Most of us know this lyric as a shout song from Leadbelly. Till now its antecedents have been obscure. But here's its story, based on my research.
In the year 1893 "America's Phenomenal Contralto" appeared on the stage with a new hit: "Can't Lose Me, Charlie." Its composer was the prolific Harry S. Miller, who in that same year had a durable hit with the "coon song" novelty "The Cat Came Back."
(I apologize for the use of "coon" but it was a big piece of American song history in the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century.)
According to his writeup on Wikipedia, Miller, born and raised in Pennsylvania, frequently wrote using a Georgia black accent and was influential in the "coon song" craze, credited with popularizing "honey, "baby," and the phrase "Got trouble of my own" in African-American English, or at least its stage equivalent.
By the way, Wikipedia evidently thinks Miller's "Can't Lose Me, Charlie" is lost. However, it survived, thank goodness, in the Brown University Afro-American Sheet Music collection.
So, thanks to that collection, here's what Julie Mackey's theater audiences were hearing in 1893.
Note: to spare feelings, yet convey the song, the "N" word is abbreviated. The dialect is preserved as written by Miller.
CAN'T LOSE ME, CHARLIE
Words and music by Harry S. Miller.
Chicago: Will Rossiter, 1893.
1. I got a heap of trouble, now, of late—
Got a little yaller girl I can't shake:
She cost me 'bout a bar'l of money,
Always turns up and says, "Ma honey!"
CHORUS: Ez yer can't lose me, Charlie; 'deed yer can't lose me, Charlie;
Try in eb'ry manner for to shake yer little Hanner. [This line changes in every repetition.]
Um, um, um* says yer baby, [*Equivalent of today's "Unh-unh-unh]
And yer can't lose me, 'deed yer can't.
2. I was at a little party, down de way;
De center of attraction, I was gay.
All de girls I soon was hugging,
Den comes a yell and someone shoving.
2nd LINE IN CHORUS:
Knowed yer was a n—r ez would like to cut a figure.
3. While a-down at Widow Johnson, here, one night,
Doing a little courting, "out of sight,"
Down on my knees my love was telling,
My old girl on de outside yelling:
... B'lieve yer would deceive me, and I'll fool yer; yes, indeed-ee. ...
4. I had a little money, and all good stuff,
Done gone an' played de races, didn't have 'nuff;
I got a tip and de tip did win,
How dat girl did yell when I cashed in
... Knowed yer was a winner, buy me chicken for me dinner. ...
5. One day while on de railroad, train coming fast,
Stepped upon de other track, let go past;
'Nother train come on, 'way went flying;
When I come down dat girl was crying—
...Love yer same as ever, and I'll never leave yer, never! ...
6. One time did go a-rowing—de girl went, too;
When she stepped into the boat, bottom broke through,
Down in de ribber she fast was sinking,
Grabbed me quickly and says, "I'se thinking,"—
... Might a-think it funny, but I'll bet you any money. ...
7. Down around de corner where de coons play thick,
Shouting in de sunshine, "Come up, big Dick,"
There's where I lose all of my good money,
When I go broke she says so funny—
... Try and roll a seben an' yer neber come "a leben." ...
This is the song Leadbelly heard (or maybe he heard a version of it many times removed), and used the "hook" from in his
You can't lose-a me Charlie,
You can't lose-a me, boy.
Since the DT apparently doesn't include the Leadbelly song, I'll add the text of that in my next message. Bob