The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #18902 Message #1889524
Posted By: NOMADMan
20-Nov-06 - 09:29 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: My Pretty Quadroon
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: My Pretty Quadroon
This song has quite an interesting history. Yes it does have its origins in the nineteenth century.
Here are excerpts from the booklet notes from the Sons of the Pioneers LP compilation issued by the John Edwards Memorial Foundation, formerly of the Folklore & Mythology Center of UCLA:
"'My Pretty Quadroon' was originally written by Mrs. Mary Dodge and published by H. M. Higgins in Chicago in 1863. The original story told of a slave whose master was so kind to him he scarcely had a wish to be free; in his kindness, master 'begrudged me my pretty wild flower, Cola (sic), my pretty quadroon.' But then, for reasons only suggested in the original lyrics, master turned against his slave and sold him to a more cruel master, at whose hands he suffered many lashings--but, more important, he was now separated from his pretty Cola. In the last verse the slave is planning suicide by plunging in the 'dark muddy stream,' when he hears on the northern breeze the sounds of the bugle and drums of the Northern troops, and cries out, 'O God, can it be the glad day--the day of deliverance has come!'
When our good friend Nat Vincent was a youngster in St. Louis around the turn of the century, his grandmother, who had been reared on a plantation in Kentucky, used to sing fragments of 'My Pretty Quadroon' to him. The song stuck in his memory for years afterward, until 1930 when, in the midst of his prolific career as a songwriter, he decided to write a new version from the few fragments he could recall. The new piece was sung in the Bette Davis motion picture 'Jezebel,' and in the early 1930's several recordings were made, best selling of which was one by Wayne King, 'The Waltz King.'
The story according to Nat Vincent's version is quite different; in the 1930 hit there is no suggestion of the young slave being sold down the river; rather, Cora (as she is now named) is suddenly taken ill and dies--or, in the words of Vincent and Howard, 'The grim reaper knocked on my door and took Cora, my pretty quadroon.' The slave pines away and is about to die as the final notes of the song fade away. The rendition sung by Bob Nolan and the Pioneers is a slightly shortened version of Nat Vincent's recomposition."
So there you have it. The song was written twice by two different people almost 70 years apart, the two versions telling similar, but quite different stories, with the earlier version apparently telling a much deeper, more complex tale.
Incidental note: the fragment of the song sung by a group of slaves in the Bette Davis movie consists only of the chorus:
Oh my pretty quadrron
My flower that faded too soon
My heart's like the strings on my banjo
All broke for my pretty quadroon
repeated several times over.
Also, this is one of those delightful Hollywood anachronisms. It is mentioned in the movie that the action is taking place in 1852. The song, as noted above, was not written until 1863.
The setting in the movie is a plantation in Louisiana, but narrator in the song mentions only Kentucky.