I thought for sure this song was mid-19th century traditional, but the Traditional Ballad Index dates it to 1928. Can that be true?
Seven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent MeatDESCRIPTION: The cotton farmer complains about dreadful prices; with "Seven cent cotton and forty cent meat, How in the world can a poor man eat?" With everything he has wearing out, replacements are too expensive. (He sees improvements under Roosevelt)
AUTHOR: Bob Miller & Emma Dermer
EARLIEST DATE: 1928 (recording, Bob Ferguson)
KEYWORDS: poverty hardtimes food clothes farming political money
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Botkin-AmFolklr, pp. 877-878, "Seven-Cent Cotton and Forty-Cent Meat" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 117, "Seven Cent Cotton And Forty Cent Meat" (1 text)
Loren H. Abram, "Eleven Cent Cotton -- Forty Cent Meat" (Supertone 2774, c. 1932; rec. 1931)
Vernon Dalhart, "Eleven Cent Cotton" (Victor V-40050, 1929; Bluebird B-8406, 1940) (Harmony 821-H [as Mack Allen], 1929; rec. 1928) (Edison N-20001, 1929)
Bob Ferguson, "Eleven Cent Cotton, Forty Cent Meat, pts. 1 & 2" (Columbia 15297-D, 1928)
Bob Miller, "'Leven Cent Cotton And Forty Cent Meat" (Radiex 5044, c. 1929); "Eleven Cent Cotton And Forty Cent Meat" (Okeh 45475, 1930)
Carson Robison, "'Leven Cent Cotton, Forty Cent Meat" (Champion 15746, 1929) (Pathe Actuelle 32438/Cameo 9092 [both as Carson Robison's Trio], 1929)
Pete Seeger, "Seven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat" (on PeteSeeger13, AmHist1)
Hank Smith [pseud. for Al Bernard] "Eleven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat" (Vocalion 5318, 1929)
cf. "The Flies Are On the Tummits" (theme of poor living for farmers)
NOTES: The 1928 recording by Bob Ferguson (recorded in August of that year) might seem to throw doubt on the authorship claim of Bob Miller. But his recording is on Radiex, part of the Grey Gull family of records, and dating those records is notoriously difficult and uncertain. For the moment, though, I've assigned the Earliest Date to the Ferguson recording, as it's the earliest for which we have unambiguous information.
Also, there's some ambiguity about Miller's 1930 OKeh recording; one source lists the title as "Four Cent Tobacco and Forty Cent Meat.
Interesting that most of these recordings appeared in 1928-1929, just *before* the stock market crash that most urbanites see as the beginning of the Great Depression. But times had been hard on the farms for several years before then. - PJS
And, of course, demand for recordings fell dramatically after the crash, so nobody was producing new versions.
Incidentally, low cotton prices were not a new phenomenon, and neither were wild price fluctuations. According to Allan Nevins, The Ordeal of the Union: Fruits of Manifest Destiny 1847-1852 [volume I of The Ordeal of the Union] (Scribners, 1947), p. 242, cotton in 1845 sold in the American south for sixteen cents a pound. By 1848, when the total production was half again as large, the price dropped to a mere four and a half cents a pound.
It is interesting to see this song become so popular in folk circles, because Bob Miller was a Tin Pan Alley songwriter. According to Doug deNatale and Glenn Hinson, "The Southern Textile Song Tradition Reconsidered," published in Archie Green, editor, Songs about Work: Essays in Occupational Culture for Richard A. Reuss, Folklore Institute, Indiana University, 1993, p. 81, his other occupation songs were generally not accepted by the fok. - RBW
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