still a whole lot of Black folk dead, missing, unburied, tortured, beaten, underpaid, and/or disrespected in the present-time memory of only a small part of our national population. The pain of the memory seems to be inverse to the number of people who carry it. Just today the indictment of another Klansman was announced for yet another, forgotten-by-many atrocity. That news is on, in the background on my TV, while at the same time, this song is being discussed as if it occurs in a vacuum. I can hear the air rushing-- faintly, but that vacuum isn't as absolute as it was.

We may feel like Leadbelly's song is far back in the past. We may feel like the experience the song evokes is from a long-ago time, having nothing to do with the present. The truth is, they're actually well within our present experience, along with all the mess of that time.

It's the fashion now to deplore Policital Correctness. I deplore it too, because I prefer being able to talk about stark reality-- it doesn't mean that by simply labeling something as the hated "PC," we can expect to dismiss every effort to explore dark reality.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Jan 07 - 04:54 PM

Susan, you make a number of points in your 25 Jan 07 - 01:53 PM post
that I very much agree with.

However, I wish you hadn't used my name in vain ;o) when you wrote:
"And to sing or not sing a song like this is not within Azizi's power to grant as OK-- it's bigger than any individual. You have to THINK about it for yourself and find your peace with what is true about it, the best you can."

It's important to me that people know that I know that I don't have nor do I want to have the power to mandate which songs people sing.

Scrump asked my opinion about whether he {or she} should sing this song. My response was "What other people do is their decision, though I can voice {and am voicing} my objections to those decisions, just as people can voice their objections to what I say and do or the manner by which I say and do whatever".

-snip-

I suppose that your sentence just rephrases what I wrote. However, I want to make clear my awareness of my essential powerlessness and my non-lust for power less some people misconstrue what you wrote and run with it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Jan 07 - 04:57 PM

Also, Susan, I'm not sure what you meant by your last two sentences:

"It's the fashion now to deplore Policital Correctness. I deplore it too, because I prefer being able to talk about stark reality-- it doesn't mean that by simply labeling something as the hated "PC," we can expect to dismiss every effort to explore dark reality".

-snip-

What or which dark reality are you referring to?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: W y s i w y G !
Date: 25 Jan 07 - 05:17 PM

Azizi, I doubt very much anyone will take my post to mean that I think you think you have that power, particularly as I think it's pretty clear that I was pointing people to their own, however uncomfortable, responsibility to THINK about the complex issues.

"dark" was a typo-- I meant it to read "stark" as it does in the preceding phrase. I've been making a lot of typo's of late becaus my new bifocals happen NOT to suit my computer-sceren distance. The stark realities I am referring to are precisely the ones I had outlined further up in my post, as well as all the ugly things done in every oppression which remains in our society.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Scrump
Date: 26 Jan 07 - 07:24 AM

I was surprised to find the 'n-word' in the DT version of this song, having never heard any version of it with this word in (not that I've heard all that many versions of it), and I assumed Azizi's objection to it was based on that. I only looked at it to remind myself of the lyrics, and had always assumed it was a fairly innocuous song based on what I'd heard (Lonnie Donegan, etc.)

However it Azizi's objection runs somewhat deeper than just the presence or absence of the 'n-word'.

I take the point that Azizi himself/herself won't sing the song because of perceived connotations of slavery, but I'm now worried in case Azizi's perception is widespread, and I may risk offending people if I sing it. I've sung it many times in the past and never heard anyone object, but then the lyrics I use are the 'innocuous' ones.

My views and experience regarding this song are almost exactly those of GUEST,Black Hawk above. Of course I wouldn't dream of singing the DT version, but I still can't see that the 'Lonnie Donegan' version (for want of a more convenient term) should cause offence. It could be regarded as a different song to the same tune. There's nothing wrong with picking cotton per se, after all.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Tweed
Date: 26 Jan 07 - 09:34 AM

When will you guys ever realize there are separate realities that Black people and White people walk in? What seems innocuous to European-Americans is viewed differently from the African-American perspective.
Azizi has every right in the world to not sing or teach the song if it offends her.

And there's a lot wrong with having to pick cotton for a living, and getting cheated and lied to, being kept out of school so that it's easier to cheat and lie to you. Breaking your back and watching your wife and kids out there breaking their backs and screwing up their fingers and hands pulling cotton and hoping the guy at the gin won't rip you off too much when you take it to sell.

O what happy times they must have been! Something to rejoice about...right??

And I ain't being PC as that is not my nature. I'm just walkin' in someone else's shoes.

Tweed


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Scrump
Date: 26 Jan 07 - 11:09 AM

Point understood, but I still say that there is nothing in the song, as sung by Lonnie Donegan (I am of course not talking here about the DT version, which is undoubtedly offensive), that can be considered offensive per se - it's only people's reading into it things it doesn't say.

Picking cotton is just an activity, and as such there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Just because people - black and white - have had to do it for a living, even under conditions of slavery, doesn't make the activity of picking cotton wrong in itself.

There were and probably still are jobs, even in western countries, where people are paid little for long hours of work. And there are plenty of songs about them.

I'm not accusing anyone of being PC, just suggesting they are perhaps being over-sensitive or reading too much into this song in the form sung by Lonnie Donegan, if they find it offensive.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Tweed
Date: 26 Jan 07 - 03:27 PM

Scrump, I'm not trying to beat on you about this, but it's more than just the act of picking cotton. You go down to the delta and
pick this whole field by hand
then tell me it's just an activity. Black people in Mississippi would look at you like you had lost your mind if folkies came down there singing "Pick a Bale of Cotton" for them. They would be polite because they are Southern, but would no doubt would dismiss you as being crazed.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Scrump
Date: 27 Jan 07 - 12:42 PM

OK, I'd better stop singing it then, as I don't want to sing anything that offends people. (It's a pretty boring song to play anyway, as it only has two chords.)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Q
Date: 27 Jan 07 - 12:51 PM

The opposition to the song comes mostly from urban Whites and Blacks who are far removed from the realities of rural, especially farm, life.
Scrump, I don't believe that you will have any trouble with the song in the small town South and Southwest. They will sing the choruses along with you.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: GUEST,Black Hawk
Date: 29 Jan 07 - 06:32 AM

Serious question.
Carrying this debate further does it mean that we do not sing songs about murder (might upset the victims relatives), infidelity, drunkedness, etc. None of these subjects are being advocated as 'good' but the folk music (indeed any genre) scene would be in dire straits without them.
I sang 'Redback on the Toilet Seat' at a regular singaround recently and a good friend of mine was on the verge of hysteria. Turns out she has a spider phobia. I didnt know and will not sing it again in her presence but will perform it as I am requested for it often!
One mans meat ..........


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Scrump
Date: 29 Jan 07 - 06:46 AM

Yes, interesting point Black Hawk. There are some songs that I wouldn't sing in certain circumstances: for example, if there had recently been a major train crash in the news, I wouldn't want to sing "Wreck of the Old 97", as it might be considered to be in poor taste by some.

I remember once seeing a guy more or less do just that, i.e. sing a song about a train crash, when unknown to him, there had been one earlier in the day and he hadn't heard the news. The audience were a little uneasy, and he probably sensed something was wrong, until someone piped up and told him. He was embarrassed and apologised, but it wasn't really his fault. It could happen to anyone. Moral: always watch the news before a gig :-)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: GUEST,Black Hawk
Date: 29 Jan 07 - 10:21 AM

On a personal note - 2 yrs ago I returned to the local folk club and was enjoying friends company when a singer started his set by asking if everyone had had a good holiday. An audience member shouted of course we did, nobody died did they. My friends looked at me knowing that my Father died 19th Dec and his funeral had been during the Christmas/New Year interval with me as executor. I still cannot look at this person without thinking what a %$@& he is even though I realise he was ignorant of my case. As I said :- One mans meat ....


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: GUEST,guest
Date: 19 Jun 07 - 08:33 AM

There is a Hebrew song sung by Jewish people on the Sabbath that is the exact tune of "Pick a Bale of Cotton".


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: GUEST,Music history lady
Date: 10 Feb 11 - 08:43 AM

America is home to the most unique evolution of music the world has ever scene. This song was created out of African-American need to lift themselves out of a situation they found inescapable. As a result, it is powerful link in the chain of our American music and identity. My goodness, if we ignore our past, we are doomed to repeat it!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Apr 13 - 04:15 PM

Got this from the Smithsonian...

"Pick a Bale of Cotton" from the recording entitled Get on Board: Negro Folksongs by the Folkmasters, Folkways FP 2028, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1952.

It's a very old slave work song.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: GUEST,Autoharper
Date: 18 Apr 13 - 08:31 AM

That cotton picking was done by enslaved African-Americans before the Civil War, and by workers of both races, afterwards, is a matter of fact, and should not be taken as derogatory or demeaning of or to African-Americans.

"Pick a Bale of Cotton" is an American "bragging," folksong, not unlike "John Henry" or "I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago." Its composer is unknown. It may have been sung by enslaved African-Americans; however it did not appear in print before 1936.

"Pick a Bale of Cotton" was first recorded in 1993 by an incarcerated black man named James "Iron Head" Baker, (born approx. 1885) at the Texas State Prison in Sugarland, Texas. The song was made popular in the 1950's by recordings by Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte (neither of whom is easily characterized as a racist) who learned it from Leadbelly's 1935 recording.

In his youth, Leadbelly, (Huddie Ledbetter 1888-1949) picked cotton in Bowie County, Texas. According to his biographers Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell in "Life and Legend of Leadbelly," Harper Collins, 1992, page 65:

"Even today, many decades after Huddie worked in the Bowie County fields, old-timers still recall his capacity to pick huge amounts of cotton – up to five hundred and six hundred pounds a day. In later years, Huddie would sing one of his most famous songs about how it was to "Pick a Bale o' Cotton." Texas farmers will laugh at this, though, and point out that a bale of cotton is usually fifteen hundred pounds, and that no man, regardless of how fast he is, can pick more than five hundred or six hundred pounds. There was often, apparently, a competition among pickers to see who "weighed out" the most cotton at the end of the day…"

In "Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Leadbelly," Macmillan Company, 1936, page 92, John and Alan Lomax write:

"In other versions of this song (see same title in "American Ballads and Folksongs") such lines as "Ol' massa tol' de niggers, Pick a bale o' cotton," and "Massa gimme one dram to Pick a bale o' cotton," are frequent. We are led to believe, [my italics] therefore, that "Pick a Bale o' Cotton" is a slave song, another of the old Negro tunes the Texas prison system has kept alive, while the prisoners died… The tune…is well known, especially among older prisoners, throughout the Texas penitentiary system."

-Adam Miller
Folksinging.org


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 18 Apr 13 - 09:20 AM

Some people seem to assume that only black people, whether slaves or not, were the only people who ever picked cotton. But take a look at this photograph of young white kids picking cotton about 1910.

I hope this works

People with no money and no protectors get the worst jobs - that's what it comes down to. And if they want to sing to make their lives more enjoyable, who are we to criticize?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Azizi
Date: 18 Nov 13 - 11:22 AM

I'm writing to share this link about a post on "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" that I've just published on my cultural blog: http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-real-history-of-song-pick-bale-of.html

Here's my introduction to that post:
"Pick A Bale Of Cotton" (PABOC) is a song of African American origin whose lyrics have become quite controversial since at least the last part of the 20th century.

Hyperlinks to some online discussions about the controversial nature of "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" [since at least the late 20th century] are provided in this post. However, unlike most online blogs & articles about "Pick A Bale Of Cotton", this post focuses on the history of that song, with particular attention to documentation of pre-Lead Belly citations & performances of this song."
-snip-
Selected comments from this thread and from another Mudcat thread on PABOC are included in that post, along with citations and hyperlinks.

Thank you.

Azizi Powell


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pick a Bale of Cotton
From: Azizi
Date: 18 Nov 13 - 11:41 AM

Here are two of my comments from that post:

It appears that John Lomax considered the inclusion of the word "massa" in 'Iron Head' Baker's and 'Clear Rocks' Platts' version of "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" to be enough evidence to support his assertion that "PABOC" was sung by Black people during slavery while they were picking cotton or at other times. However, no folklorist has found documentation of "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" being sung during United States slavery. I wonder if Iron Head Baker & Clear Rocks Platt used the word "massa" in their rendition of "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" to veil the fact that they actually were referring to their prison overseers.

**

Given that so much of the toxicity that surrounds the song "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" particularly when it is sung by young school children is because of the word "cotton", I wonder if anyone has ever taught this song with the substitute words "Pick a bunch of flowers".

The song would still be easy to learn & sing for children. The tempo and accompanying movemets that young children love would be retained, but singing that song that way removes its controversial connection to Black slavery, which is widely-and I think erroneously thought to be the song's source.

Even if that easy fix were adopted, I still think that Lead Belly's version of "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" and other's versions of that song including Iron Head Baker's & Clear Rock Platt's version should be introduced to older children. teens, and adult for those song's historical, sociological, and musicial content.

Azizi Powell


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