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Notes and Transcription of the Singing Games

The singing games in this film are transcribed with introductory notes by Bess Lomax Hawes.

MY BOYFRIEND GAVE ME A BOX

References: None, though I have heard that Roger Abrahams has collected it in the Caribbean. The structure is strikingly similar to many British nursery rhymes. It is worth pointing out especially that, although this song would be musically transcribed in a 4/4 or 2/4 meter, the children are quite casually clapping in a 3/4 rhythm, a style of rhythm play which I have seen on other black playgrounds in the Los Angeles area. This is considered technically difficult by trained musicians, but apparently these children haven't learned that yet. The child who thrusts herself into the game is one of the unofficial leaders of the play group, and this is perhaps why her aggressive behavior is so readily accepted by the other players. However, it is still notable that the children possess a traditional technique through which an outsider can so easily be absorbed into the original group. Note, also, how relaxed they are about making room for still additional players.

My boyfriend gave me a box

A box, a box

My boyfriend gave me a box

Oh Susianna.

And in that box was a dress...

And on that dress was a pocket...

And on that pocket was a ring..

And on that ring was a diamond.,.

And on that diamond was a note...

And on that note it said...

It said, "I love you"...

THIS-A-WAY VALERIE

References: Trent-Johns p. 14-17; Abrahams p. 130; Hawes-Jones (Zudie-0). I have also heard a tape of this game being played by Negro children in Austin, Texas. The children habitually played this game all the way through: That is, until everyone, whether skilled or inexpert, had had a turn to dance down between the lines. It is also notable that the basic formation never traveled during play; occasionally, the children, while holding hands during the first verse, would side-step slightly back to their original position. This was always done spontaneously, without direction or discussion.

This-a-way, Valerie,

Valerie, Valerie,

This-a-,gay, Valerie

All day long.

Oh, strut, Miss Lizzie

Lizzie, Lizzie

Strut, Miss Lizzie

All day long.

Oh, here come another one

Just like the other one,

Here come another one

All day long.

WHEN I WAS A BABY

References: Gomme, Vol. II, p. 352; Newell, p. 88; Brown. Vol. I. p. 130-1. This has also been reported to me from other schools in the Los Angeles area. This is a truly ancient game; both Newell and Gomme report it to be widespread in its occurrence as well as very old. These children did not appear to know it very well; on my first visit to the school, only five verses were sung. By the time of the filming, they had added four more, and had apparently decided to censor the actions ascribed to the "teen-age" who, in previous renditions had "drunk this" and "drunk that", with an imaginary bottle tilted to the lips.

When I was a baby, a baby, baby

When 1 was a baby, this what I did.

I went um-mmm (thumb in mouth) this-a-way, um-mmm that-a-way

Um-mmm this-n way and that's what I did.

When I was a girl...

I went jump...

When I was a teen-age...

I went um-mmm...

When I was a mother...

I went cook...

When I was a teacher...

I went ''Stop!''...

When I was a grandmother.,.

I went rocků

When I was dead...

I went lay...

When I was in heaven...

I went shout...

IMBILEENIE

References: Abrahams, (1) p. 48. #135; p. 80 #227 This clapping chant appears to have hit the Los Angeles area with tremendous impact around 1964; I have some eight versions of it in my files, collected on both white and black playgrounds. The clapping patterns differ from one version to another but usually involve finger-snapping and slapping the thigh as well as the more usual formations. Note that one child finds no partner, says "That's all right" and goes to sit down; also that the group is so concerned with comfortable spacing.

Imbileenie, kissaleenie

0o-pa papaleenie

Achie pachie liberachie (Liberace?)

I love you.

Take a peach, take a plum

Take a piece of bubble gum.

I saw you with your boyfriend

Last night

How do you know?

I peeked through the window saying

Nosey

Give me some candy

Greedy

Wash those dishes

Lazy.

I bought me a monkey

I fed him in the country

I raised him up on gingerbread.

Along came a susu

And kicked him in the booboo

And now my monkey is dead.

THIS-A-WAY BATMAN

References: Abrahams (I) p. 130; Parris, p. 106; Hawes and Jones, "Josephine"

This appears to be a kind of jazzed-up parody of This-a-way Valerie to which the children have added elements from other traditional rhymes. It is obviously a popular game and very much "in process"; in three different visits to the school, the children played three almost totally different versions. During the filming, this run-through of the game directly followed Imbileenie as it does in the cut version of the film; the child without a partner in Imbileenie still has none until someone remarks on that fact and voluntarily steps out, allowing "Sherry" to play.

This-a-way Batman, Batman, Batman

This-a-way Batman all day long.

Oh, step back Robin, Robin, Robin

Step back Robin all day long.

Oh, I looked around the corner

And what did I see?

I saw a big fat man from Tennessee.

I bet you five, five dollars

I can beat that man

So I raised my dresses up

As high as I can.

Oh my mother called the doctor

And the doctor said

I got a pain in my side -- ooh, ah,

I got a pain in my side -- ooh, ah,

I got a pain in my stomach -- ooh, ah,

I got a pain in my stomach -- ooh, ah,

I got a pain in my head -- ooh, an,

Because my baby is dead -- ooh, ah,

Rolla, rolla rolla pizza

Rolla, rolla rolla pizza

Oo chee-chee wa wa

Oo chee-chee wa wa .... (repeated ad lib)

MIGHTY MIGHTY DEVIL

References: None. I believe this to be a re-working of a football cheer popular in the Los< Angeles high schools a few years ago. The form of the game itself is quite unusual, suggesting a cheer leader addressing a crowd, or a teacher talking to a class. The first child leading this game had surprised me by asking formal permission to be the leader; at no other time was my opinion or sanction sought. It then emerged during play that she did not know the lines of the rhyme in the proper order. The first child to point this out, I discovered later, was the one who had taught it to the rest of the group; she successfully leads it for the second run-through. The child wearing the grey sweater was new to the school and did not pick up the tacit signals by which the players decided to support their leader even though she was wrong. Her ill-timed remark, "That's wrong" made her the target for the group's hostility; my own feeling is that the play would have broken down anyway, since these are ceremonies rather than games and must be done correctly. The following lyric is printed according to the second (correct) run-through of the game.

Um mighty wa-ha,

Um-mighty wa-ha

Who do we talk about?

Who do we talk about?

The mighty mighty devil,

The mighty mighty devil

Don't you know that they go?

Don't you know that they go.

Ching, ching China,

Ching, ching China

Standing arrested

Standing arrested,

Well go, gage, go mighty devil

Go, gogo, go mighty devil, etc ....

MY MOTHER DIED

References: compare: Opie #'155 and 156 p. 162-]; Abrahams (1), p.86 #246

This was my personal favorite of all the games; I liked the way the voices, having quietly disposed of all representatives of the older generation and all available males, rose to a triumphant shout over the announcement that their sister is still living in a place called Tennessee, wearing short short dresses up above her knee. The children appeared to like it too, and used it as a vehicle for verbal and gestural improvisation.

My mother died

How did she die?

She died like this

She died like this.

My father he died,

How did he die?

He died like this.

He died like this.

My brother died.

How did he die?

He died like this.

He died like this.

My sister's still living,

Where's she?

Oh, she lives in a place called Tennessee,

She wears short short dresses up above her knee.

Hands up, tsk-a tsk-a, Tennessee

Turn around, tsk-a tsk-a, Tennessee.

She never went to college,

She never went to school

And when she came back

She was an educated fool.

The second leader in the filmed version improvises a bit:

My mother died

How did she die?

She died like this

She died like this.

My father died.

How did he die?

He died drunk.

He died drunk.

My uncle died.

How did he die?

He died snaggletoothed.

He died snaggletoothed...

PIZZA PIZZA DADDY-0

References: Hawes and Jones, "Pizza Pizza Mighty Moe'.

This was by all odds the current favorite during my period of visits to the playground; during the morning's filming, the children played Pizza Pizza four times to every once for the other games. I have seen it in other Los Angeles schools and it has been reported as a "new" game sweeping through Georgia and South Carolina. During the first run-through on the film, the "new" child is leading in the center of the circle; since she is unfamiliar with the repertoire in general, another player standing in the ring begins to call out the steps. The first line of the song varies with the name of the child in the central position; the last eight lines refer to popular social dance steps.

Mary had a baby (Tanya, Sherry, etc.)

Pizza Pizza daddy-o How you know it?

Pizza Pizza daddy-o Cause she told me

Pizza Pizza daddy-o What's his name

Pizza Pizza daddy-o Jessie James

Pizza Pizza daddy-o What's special?

Pizza Pizza daddy-o Toilet tissue

Pizza Pizza daddy-o Let's jerk it

Pizza Pizza daddy-o Let's swim it

Pizza Pizza daddy-o Let's skate it,

Pizza Pizza daddy-o Let's freak it,

Pizza Pizza daddy-o Let's twine it

Pizza Pizza daddy-o Let's bat it

Pizza Pizza daddy-o Let's fan it

Pizza Pizza daddy-o Let's spin it

Pizza Pizza daddy-o.

Acknowledgements to: From the guide to "Four Films by Bess Lomax Hawes," distributed by Media Generation

For rights and permissions contact: John Bishop, Media Generation.

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