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Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?

DigiTrad:
BLUE-TAIL FLY
JIM CRACK CORN


Related threads:
Help: Jimmy Crack Corn (42)
(origins) Origin: Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don't Care (32)
Jimmy Crack Corn - Man or Myth (89)
Origins: Blue Tail Fly (Jimmy Crack Corn) (42)
What was Jimmie doing? (48)
cracking more corn (5)
Lyr Req: Blue Tail Fly/Jimmy Crack Corn (16)
Thoughts on 'The Blue-tail Fly' (31)


Joybell 17 Jul 09 - 09:45 PM
Songster Bob 17 Jul 09 - 10:50 PM
Joybell 17 Jul 09 - 11:31 PM
autoharper 18 Jul 09 - 07:46 AM
catspaw49 18 Jul 09 - 08:36 AM
Joybell 18 Jul 09 - 07:09 PM
Joybell 18 Jul 09 - 09:47 PM
Joybell 18 Jul 09 - 10:31 PM
robotgirl 19 Jul 09 - 12:13 AM
Joybell 19 Jul 09 - 01:46 AM
autoharper 19 Jul 09 - 08:20 AM
Joybell 20 Jul 09 - 12:11 AM
Joybell 26 Jul 09 - 11:49 PM
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Subject: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: Joybell
Date: 17 Jul 09 - 09:45 PM

Sorry to start another thread on the subject of "The Blue-tailed Fly" but it will only get buried if I don't. Please may I ask this one question on this thread.

Which "Blue-tailed Fly" was the favourite of Abraham Lincoln?

"The Blue-tailed Fly" is in print in 1846 from 2 publishers. Oliver Ditson in Boston and F. D. Benteen in Baltimore.
The main difference in the words is the fact that only the Benteen version has the familiar chorus -- "Jimmy rack corn etc."

I now know that the performer I'm studying sang the other version. The Oliver Ditson one with a refrain - "an' cratch 'im with a briar too." The tune is quite different -- minor key -- discordant. This all fits with my man. He performed this song as a comic song-and-dance routine. (Although I have no copy of the tune he used)

Thing is -- I've come upon references -- from Aus and NZ -- to the song he sang being called, "The buzzing song". That is the name Lincoln used for his favourite version.

My man was in the right place, at the right time, associating with the right people, when this song was first printed.

Might be coincidence of course -- but does anyone actually know which one Lincoln heard and liked?
Cheers, Joy


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: Songster Bob
Date: 17 Jul 09 - 10:50 PM

No. However, the "scratch 'im wid a briar, too" was the minstrel show version, with a banjo phrase between each line as sung, and, since Lincoln supposedly played "The buzzing song" on harmonica, my guess is that the "Jim Crack Corn" tune is more likely. The other is a modal tune, after all, and less likely to fit on a diatonic-scale harmonica. Yes, I know you can play 'em that way (start on the D note on a C harp, for instance), but it's tricky and not so tuneful.

My guess is it was the Jim-Crack version Lincoln played. Just a guess, but a "larned" one, I swan.

Bob


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: Joybell
Date: 17 Jul 09 - 11:31 PM

(Don't know why my "s" is missing twice up there)

Ah! thanks, Bob. That makes sense. So that's what that phrase after each line is -- a banjo line.
My man played banjo, but his wife also played piano to accompany him.

The "Jim/Jimmy Crack Corn" version is the more likely one, I agree. It is more tuneful -- same as "Early in the Morning" the words of which are sometimes mixed up with it.

Problem is I can't actually find a reference to "Jim crack corn" in connection with Lincoln. If the early minstrels were singing the Oliver Ditson version -- just who WAS singing the other one?
Cheers, Joy


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: autoharper
Date: 18 Jul 09 - 07:46 AM

Bob: What is your source of information that Abraham Lincoln played "Blue Tail Fly/Jim Crack Corn" on the harmonica? According to Hohner Harmonicas, they began selling harmonicas in the USA in around 1860. (There is a story that Lincoln told, about how he had a harmonica in his pocket at the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, though this is historically unlikely.)

-Adam Miller


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: catspaw49
Date: 18 Jul 09 - 08:36 AM

LMAO.......It is threads like this one that make me love the 'Cat. Nowhere else can you find a single soul who would possibly give a turkey about which version of BTF that Lincoln played or that we may be confronted with a serious historic inaccuracy in the world history of harmonicas.......and we have that all in ONE thread!!!


Spaw


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: Joybell
Date: 18 Jul 09 - 07:09 PM

Spaw, It's what I love about the 'Cat too.
This single soul has been putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. For over 10 years I've been trying to find pieces that fit. It all began with "Billy Barlow" -- all of them. Hundreds there were. I finally wrote it all up and although people keep finding more of him for me -- and I'm very grateful -- I'm satisfied that I have a pretty good picture of him/them.
I've learned a lot about 19th century performers in the meantime and one of them caught my attention. Now I'm getting together a picture of him.
Historical inaccuracy is what started me off, actually.
Fun.
Cheers, Joy


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: Joybell
Date: 18 Jul 09 - 09:47 PM

How can that be, Adam. Wasn't he "Honest Abe"?
:-)
Joy


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: Joybell
Date: 18 Jul 09 - 10:31 PM

After a bit more searching I believe it was the Oliver Ditson version called also "Jim Crack Corn" that Lincoln liked. I say this because the Virginia Minstrels played for him and that's the version they sang. Where my man fits into all this -- I still just don't know exactly. He associated with The Virginia Minstrels about the time of their formation.
Neither version has an author -- unusual at this time. Could it be that my man wrote the Benteen version? He always claimed the song "The Blue-tail Fly as "his song". Did the Virginia Minstrels add a chorus and change the tune? Are both versions written by the same author who abandoned one of them to make the other his performance piece?
Anyway here I go. A considered opinion:
I believe minstrel - Robert "Billy" Barlow (aka The Inimitable Barlow, American Barlow, Australian Barlow, The Inimitable Mr Barlow)
wrote the song "De Blue Tail Fly". The one published by Oliver Ditson in 1846.

Cheers, Joy


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: robotgirl
Date: 19 Jul 09 - 12:13 AM

Well done, Joy!! I know how hard and long you have been working on this and how exciting the journey of discovery has been. I have been very aware in all my researching that a lot of "facts" you find in print are either not referenced, or are based on another book that also isn't referenced. I think with this particular song there is a great chance that a lot of times that Lincoln is linked to the "other" version is that the linker has just assumed it was that song version.

In The Real Lincoln By Jesse William Weik and Michael Burlingame (originally published in 1922) they say that "Mr Lincoln's love of joking, for which he became famous in the latter days of his life, was quite as marked in the earlier period". His best friend when he was on the law circuit was Ward H. Lamon, "a mediocre lawyer" known to his friends as 'Hill'. When they were together with friends and Hill had had enough to drink, Lincoln would say (according to Weik and Burlingame):""Now Hill, let us have some music' whereupon Lamon would respond by rendering the plaintive strains of 'The Blue-Tailed Fly' or 'Cousin Sally Downard'or some other ballad of equal interest but of less propriety."

The time of the above singing would have been during Lamon's professional association with Lincoln which started in 1852, when he became Lincoln's law partner in Danville Illinois (where the singing is said to have taken place) and 1857 when their partnership in law ceased.(Wikipedia)

This is all very interesting. It isn't referenced as far as I can tell. It intimates that Lincoln had a sense of humour early in his life and again that the Blue-Tailed Fly was well known to him when he was on the law circuit (ie before he became President). Also the use of the word "plaintive" with the song.. suggests a sad song but who knows? Are they jumping to conclusions too?

keep searching Joy!

signed
your partner in crime


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: Joybell
Date: 19 Jul 09 - 01:46 AM

Oh my dear-partner-in-crime -- robotgirl from Wonderland -- Thank you. He's as much your Boy as mine. We're not done yet are we? I just hope I live long enough to find his picture and the missing pieces.
And I really want to write that book.
Cheers, Joy


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: autoharper
Date: 19 Jul 09 - 08:20 AM

A few years ago I did a lot of research while writing the liner notes to Sam Hinton's excellent "Master of the Solo Diatonic Harmonica" CD. That's when I read this often repeated story:

"Indeed the popularity of the instrument had even extended as far as the White House. During the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, when worried friends told Lincoln that Stephen Douglas was bringing along a big brass band, Lincoln drew a harmonica from his pocket and grinned, "the harmonica will do for me!"

This made me wonder if the Hohner company might have imported harmonicas to the USA as early as 1858. I continue to seek documentation of this.

Someone named Bill Otten posted this on the harmonica list on 2/13/09. Bill's date of 1868 for the importation of Hohner products to the USA does not seem correct, as there is some documentation of the popularity of the newly imported harmonica among Civil War soldiers of both the Union and Confederate armies.

Bill wrote "Winslow wrote that others had debunked the idea that Abe Lincoln smoked "sweet hemp" and that he couldn't have played a Hohner since they weren't imported until 1868, fours years AFTER Lincoln was already dead. This quote from the Huffington Post states ""Two of my favorite things are sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe of sweet hemp, and playing my Hohner harmonica." - Abraham Lincoln (from a letter written by Lincoln during his presidency to the head of the Hohner Harmonica Company in Germany). Hohner was making harmonicas as early as 1857, and could easily have supplied a harmonica to Lincoln as a gift during his presidency. As to the hemp, Lincoln may WELL have used it often. He was easily a depressive person, and historians note often of his gloominess. The hemp may have been an escape. After a breakup with his eventual wife Mary Todd, he wrote: "I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.

"Now then, having said all that, Abe was not known to be a smoker. So whether he made an exception for hemp is a question. The original quote about his letter stated he wrote the letter in 1855, which could not be right because Hohner wasn't producing harmonicas then, and Abe wasn't President yet either. Hohner historians, the curator of the Hohner museum, state no letter from Lincoln was ever posted on the walls of the museum. So the two issues will probably remain myth, remain unresolved and lost in history.

I have read a lot of books about Lincoln. Some 15,000 have been published since his death. It's pretty clear that his earliest biographer (and former law partner) Mr. Herndon, made certain conclusions and assertions that are not supported by historical events (my favorite being that Lincoln's early mental collapse was related to the death of Ann Rutledge, a girl he didn't know very well). I have discovered that even my beloved Carl Sandburg was a careless biographer when it came to the subject of Lincoln.

-Adam Miller


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: Joybell
Date: 20 Jul 09 - 12:11 AM

Thank you Adam, for sharing your information. Interesting to think that the man you study probably met the man I'm studying. Also Lincoln did meet several other manifestations of "Billy Barlow" -- Sam Cowell, George Coppin, Jack Reeve (I think)....
Nice to have you call by.
Cheers, Joy


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Subject: RE: Which fly was Lincoln's 'Buzzing song'?
From: Joybell
Date: 26 Jul 09 - 11:49 PM

Well we now have a good description of how Barlow did his "Blue-tailed Fly"   Quite an act it was. Still no sign of a printed copy with Barlow's name on it. But no early version with anyone else's name, as author, either.
Cheers, Joy


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