The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126347   Message #2821305
Posted By: Lighter
25-Jan-10 - 03:48 PM
Thread Name: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Subject: RE: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Well, Q and Charley, I've rethought and investigated the matter. I wonder how many shantymen were actually thinking of Brazil as they sang the song?

Obviously some. Tayluer was one of them, and so was Hugill, but they seem not to have been thinking of the same place.

Others had different ideas. Hjalmar Rutzebeck, for example. His version begins, "In Texas I met with a beautiful gal." Regardless of the porigin of his version, the "Rio" of the original made him think of Texas. Surely he was not unique in this.

Q is undoubtedly correct that Rio Grande do Norte (or "del Nord" as H. has it) is a more likely candidate than do Sul: it's on the extreme NE corner of Brazil. But H. links the shanty to do Sul and explicitly rejects do Norte. Evidently do Sul was the Rio *he* was thinking of.

The couplet about "Portuguee gals" is the only element in the song that connecting it to Brazil. Without it, it could be any Rio Grande.

And not all versions include the couplet.

Of nineteen *independently* collected texts of "Away, Rio!" (almost as many as have been in print, I'd say) I've been able to look at, the line about Portuguese girls appears in just *two.* (I didn't count one- or two-stanza fragments as "texts." I found several of these, but none of them included a reference to Portuguese girls or Brazil.) Doerflinger mentions the line, but he doesn' say that Tayluer sang it.

There is no way to know whether the "Portuguee" couplet was part of the original song or a later invention.

Several texts involve a milkmaid, one is a version of "The Bold Princess Royal," etc. With that degree of fluidity, one might argue almost anything about the song's origin. Some versions are bound to "Rio Grande," suggesting a Brazilian state, but just as many are bound to "the" Rio Grande, suggesting a river.

The coffee trade may well have had something to do with the development of the song in any case. It looks as though there was a huge increase in American imports of Brazilian coffee between 1835 and 1840, most of it coming into New Orleans. I don't know about hides or other imports. Whether this influenced the rise of the shanty is anybody's guess, but it makes me wonder whether an overall boom in trade around the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean in the '30s and '40s may not have helped create the "Golden Age" of shantying.

C. F. Smith seems to have been the first writer to suggest, very cautiously, that the shanty might go back to the eighteenth century.
Her sole evidence was "golden" sands.

The upshot is that "Away, Rio!" was undoubtedly not sung in the 18th Century, had nothing to do with gold, and, in the sailor's mind, did not *have* refer to either Rio Grande do Norte or do Sul.