The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #164243   Message #3928160
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
31-May-18 - 04:59 AM
Thread Name: Cotton screwing songs
Subject: Cotton screwing songs
I'm working on cotton screwing songs. My contention is that cotton screwing songs formed an _appreciably distinct_ repertoire. Let me say here that I think the broad assertion that any song could be put to a task is nonsense and even the extent of overlap between items of chanty repertoire between different tasks is greatly exaggerated by commentators after a certain point. It IS true that songs were not all rigidly fixed to a particular task, but this does not mean that it was random. I assert that there is a rhyme and reason to what chanties fit what tasks, with the main determining factor being form, rhythm, and meter. In order to see that, one has to consider the songs' musical aspects (and know the work actions, too).

Believing this to be the case, part of what identifies cotton screwing songs, in my opinion, is based on the musical form. Another part is indeed the happenstance of what was current/popular. I think that if we cross reference that songs alleged to be associated with cotton screwing and compare their musical traits we can see patterns emerge... and with it, a body of "cotton screwing songs" (loosely) emerges.

Even if one takes issue with my stated opinions or method, I hope one can still agree it's worthwhile to put all this cotton stuff in one place to focus on it and see what we might see!

I'm going to start by offering some songs that were ascribed to the *shipboard* chanty repertoire (i.e. avoiding, at the moment those specifically ascribed to cotton screwing) which, in documented texts, make such notable (and consistent) reference to cotton screwing that one can conjecture they were shared with or derived from the cotton screwing environment.

"My Dollar and a Half a Day (Lowlands)"

A dollar a day is a Hoosier’s pay,
Lowlands, lowlands, a-way, my John,
Yes, a dollar a day is a Hoosier’s pay,
My dollar and a half a day.

O was you ever in Mobile Bay,
A screwing cotton by the day?
(Whall 1913)

I’m bound away, I heard him say,
My lowlands away, my John;
A dollar and a half is a oozer’s [hoosier’s] pay,
                A dollar and a half a day.
(Sharp 1914)

"Roll the Cotton Down"

Oh, away down South where I was born,
Oh, roll the cotton down,
Away down South where I was born,
Oh, roll the cotton down.

A dollar a day is the white man’s pay,
Oh, a dollar a day is the white man’s pay,

I thought I heard our old man say. [Repeat]

We’re homeward bound to Mobile Bay. [Repeat]
(Leighton Robinson, 1951)

O have you been in New Orleans!
Roll the cotton down!
O-O-O, rolling cotton day by day
O roll the cotton down!

It’s there I worked on the old levee,
A-screwing cotton by the day
(Carpenter 1938)

"Long Time Ago"

Way down South where I was born,
Way ay ay yah,
I’ve picked the cotton and hoed the corn,
Oh a long time ago.

In the good old State of Alabam’ ,
So I’ve packed my bag, and I’m going away,

When I was young and in my prime,
Oh, I served my time in the Black Ball Line.

I’m going away to Mobile Bay,
Where they screw, the cotton by the day.

Five dollars a day’s a white man’s pay,
And a dollar and a half is a black man’s pay.

When the ship is loaded, I’m going to sea,
For a sailor’s life is the life for me
(Richard Maitland, 1951)


I wish I were in old Mobile Bay,
Hooray, Santa Ana.
A-screwing cotton this blessed day.
All along the plains of Mexico.

Though Santa Ana has gained the day
A dollar a day is a nigger’s pay.

But seven dollars is a white man’s pay
For screwing cotton ten hours a day.
(Buryeson 1909)

"Hilo My Ranzo Way"

I'm Ranzo Jim from the Southern cotton growing belt
                    To me way, hay, oh hi o!
De sun am so hot dat you'd think a man would melt
                    And sing, Hilo, my Ranzo way

We picked all de cotton an’ threw it in de basket,
An’ de boss said ‘twas g’wine far up de Naragasket.

So I came right along into old Mobile Bay,
Where de nigga’s all work in de cool ob de day.

A-screwin’ cotton in de big ship’s hol’,
“Dat’s all I’d have to do,” so I was tol’.

De work was so hard dat I near done broke my back;
So dis nigga’ wants a job befo’ he gets de sack.

So I’d like to sail on a little pleasure trip,
Where de work ain’t so hard, on a Yankee sailing ship.
(Harlow 1962 - from the singing of a stevedore in 1878)

"Clear the Track" / "Good Morning Ladies All"

Was you ever in Mobile Bay?
                A hay! a hue! Ain’t you most done?
A-screwing cotton by the day?
                A hay! a hue! Ain’t you most done?
Oh, yes, I’ve been in Mobile Bay
A-screwing cotton by the day;
So clear the track, let the bullgine run,
With a rig-a-jig-jig and a ha-ha-ha,
Good morning ladies all!
(Eckstorm and Smythe 1927)