A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from June 15, 2008
Cotton-Eyed Joe (Cotton-Eye Joe)

Entry in progress—B.P.




Wikipedia: Cotton-Eyed Joe
“Cotton-Eye Joe” is a popular American folk song known at various times throughout the United States and Canada, although today it is most commonly associated with the American South. In the Roud index of folksongs it is number 942.

“Cotton Eye Joe” is also a popular spoke line dance that can be seen and danced at country western dance venues. The 1980 film Urban Cowboy sparked a renewed interest in the dance, and most recently a version of the song recorded by the band Rednex in 1994 as “Cotton Eye Joe” has become popular.

History
The precise origins of this song are unclear, although it predates the American Civil War[1]. Over the years, many different versions of the song have been recorded with many different versions of the lyrics (and many without lyrics). During the first half of the twentieth century the song was a widely known folk song all over English-speaking North America. In more recent decades, the song has waned in popularity in most regions except some parts of the American South where it is still a popular folk song.

A list of the possible meanings of the term “cotton eyed” that have been proposed includes: to be drunk on moonshine, or to have been blinded by drinking wood alcohol, turning the eyes milky white; a black person with very light blue eyes; someone whose eyes were milky white from bacterial infections of Trachoma or syphilis, cataracts or glaucoma; and the contrast of dark skin tone around white eyeballs in black people.

Bob Wills and Adolph Hofner and His San Antonians both recorded the song, and Hofner’s version (Columbia 37658) apparently being the one that did the most to popularize the song.

Ray Benson of the Western Swing band Asleep at the Wheel talks about playing the Bob Wills version of “Cotton Eye Joe” in Texas in the 1970s, when the dance was very much alive.

A Western “Craze” followed the 1980 release of Urban Cowboy. Dancers nationwide even dressed the part in cowboy boots, hats, and jeans. To accommodate the singles in attendance, creative Texans resurrected old nonpartner, spoke-line dances (such as “Cotton-eyed Joe") and invented new ones. They changed some of the formations from couple to spoke-lines and altered the steps to fit, so that lines made up of single dancers could link arms around each other’s waists and prance or glide around the hall.

The Bob Wills version of the song is still popular with dancers.

“Cotton Eye Joe”, and its continued popularity in Texas, was referred to in the lyrics to Alabama’s song “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas.” “I remember down in Houston we were puttin’ on a show when a cowboy in the back stood up and yelled, “Cotton-Eyed Joe"!"

In April of 2008 “Cotton-Eyed Joe” was used as the music for a Country Western group dance on the nationally broadcast show “Dancing with the Stars”.

Handbook of Texas Online
FOLKLORE AND FOLKLIFE.
(...)
This imported folklore that became Texas folklore is distinguished by five characteristics. First, folklore is passed along by word of mouth, by demonstration, or by a combination of the two. The creation myths of the Alabama-Coushatta Indians, the legends of Gregorio Cortez Lira, and the lyrics to “Weevily Wheat” were transmitted orally. The craft of quilting in the Texas Star pattern was passed along by demonstration. Learning to dance the Cotton-Eyed Joe requires both.

Handbook of Texas Online
FOLK DANCE.
(...)
The 1970s saw national interest in country-and-western music and movies bring the traditional couple dances back to the dance floors under a new name-country dancing. Some dances had new Texas styling. The hippety-hop Bohemian couple-polka had evolved into the popular Cotton-eyed Joe performed by nonpartner lines of dancers.

Blue Grass Lyrics
Cotton Eyed Joe
Do you remember Long time ago
Daddy worked a man called Cotton Eyed Joe
Daddy worked a man called Cotton Eyed Joe

I could have been married long time ago
If it hadn’t ‘a been for Cotton Eyed Joe
If it hadn’t ‘a been for Cotton Eyed Joe

Old bull fiddle and a shoe-string bow
Wouldn’t play nothin’ but Cotton Eyed Joe
Wouldn’t play nothin’ but Cotton Eyed Joe

Play it fast or play it slow
Didn’t play nothing but Cotton Eyed Joe
Didn’t play nothing but Cotton Eyed Joe

Where do you come from where do you go
Where do you come from Cotton Eyed Joe
Where do you come from Cotton Eyed Joe

Come for to see you come for to sing
Come for to show you my diamond ring
Come for to show you my diamond ring

PartyDirectory.com
How To Dance
The Cotton Eyed Joe


. Pairs around the room, progressing counter-clockwise.
. Man stands on inside, woman on outside.
. Both face line-of-dance.

Cape position:
man’s right hand holds woman’s right hand just outside her right shoulder, man’s left hand holds woman’s left hand in front of his left shoulder.

With weight on right foot:
1. cross left foot over right
2. kick out with left foot
3. polka steps going backwards left-right-left
4. cross right foot over left
5. kick out with right foot
6. polka steps going backwards right-left-right
7. cross left foot over right
8. kick out with left foot
9. polka steps going backwards left-right-left
10. cross right foot over left
11. kick out with right foot
12. polka steps going backwards right-left right
13. polka steps going forward left-right-left
14. polka steps right-left-right
15. polka steps left-right-left
16. polka steps right-left-right
17. polka steps left-right-left
18. polka steps right-left-right
19. polka steps left-right-left
20. polka steps right-left-right

YouTube
Rednex - Cotton Eye Joe
Added: January 17, 2007
clip
Category:  Music

(Dictionary of American Regional English)
Cotton-eyed adj Also cotton-eye
See quot 1905.
1905 Dialect Notes 3.75 nwAR Cotton-eyed...Having the whites of the eyes prominent.
1934 Carmer Stars Fell on Alabama 275, Fiddler’s Tunes—Cotton-eyed Joe.
1940 Federal Writers Project Guide to Texas 558, There are also dances popular locally, such as Cotton-eye Joe.

(Historical Dictionary of American Slang)
cotton-eyed adj. So. (see 1905 quot.)
1905 Dialect Notes III 75: Cotton-eyed...Having the whites of the eye prominent.
1952 Steinbeck East of Eden 228: The crooked little cotton-eyed piano player stood in the entrance.

18 May 1858, Weekly Hawk Eye and Telegraph (Burlington, Iowa), pg. 3, col. 2:
I know you are a friend to me and ef you’ll get Abe Lard to play Cotton eyed Joe, I’ll treat to half a pint.

19 July 1891, Dallas (TX) Morning News, part 1, pg. 6:
jest wait till the thing gets big enough to jump on, let the band strike up on “Dixie” or “Yankee Doodle” or “Cotton-eyed Joe,” or some other familiar old hymn, and then you can pick out a soft settin down place and watch the fur fly.

5 July 1893, Dallas (TX) Morning News, pg. 4:
Occasionally a mule outside brayed, a coyote howled, but there was no cessation to “Getting Upstairs,” “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” “The Arkansas Traveler” and all the melodies in Jimmie’s repertory.
(From the St. Louis Globe-Democrat—ed.)

8 December 1895, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, pg. 16:
Judge Joel Branham Declares That He Doesn’t Know “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”

Chronicling America
7 May 1903, Clay City (KY) Times, pg. 3, col. 2:
Yores in a tangle,
Cotton eye-Joe. 

The Mudcat Cafe
Subject: Lyr Add: COTTON EYED JOE (from Albert Sands)
From: Arkie
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 11:31 PM
Though I have known a version of this song forever, and have seen it in practically every paperback song collection, I really fell in love with a version sung by Stone County Arkansas native Albert Sands. Albert was a practical nurse at the local hospital and often worked the night shift. During my single days, my house was on the hill above Albert’s and he would stop in on his way home for a visit and a sip of Jack Daniels. I asked him to sing the song every chance I had. He did it in a slow, plaintive style that I never mastered but did try to emulate when I sang the piece.

Here are some of the verses, he sang.

Want to go to meeting, but I couldn’t go,
Had to stay home with Cotton Eyed Joe.

Had not a been for Cotton Eyed Joe,
I’d a been married along time ago.

Honey, will your dog bite? No, chile, no.
Wolf bit his biter off a long time ago.

Honey, will your hen peck? No, chile, no.
Done pulled the pecker off a long time ago.

Cornstalk fiddle and a peavine bow,
Play a little tune called Cotton Eyed Joe.
(...)
Subject: Lyr Add: COTTON EYED JOE
From: balladeer
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 12:25 PM
Dear Kat: Tony is too kind. My lyric is quite common. I learned it from Doug Bush, a man of colour, circa 1960. Quite possibly he learned it from Josh White or Nina Simone. I may have embellished such embellishments as Doug had already made....

COTTON EYED JOE

Where do you come from
And where do you go?
Where do you come from
My cotton-eyed Joe?

I come for to see you
And I come for to sing
I come for to show you
My diamond ring.

Got a hole in my pocket
Got a nail in my shoe.
I’ve been oh so lonesome
Since you told me we’re through.

If it hadn’t of been for
Cotton-eyed Joe
I’d a-been married
A long time ago.
(...)
Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 07:46 PM
These are the ones in the DT that I consider to be racist.
COTTON-EYED JOE

Way back yonder a long time ago
Daddy had a man called cotton-eyed joe
Blew into town on a travelin’ show
Nobody danced like the Cotton eyed Joe.

CHORUS:
Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe
where did you come from?
Where did you go?
Where did you come from?
Where did you go?
Where did you come from Cotton-eyed Joe?

Mama’s at the window
Mama’s at the door
She can’t see nothin’ but the Cotton-eyed Joe

Daddy held the fiddle,
held the bow
He beat the hell out of Cotton-eyed Joe

Made himself a fiddle,
Made himself a bow
Made a little tune called the Cotton-Eyed Joe

Hadn’t oughta been
For Cotton-eyed Joe
I’da been married some forty years ago.

Whenever there’s a dance
All the women want to go
And they all want to dance with Cotton-Eyed Joe

Daddy won’t say
But I think he know
Whatever happened to Cotton-eyed Joe !
(...)
Subject: Lyr Add: COTTON EYED JOE (from Lomax & Lomax)
From: rich r
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 09:06 PM
The Penguin Book of American Folk songs edited by Alan Lomax has a 2-verse version of Cotton-eyed Joe in the “lullaby” section. It has the “Where did you come from...” verse and the “Come for to see you, come for to sing, come for to show you my diamond ring.” In a very brief explanatory note, Lomax adds: “In Southern parlance a man is ‘cotton-eyed’ if his irises are milky-coloured. Cotton-Eye Joe, the obscure hero of a number of Negro dancing tunes and fiddler’s airs, here turns up in one of the loveliest of Southern mountain lullabies, found by Margaret Valliant in the hills of Tennessee.”

In a different vein American Ballads and Folksongs by John and Alan Lomax contains a “Cotton-Eyed Joe” that they describe as a square dance song or breakdown. The lyrics are:

If it had not-a been for Cotton-eyed Joe,
I’d ‘a’ been married forty years ago.

Cornstalk fiddle and cornstalk bow,
I’m gwine to beat hell out-a Cotton-eyed Joe.

Gwine to go shootin’ my forty-fo’,
Won’t be a nigger in a mile or mo’.

Hain’t seen ol’ Joe since way last fall,
Say he’s been sold down to Guines Hall.

Great long line and little short pole,
I’m on my way to the crawfish hole.

Oh, it makes dem ladies love me so,
W’en I come roun’ a-pickin’ Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Hol’ my fiddle an’ hol’ my bow,
Whilst I knock ol’ Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Oh, law, ladies, pity my case,
For I’s got a jawbone in my face.

O Lawd, O Lawd, come pity my case,
For I’m gettin’ old an’ wrinkled in de face.
(...)
Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Les B
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 01:58 AM
Boswell’s Folk Songs of Middle Tennessee, which references Talley, The Negro Traditions has this to say: “According to black folk traditions of late-nineteenth-century Bedford County, Cotton-Eyed Joe was a well-known pre-Civil War slave musician whose tragic life caused his hair to turn white; eventually he played a fiddle made from the coffin of his dead son.” Boswell collected seven versions. The one printed is similiar to many already quoted in this thread. 
(...)
Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: rich r
Date: 20 Feb 00 - 02:33 PM
Since this thread last appeared, I have come across a couple other “old” versions of CEJ, although nothing to connect with minstrel shows. The first is from “Negro Folk Rhymes” by Thomas Talley. Talley was the son of ex-slaves and a chemistry professor at Fisk University in Nashville, TN. His original book was published in 1922. I have the 1991 edition annotated by Charles K Wolfe and expanded to include music transcriptions (Univ. Tennessee Press). Wolfe is/was an English professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Wolfe comments about CEJ: “Surviving today primarily as a popular western swing fiddle tune, the song has deep roots in black traditional lore. This version (i.e. Talley’s) is apparently the earliest published...Versions of it also appear in White (i.e. “American Negro Folk-Songs” by Newman Ivey White, 1928) collected from black sources in 1915-16. For details of the song’s history as a fiddle tune se Alan Jabbour, notes to “North American Fiddle Tunes” (these are the notes accompanying the Library of Congress LP recording, LCLP AFS 62. Any mudcatters have that one? -rr). In his manuscript of stories, “Negro Traditions”, Talley includes a story entitled “Cotton Eyed Joe or The Origin of the Weeping Willow”; it includes a short stanza from the song, but more importantly details a bizarre of a well-known pre-Civil War Plantation musician, Cotton Eyed Joe, who plays a fiddle made from the coffin of his dead son.”
Note that Talley’s lyrics have a lot in common with some of those published later by Lomax.

Cotton Eyed Joe (from Thomas Talley)

Hol’ my fiddle an’ hol’ my bow,
Whilst I knocks ole Cotton Eyed Joe.

I’d a been dead some seben years ago,
If I hadn’t a danced dat Cotton Eyed Joe.

Oh, it makes dem ladies love me so,
W’en I comes ‘roun’ pickin’ ole Cotton Eyed Joe!

Yes, I’d a been married some forty years ago,
If I hadn’t stay’d ‘roun’ wid Cotton Eyed Joe.

I hain’t seed ole Joe, since was las’ Fall;
Dey say he’s been sol’ down to Guinea Gall.

A different version of CEJ is found in Dorothy Scarborough’s “On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs” (1925 Harvard Univ. Press; reprinted 1963 Folklore Associates). Scarborough is also the author the delightful book “A Song Catcher in Southern Mountains” (1937, Columbia Univ Press). She grew up in Texas and was active in Texas folklore societies and later became an English professor at Columbia University in New York. Her book on Negro folk songs is gentle and loving and at the same time rife with what I would consider racial stereotypes. She coaxed and cajoled songs and tunes from a lot of black southerners. The greatest obstacles being the inherent shyness of her sources along with an acquired religious piety in the sources that kept them from relating the old non-religious songs that they clearly still knew. She was also not totally rigorous in accepting material as she included some material that was second or third hand, sometimes from white sources who said they heard blacks singing it. Here is the lead-in to her Cotton Eyed Joe entry:

“A less comely person of a different sex is celebrated or anathematized in another song, which seems to be fairly well known in the South, as parts of it have been sent in by various persons. According to the testimony of several people who remember events before the war, this is an authentic slavery-time song. The air and some of the words were given by my sister, Mrs. George Scarborough, as learned from the Negroes on a plantation in Texas, and other parts by an old man in Louisiana, who sang it to the same tune. He said he had known it from his earliest childhood and had heard the slaves sing it on the plantation. A version was also sent by a writer whose pen name is Virginia Stait.”

COTTON-EYED JOE (from Scarborough)

Don’t you remember, don’t you know,
Don’t you remember Cotton-eyed Joe?
Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe,
What did make you treat me so?
I’d ‘a’ been married forty year ago
Ef it had n’t a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe,
He was de nig dat sarved me so,-
Tuck my gal away fum me,
Carried her off to Tennessee.
I’d ‘a’ been married forty year ago
Ef it had n’t a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

His teeth was out an’ his nose was flat,
His eyes was crossed, - but she did n’t mind dat.
Kase he was tall, and berry slim,
An’ so my gal she follered him.
I’d ‘a’ been married forty year ago
Ef it had n’t a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

She was de prettiest gal to be found
Anywhar in de country round;
Her lips was red an’ her eyes was bright,
Her skin was black but her teeth was white.
I’d ‘a’ been married forty year ago
Ef it had n’t a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

Dat gal, she sho’ had all my love,
An’ swore fum me she’d never move,
But Joe hoodooed her, don’t you see,
An’ she run off wid him to Tennessee.
I’d ‘a’ been married forty year ago
Ef it had n’t a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

While I have no documentation to support it, I would throw out the possibility that the jilted lover scenarios exhibited here could in some way be connected to the more violent versions where all manner of mayhem is visited upon CEJ. The revenge for stealing the lover motif is not unknown in English and white American folk songs.
(...)
Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Sam Clements
Date: 04 Oct 04 - 09:10 PM
I’ve possibly found the earliest mention of “Cotton-eyed Joe” yet.

8 May, 1875 Saturday Evening Post

A fictional piece, wherin the young white heroine is singing this song while cooking with her Black nursemaid/cook. She says that the Black nursemaid taught her the song. The nursemaid says “hush. Don’t sing that” knowing that the girl’s mother wouldn’t approve.

The line she sings is “Don’t you remember a long time ago, I dreamed that I ran away w/ Cotton-eyed Joe?”

Later in the story she sings “Oh, I’d have been married twelve months ago, if it had not have been for Cotton-eyed Joe.”

Next, who comes to the door but her blue-eyed cousin, Joe.

Later in the story, a character describes Joe as a person with “great white eyes.”

But, still later in the story, Joe is described again as having BLUE eyes.

So, perhaps the song was originally put to words by African Americans, obviously prior to 1875. But whites certainly knew the words by 1875. I can’t see any derogatory racial meanings here. The term could have reference to both persons with prominent whites of the eye, and also could refer to blue-eyed persons. Or both.
(...)
Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: penguin
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 07:50 PM
The “Cotten-eyed Joe” is so embedded in Texas culture that it is sung during the seventh inning stretch of a baseball game. When I first moved the Texas, it was the only song performed. Now both “Take me out the the Ballgame” and “Cotten-eyed Joe” are sung during the seventh inning stretch. So it is not a song confined to honky-tonks and country western venues and history.

In past posts others have described the dance and song in Texas. It is performed as a line dance with each person putting their arms around each others waist and going around the dance floor.  The caller says something like “what’s that smell”, the dancers kick forward and yell “bullshit”. “Say it again” “Bullshit” and so on
(...)
Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Texas Girl
Date: 06 Apr 06 - 07:07 PM
For as long as I can remember the cotton eyed joe was played, sung and danced at every Texas occasion with out fail. There are many versions and many different lyrics. The song is so much a part of the soul of Texas. If your going to play in Texas you gotta have a fiddle in the band.Another name for cotton eyed joe is The Best Ole
Fiddle. My fiddles made of wood. Your’s is the best ole fiddle excepting mine. My fiddles made of pine. Cornstalk bow. Cotton Eyed Joe is discribled as ugly but lean and tall. No teeth and flat nose.
Cross eyed. To very good looking.
He came to town like a midwinter storm
He rode through the fields so
Handsome and strong
His eyes was his tools and his smile was his gun
But all he had come for was having some fun
Could it be that the cotton eyed joe came from several different sources. From the Texas and Louisiana plantations where the Negro slaves sang the song while picking cotton as discribed by Scarborough and also from Scotts. Many Scotts married Native Americans and Negroes such as the Cherokee who also owned plantation and also Negro slaves. When the Cherokee/Scottish mixed were forced off their land on the eastern coast and sent on the trail of tears they took their black slaves with them to Oklahoma and Texas. The slaves became part of the tribe and were discribed as Black Cherokees. Many mixed Cherokee (black hair but green and blue eyes)
left the east coast prior to the Trail Of Tears and started over in Texas. They blended with society. The way the song is danced to will remind one of both cherokee and Scottish dances. Old tunes from the old country were often blended with both Native American and American Negro songs. My great uncle made fiddles for many years. From cherry wood, pine well whatever wood he could find and yes his favorite tune was cotton eyed joe.Yes he was Cherokee and Scottish.
I can remember as a little girl watching him tap his foot on the old wood floor as he tried out his newest fiddle. Every fiddle played Cotton Eyed Joe before it’s new owner came to pick it up. Every type of payment was made for the fiddles. Horses, cows and pigs. Tobacco,
grain, sugar, corn flour or material for my great aunt a new dress, whatever he needed at the time he would except as a payment for his work. Once he stated that the musician came all the way from Tennesse to pick up that cherry wood. 

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (1) Comments • Sunday, June 15, 2008 • Permalink


Do you know whare i can get a version of the lyricks of cotton eyed joe with the date on it before 1922

Jim

Posted by Jim O'Dell  on  11/25  at  05:02 PM

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