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Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?

01 Oct 03 - 02:34 PM (#1027403)
Subject: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Mrrzy

This is about the song in the version by Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, which isn't in the DT but a thread on that band has a link to a site with the words (I'll make a blicky when I have more time). There is one verse that goes Take me home to the place where my little ones sleep / AND OLE MASSA LIES BURIED NEARBY / O'er the graves of my loved ones I long for to weep / And among them to rest when I die... does that make it a song about an escaped slave longing for his old master? Is that ridiculous? I'm wondering mostly if this one should go in the bin with that lullaby, which is so lovely, but which is actually a lament by a slave who isn't allowed to be with her own baby, but only take care of her owner's. Thanks, all.

01 Oct 03 - 02:36 PM (#1027407)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Mrrzy

Voici blicky: lyrics

01 Oct 03 - 02:37 PM (#1027409)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: GUEST,MMario

I think it means that oftimes the dead of a plantation - white, black, slave, indentured or free; were all buried in the same cemetary - so the dead babies and the dead master were buried near each other.

doubt it is necessary to read much more then that into it.

01 Oct 03 - 02:37 PM (#1027410)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: RangerSteve

Just change the word Massa to something else, just like everyone else does. There are plenty of old songs with "massa" that have had the offending word deleted. There's no sense in throwing out an otherwise perfectly good song because of one word.

01 Oct 03 - 02:46 PM (#1027417)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: wysiwyg

I think it's a useful expression of irony.


01 Oct 03 - 03:14 PM (#1027436)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Amos

What's wrong with the word? Sure, it doesn't apply to anything today but neither does "buggywhip" or "blacksmith", for most people, or "cat o' nine tails". Does that mean we have to go back and purge those words from our songs?

To go one step further, does the fact that we once ran (or were run in) a slave economy taking advantage of another group of people and suppressing them savagely imply that songs from that period are not to be sung? I find this hard to understand. Are we too delicate to live up to our own history and look it in the eye? Should we retreat to a dream world where such things never happened? What about murders and bank-robbings? Should we cancel the death of Laurie Foster because it is too sad? Let's not sing songs about William Kidd, because what he did really sucked also. The very thought makes me a little seasick. As for that technically challenging Golden Vanity, it is too cruel to think about. Anything with "three times around swung our gallant ship" should be deleted from memory also. Adieu to Henry Martin.

Guys, c'mon. These are folksongs from earlier periods in our history. FolkSONGS, not actions of desperate cruelty.


01 Oct 03 - 03:16 PM (#1027438)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Allan C.

Mario, I think the keyword is "nearby". I sincerely doubt that slaves shared the same graveyard as the family for whom they worked. At least I have never seen it in Virginia. Racially segregated graveyards once abounded here until rather recently.

I do think, however, that slaves often had a degree of affection for the families for whom they labored. Not always, of course; but I do believe it happened more than we might be led to beleive. Call it the Stockholm Syndrome, if you want. I don't know the reasons.

In the former Virginia state song, Carry Me Back To Old Virginia one of the offending lines was: "There's where I labored so hard for old Massa". But the song speaks wistfully of such times, more than in complaint. Still, the song was "retired" by act of legislature. Personally, I think the move was PI overkill as it may also be to change the lyrics in the song cited in this thread.

01 Oct 03 - 04:55 PM (#1027514)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: oombanjo

From one over the pond. I agree with Amos. Although we can not change the events of the past the reminders of these give us thought to change the future,and the song is sung for the songs sake, and what a lovely old song it is.

01 Oct 03 - 06:10 PM (#1027564)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

People are always trying to rewrite history. So-called political correctness has undermined our understanding of life before the 20th century, and distorted that of much of the 20th.

Some of the texts in the schools make me cringe; we make an effort with our children to counteract the distortions in them.

01 Oct 03 - 10:17 PM (#1027677)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Stewie

It is well to remember that Bland was born a free man in Flushing, Long Island, and his 'Carry Me Back ...' was from the school of northern song writers who satisfied yearnings for simplicity and/or exoticism of a highly romanticised and mythic South. Bland spent considerable time in Europe, but did he ever journey to the South? There were hundreds of such songs by Yankee writers - a popular music industry of professional writers and publishers who seldom if ever ventured south of Manhattan yet capitalised on reinforcing the idea of a romantic South. 'Sweet sunny south' is one such with its 'cot', 'evergreen shade', 'cottage', 'river's green margin', 'old Massa' etc. It dates from the 1850s. Ironically, many of these compositions took permanent root in the rural South and endured there long after they had lost favour elsewhere. However, for a time, they had widespread appeal. As Bill Malone points out: 'Whatever the bases for its appeal, notions of an unchanging, placid, yet exotic Southland with gentle manners and contented, nostalgic "servants" became a perennially enduring myth of life in the United States'. [Bill C. Malone 'Southern Music American Music' revised edition p 23].


02 Oct 03 - 12:55 AM (#1027735)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: mack/misophist

Despite the fact that Stewie's comments are as correct as it's possible to get, I must agree with Amos. My ancestors were serfs in Poland, under the closest thing Europe had to slavery. It's time to move on to something else. Sing the song as written or change it to suit. Either is 'correct'. Just don't agonize over it.

02 Oct 03 - 07:59 AM (#1027855)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Mrrzy

I think I have been sadly misunderstood. I didn't not want to sing the song, it's one of my very favorites, but I was startled to see the word Massa when I saw the words written down, I think Charlie says Mossy (I used to think it was his old cow!)... not that I wouldn't sing it, but IS it a song purportedly of a slave longing for his place of slavery or not? It was a seeking INFO question, not a Oh no I can't sing this song any more question. I still sing that aforementioned lullaby, I just know what I'm singing when I do. (I used the term PI because it is the terme du jour, I thought, not as a proscriptive, a descriptive, device. So let's everybody get off their high horses, shall we, and answer the actual question?

02 Oct 03 - 10:41 AM (#1027975)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: wysiwyg

I think I did address your question...

I think you let the audience take from it what they will. If you want to prompt them to think about it a little more deeply than they might, introduce it, if you like, with a question for them to ponder. Or share your own questions about it, VERY briefly, as if to say, "What was he THINKING?"

It's not so hard to think about a slave loving their masters while also hating their living situation..... you could think of it as a protracted Stockholm Syndrome, as with hostages who bond with the only authority figures present for various reasons that defy logic. Or you could see it as a triumph of the human heart, to be able to love in those circumstances. Or it could be the song of a black person who wants to curry favor with white listeners. Or there could be almost any "true" explanation of the song and its many layers of meaning at the time it was created.

But my point is (and was), it's NOW. People will take from it what you try to convey, and what they can grasp from within their own perspective, now. That's the job of most of us here, unless we are trying to sell ourselves as historic re-enactors teaching with song.

Personally, I like the idea that here's this black person looking forward to Massa being planted, a symbol of total power now nicely reduced to wormbait.... that the old South he's singing about includes not a living Massa, but a dead one... that the singer and his family will be together in death (maybe even heaven), while knowing that Massa also is gone, gone, very gone (and maybe NOT in heaven). But then I'm a little warped.


02 Oct 03 - 10:52 AM (#1027985)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Barbara Shaw

I've heard that it was a song about the myth of slaves longing for the old home they left. The version I learned it from (Tony Rice) says "Martha" rather than "Massa." I too am curious about the origin of this song.

02 Oct 03 - 11:01 AM (#1027997)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Amos


I do apologize for misinterpreting the question. The question of whether Massa is politic ally incorrect or not set me off. I frown on using political sensitivities as grounds for altering the historical facts of songs. I am happy to never sing or see songs of explicit hatred, but avoiding the fact that terrible things have been done by and to humans in our past is not wise in my opinion.

Hisatorically I think the point made above about the Tin Pan Alley origins of the Stephen Foster style "Sweet Southern Memories" pap is a good point. Al Jolsen comes to mind.


02 Oct 03 - 06:52 PM (#1028323)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Stewie

The thread title refers to 'Origins' and there is no doubt that this was the creation of a northern professional songsmith and 'old Massa' was simply one of the stock-in-trade symbols used in the evocation of this mythical Southland.


02 Oct 03 - 09:00 PM (#1028422)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: pattyClink

Mrzzy, the line is in the song as a shorthand way to say 'down on the old plantation where I was raised'. Making reference that massa lies buried nearby is simply a shorter and more poetic way to give some background and location information.   It is the place and lost loved ones the fellow is being nostalgic about, not massa.
Sometimes a song is just a song.

02 Oct 03 - 09:51 PM (#1028459)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Mrrzy

OK - in other words, nobody really knows. I'll take that as an answer! I'm just surprised, I've never gotten Don't Know on this forum before...

24 May 07 - 09:54 AM (#2059830)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: GUEST,Mike

All this focus on the word massa and none on the the word poor. Was he simply trying to convey that massa was poor because everyone left him. Poor in spirit. The song is not about the massa; it's about his return to be be buried with his loved ones: a longing for the past that he knows deep down is gone forever.
The beauty of lyrics is not in the words themselves, but the interpretation of the reader. What I read and view in my mind differs from everyone else. Ah! DIVERSITY

24 May 07 - 01:31 PM (#2060003)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Guest Mike-
Guest Mike, 'Massa' was the name in sheet music for "We Shall See Her No More," Buckley's New Orleans Minstrels, 1853 or thereabouts.

Many years later, the folk version collected by Sharp in 1918, posted in thread 53767, "The Sunny South," says "Massie lies buried close by."
Sweet Sunny South .

The song was also collected in North Carolina, 1922 as "The Sweet Sunny South." I only have vol. 5 of Brown, North Carolina Folklore, which gives one verse and a score; no name mentioned.
I think Joe Offer has this set with the verses in vol. 3; perhaps he will be kind enough to post them here or in thread 53767.

In any case, it seems the song changed emphasis in the folk versions; why not use 'Massie' instead of 'Massa'?

25 May 07 - 04:05 AM (#2060467)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: Liz the Squeak

Missed this first time round.

My interpretation of this song is that the narrator is requesting a return to his place of birth, where his family and old master lived and life was much easier that it is at the time of singing. I've always imagined him as a runaway who has discovered that being 'free' in the north isn't what it cracked up to be and that his master was a lot kinder than those he has now.

It has a lot of parallels with 'Linden Lea'
by William Barnes, the Dorset poet. In it, Barnes laments the time spent in the city, under the rod of 'peevish masters' and rejoices in the fact that he has this other place where he is his own person. That's the major difference between the two songs, but both evoke such a feeling of nostalgia and homesickness for a better, cleaner life.

I know it's romanticising the horror of slavery, but I'm positive that not every white 'Massa' was a sadistic brute and not all slaves beaten daily and starved.

Carry on singing 'massa'... it's a dialect word now, just as many others in this context are. If we were to remove all references to slavery, beating, whipping, subjugation of other peoples, then we might forget the horror of it all and make the mistake of repeating it.


27 May 11 - 06:53 PM (#3161522)
Subject: RE: Origins: Sweet Sunny South: Is 'Massa' PI?
From: GUEST,Dick Leining

Some slaves, serving in the mansion instead of picking cotton, might have called Massa "Daddy" in private and justifiably gone to their rest nearby.