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Lyr Req: Who Likes Gravy on Their Taters?

Matthew Edwards 15 Jul 09 - 06:13 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 15 Jul 09 - 10:31 PM
Matthew Edwards 19 Jul 09 - 08:31 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 19 Jul 09 - 01:05 PM
Jim Dixon 23 Jul 09 - 11:29 AM
Matthew Edwards 26 Jul 09 - 11:24 AM
Jim Dixon 26 Jul 09 - 12:56 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 26 Jul 09 - 01:29 PM
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Subject: Lyr Req: Who Likes Gravy on Their Taters?
From: Matthew Edwards
Date: 15 Jul 09 - 06:13 PM

I've recently discovered a 1926 description of the black Liverpool street entertainer also known as Seth Davy which recalls him singing the following "guttural ditty":-

Who like gravy on their taters?
Who likes taters in a tin?
Taters in a tin, enough to make a n****r grin;
Who likes gravy on their taters?


The only reference I can find for this song is from an article in the New York Times of Sept 9 1866 on 'Popular Songs' most of which were published in England. This gives the first verse of "Sydney's great song" from "Fortey's edition of new and popular songs":-

WHO LIKES GRAVY ON THEIR TATERS?

"Dere was a man in Virginny,
And Steben was his name
Was wedlocked, had two piccanini,
And was fader ob de same.
Move along, Steben, ole son,
One of the commentators;
His argument it was dis one,
Who like gravy on their taters?
             Move along, Steben etc"


This is probably a song by the music hall singer and lyricist Harry Sydney (1825-1870) but it isn't listed by Kilgarriff. The printer is probably WS Fortey of Seven Dials, London, active between 1858 and 1885, but I can't find the song in the Bodleian online archives.

The song by Sydney is clearly a typical minstrel song, using the usual caricatures of African American language and culture in an apparent satire on Biblical textual commentators, but I wonder if there is any underlying African American folk lyric which is reflected in the song which turned up in Liverpool? Does it turn up in any 1860's songsters?

Matthew Edwards


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Who Likes Gravy on Their Taters?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 15 Jul 09 - 10:31 PM

No luck finding a Fortey compilation or the song.

Fortey printed a number of minstrel songs on song sheets, very rare today with the few survivors selling for $100 and up.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Who Likes Gravy on Their Taters?
From: Matthew Edwards
Date: 19 Jul 09 - 08:31 AM

No other signs of the song?

The song attributed to Sydney can be found New York Times, Wed Sep 9 1866, page 2. As I missed a word in the 5th line above here is the corrected verse

WHO LIKES GRAVY ON THEIR TATERS?

"Dere was a man in Virginny,
And Steben was his name
Was wedlocked, had two piccanini,
And was fader ob de same.
Move along, Steben, artful ole son,
One of the commentators;
His argument it was dis one,
Who likes gravy on their taters?
             Move along, Steben etc"


Frank Shaw quotes these following lines in his 1969 book You Know Me Anty Nelly? Liverpool Children's Rhymes, but without any further comment, so I don't know if they were still current in Liverpool in the 1960's:

Who likes gravy on his taters,
Who likes gravy in his tin?
    Taters in a tin.
    Enough to make you grin.
Who likes gravy on his taters?"


It looks to me as if the song by Sydney is simply referencing what could be an older rhyme or phrase about "gravy and taters".

The line "Move along Steben", might also be a link to the song "Come Back Steben" sung by the great African American dancer, William Henry Lane, known as Juba.

I suppose what I'm trying to explore here is whether the these lines, which are associated with Seth Davy as well as the better-known "Come Day, Go Day", are just derivations of old minstrel songs, or whether they might have a basis in actual African American folk songs. This could help to "place" the elusive figure of Seth Davy himself.

Matthew Edwards


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Who Likes Gravy on Their Taters?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 19 Jul 09 - 01:05 PM

I have checked (I hope carefully) the issues of Jour. American Folklore, 1888-1931, without finding that verse or a possible precursor. I haven't checked later volumes.
Not in Talley, White, Odum and Johnson or Scarborough.

The song in its form is music hall-minstrel.

No far no evidence of a prior song, but these little songs were not much collected.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Who Likes Gravy on Their Taters?
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 23 Jul 09 - 11:29 AM

Google Books indicates that this quote:

"Who likes gravy on dar taters, Repeat.
Say dem greasy words ober agin.
Ole Guinea nigger glutton,
Eat a whole leg ob mutton,
Eye shine like pewter button,...,"

can be found in Christy's and White's Ethiopian Melodies, by George N Christy and Charles White (Philadelphia: T.B. Peterson & Brothers, 1854), page 40. This book can be found in several university libraries. This is a book of some 200 songs.

Unfortunately, I can't find images online.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Who Likes Gravy on Their Taters?
From: Matthew Edwards
Date: 26 Jul 09 - 11:24 AM

Thanks Jim for that contribution, which I missed while the Mudcat was down.

I can't find the Ethiopian Melodies in any UK library in the COPAC catalogue.

WS Fortey published a number of songsters, most of which are undated; possibly their American Songster might contain the Move Along Steben song quoted by the New York Times.

There are oral history accounts recalling the Scotland Road area of Liverpool around 1900 which mention an old coloured gentleman who entertained the local children with his dancing dolls, and sang "negro" songs and told stories about his days as a slave. I don't know what the songs or stories were, apart from these fragments of Come Day, Go Day and Who Likes Gravy on their Taters?. I'm curious as to whether the lines are just part of the blackface minstrel repertoire, or whether there are deeper associations with African American folk culture.

There is an intriguing song in the story 'According to how the drop falls' in Joel Chandler Harris's 1892 book Uncle Remus and his Friends, which I think is related to the lines I'm looking for.

Virginny cut, chaw terbacker,
N****r dance ter merlatter;
Hoe de corn, dig er tater,
Plant terbacker, 't is no matter.

Mix de meal, fry de batter,
N****r dance ter merlatter;
Warm de cake in er platter,
Fry um in de cooney fat.

Grab er tater out de ash,
N****r dance ter merlatter;
Possum meat dar in der platter,
Shoo! he make de n****r fatter.


Matthew Edwards


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Who Likes Gravy on Their Taters?
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 26 Jul 09 - 12:56 PM

I have teased a bit more information from the Google Books entry for Christy's and White's Ethiopian Melodies. The text below contains some obvious typos (or scannos, to use a more accurate term) but I have left them as-is because you might need them that way if you want to do your own searching.


... by WHIM'S band of Serenades.
Words published bj permission of FIRTH, POND & Co., No. 1 Franklin Square NY, publishers of the music.
Sung by White's Band of Serenaden at the Melodeon, 53 Bowery, NY

Ole Dandy Cox on de big boss, Repeat.
All three four shoes on one foot.
Ruffle shirt wid standin' collar,
Fit so tight he couldn't swaller,
All de time de nigger holler,
Go way wid your pewter dollar,
Ah 1 ah 1 de google gollar.
Walk, Elam Moore,
Walk, Elam Moore,
Walk, Elam Moore, an' I'll be your friend,

Got long ways to go, an' I hasn't got a red cent Repeat.
Sheep meat is too good for niggers, Repeat.
Hog meat I gets a plenty.
Ole massa kill de barrow.
Crack de bones — git de marrow,
Gib de nigger tail an' bristle,
Good to make de nigger whistle,
High up upon de tribble.
Walk, Elam Moore, itc. Repeat.

Who likes gravy on dar taters, Repeat.
Say dem greasy words ober agin.
Ole Guinea nigger glutton,
Eat a whole leg ob mutton,
Eye shine like pewter button,
(rwine de hog neck or nottin,
Nebber stop to pay de footin.
Walk, Elam Moore, Ac. Repeat.

Ole hen flew ober de garden, Repeat.
Tail too short fur, to fly high.
Set sick a week a hatchin',
Wasn't dat a half a patchin',
Little chicken 'gin to fedder,
All three both togedder,
Like a piece ob upper leadder.
Walk. Elam Moore, Ac.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Who Likes Gravy on Their Taters?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 26 Jul 09 - 01:29 PM

A few lines from the story "According to How the Drop Falls," which contains the song quoted by Edwards, above:

".......what I been tellin' you 'bout, he got his taters in de ashes en his possum in de skillet, he sot dar en sing de song, en watch em all cook. Atter so long a time dey got done, en he pull de taters out'n de embers en push de skillet 'way fum de fier. He 'low ter hisse'f, he did, dat col' possum is better'n hot possum, dough bofe un um is good nuff fer anybody. So he say he'll des let it set dar en cool, en soak in de gravy. ......."

Sweet potatoes baked and served along side of and with the gravy of the cooked meat, are one of the great culinary treats of southern cuisine.

I wish I had recordings of a sister-in-law, once at U. North Carolina, raised on a central Georgia cotton farm, who was expert in dialects of Georgia, both black and white, who told not only many of the stories preserved in Harris' books, but others from various Georgia sources. The stories are best when heard spoken aloud.


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