http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2012/02/24/music-company-drops-childrens-classics


Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 24, 2012

Music company drops children's classics

Decision follows complaints by Palo Alto mother about racist history of lyrics

by Chris Kenrick

An international music company has agreed to drop two children's classics "Shoo Fly" and "Jimmy Crack Corn" after a Palo Alto mother complained about the racist lineage of the lyrics.

Rita Whitney signed up last fall to participate with her 18-month-old daughter in the Music Together program, which involves preschoolers and their parents singing, dancing, playing simple instruments and listening to CDs.

Founded by experts in what they call "research-based, developmentally appropriate early childhood music," Music Together has licensed its materials to be taught in thousands of U.S. communities as well as overseas.

Whitney felt disturbed in late September when she noticed the song "Shoo Fly" in the first songbook.

The song triggered painful memories for the 50-year-old software manager who grew up in a mixed-race household in New York City. The original "Shoo Fly" lyrics, often sung in blackface, refer repeatedly to a "nigger." (Those lyrics were not in the Music Together version, however.)

Though deciding to skip the "Shoo Fly" session, Whitney and her daughter Taylor continued with the Music Together program.

But Whitney got upset enough to call the company's Princeton, N.J., headquarters late last month after coming upon "Jimmy Crack Corn" in the next-level songbook. The song, historically sung in blackface, refers to a slave.

"This is a national program, with everybody using the same songbook and singing the songs at the same time," Whitney said.

"This is a program with an extremely good reputation, and they're teaching these songs to a whole new generation right now.

"I'm not saying they're doing it purposefully or maliciously, but with the educational background and the research facility that (Music Together) has, I would hope that they'd research the backgrounds of the music they choose."

Whitney said company managers declined when she asked them to omit the songs in future printings of their materials, and to direct licensees to skip the songs in the meantime.

"I just felt it was bad judgment on their part. Maybe they hadn't realized these were blackface minstrel songs, but now that they know they could take them out of future publications.

"I'm not bashing people on the head or anything, but now that they know I thought they could do something about it," she said.

Whitney said she finally called the "action, breaking news" number for the San Jose Mercury News and reported the issue to the newspaper.

Following the newspaper queries, the music company reversed its decision.

"We are sensitive to parents' concerns about negative associations to the original folk material," Music Together founder and director Kenneth K. Guilmartin said.

"We value and respect the opinions of our loyal Music Together families, and it was never our intention to offend anyone."

"I'm happy that I could effect the change," said Whitney, who manages the Stanford Fencing Association and is a board member of the Los Altos nonprofit Hidden Villa.

"I don't feel like I'm in your face or anything, but I'm just glad to be able to get this one little thing done."

Whitney and her daughter continue to participate in the Music Together program, located at the nonprofit Parents Place near their house.

"It's a wonderful group activity in an excellent facility," she said.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:22 am

This is ridiculous. Should we bann "Ring around the Rosie" because it has scary connotations? How about "Ride a white horse to Banbury Cross " --can't offend the British......... or other nursery rhymes from that era. These songs are HISTORY, and most people would not have know an 'offensive'history if had not been dug up.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:31 am

There is a definite double standard here.

I know that most "old" children's rhymes come out of what was going on in the world at the time and it is playing with traditions and history to get them banned. Do we really want to do this? Isn't it denying that these things happened.

At the same time, we seem to be using the opposite idea in our literature choices in our schools. Huck Finn, Roll of Thunder, and even Anne Frank, are required reading for middle schoolers who are often being faced with racist issues in ways they have never had to experience them before. Is this teaching them English skills, critical thinking skills, history, or showing them insight into past values out of context?

History is not pleasant. We have some really ugly history in all cultures. Picking and choosing which to allow and which not to allow is likely to cause more dischord than harmony.


Posted by Ridiculous, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:37 am

This whole politically correct thing around race is out of hand. There's a lot of very cool and interesting culture there, that people like Whitney are prepared to throw away. I suppose the next to go will be "Mary Mary Quite Contrary" as it paints an unflattering portrait of a female. And what about all the stories referring to the Jews in Egypt? Get rid of "Moses in the Bullrushes" because it reflects a painful time? The Irish suffered mightily at the hands of the british and some great music came out of that time. Ban it too?


Posted by JustMe, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:44 am

There are many songs and movies that I consider classic that, I am afraid, are not politically correct today. Most Sherly Temple movies fall into that catagory. I love Sherly Temple, and she certainly did not write those scripts, but I can see where they would be offensive to some people. Heck, *I* am offended by some of the lines in those movies. The idea that the slaves in those movies were treated well and happy with their station in life as slaves is certainly offensive. Shoo Fly is the same way, I understand why it is offensive and I regretfully support the ban.

These movies and songs, however, still have a place in a historical context. They can serve as an example of our changing, and improving, values. They teach that there were segments of society that actually thought the slaves were happy to be slaves, that ruling society can actually delude themselves like that to avoid facing the harsh reality. It raises the question of what are we deluding ourselves with today?


Posted by Gethin, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

Censorship is not a good road to travel. As other readers have said it opens up the potential for so many other suggestions for censorship in other areas. Why can't it be seen as something from a certain time and place? Perhaps there are additional lessons that can be learned from viewing these songs in that way.
If you were to look at classic blues songs sung by African Americans about being an African American I think you could probably come up with a reason to ban most of them based on either racist portrayals, extremely negative comments about women and attitudes towards drugs and violence.


Posted by tp, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 22, 2012 at 11:29 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by registered user, Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm

There goes literature.


Posted by PM, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Guys, no one is "banning" anything... it's just one music publisher making its own editorial choices. Relax!


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 22, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Banning is exactly what happened. The music publisher had its own editorial choices overturned through media pressure. Maybe we can agree that the publisher just "saw the light" (or am I allowed to use that phrase?).


Posted by 2far, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I'm in my late sixties and had no idea that those two songs were racist or had had any racist references. They must have been already "cleaned" when I was a child. (I agree that the older, offensive versions should not be played.) But for my lifetime they have just been children's songs and my guess is that most people did not attach any race or color to the lyrics.

This is going too far to be "politically correct". I wonder what will be banned next? And, to put that much pressure on the company is definitely banning.


Posted by Scholar, a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm

One of my favourite songs is "Old Black Joe" by Stephen Foster.


Posted by That Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Hmmm, from what it says here in Wikipedia, Jimmy Crack Corn, at least, may actually be an African-American song that was co-opted by minstrel shows. Maybe that mother needs to get a firmer grip on her music history before calling in the full-court press:


Differing sources date "Jimmy Crack Corn" from 1844[5] or 1846[6] and differ as to who authored it. One early printing attributed it to Dan Emmett.[7] However, at the time it was usual for the recorder of a folk song to take credit. It is also thought that it was not originally a blackface minstrel song, but rather of genuine African American origins.[8] Unlike many minstrel songs, "Blue Tail Fly" was long popular among African Americans and was recorded by Big Bill Broonzy, among others. A celebrated live version was recorded by Burl Ives.[9] Folk singer Pete Seeger also made the song popular. Ives and Seeger performed the song together at the 92nd Street Y in New York City in 1993, in what turned out to be Ives' last public performance.[10]
There has been much debate over the meaning of "Jimmy Crack Corn". In the original version the lyrics read "jim crack corn". "Jim crack" or "gimcrack" means shoddily built.[11] Additionally, "corn" is considered an American euphemism for "corn whiskey". Other possibilities include:
– "Gimcrack corn," cheap corn whiskey;
– That it refers to "cracking" open a jug of corn whiskey;
– That "crack-corn" is related to the (still-current) slang "cracker" for a rural Southern white.[12]
– That "crack-corn" originated from the old English term "crack," meaning gossip, and that "cracking corn" was a traditional Shenandoah expression for "sitting around chitchatting."[13]
– That the chorus refers to an overseer who, without the master, has only his bullwhip to keep the slaves in line.
Most etymologists support the first interpretation, as the term "cracker" appears to predate "corn-cracking". Also, "whipcracker" has no historical backing.[14] This suggests that, in the chorus, the slaves may be making whiskey and celebrating.
It is also said that Pete Seeger once maintained that the true lyrics were "gimmie cracked corn; I don't care",[15] referencing a punishment in which a slave's rations were reduced to cracked corn and nothing else. In this case, the author would seem to have decided that this severe punishment would be worth the outcome: the death of the master.

As for "Shoo Fly"--yep, it also didn't start out as a minstrel song, but as a Union Civil War song--again from Wikipedia:

According to Bishop's account, he wrote Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me during the Civil War while assigned to command a company of black soldiers. One of the soldiers, dismissing some remarks of his fellow soldiers, exclaimed "Shoo fly, don't bother me," which inspired Bishop to write the song. The company, we are told, generated the line "I belong to Company G". Yet, the song was reportedly "pirated" from Bishop and he made little money from it.[14] Bishop did publish a sheet music version of the song in 1869, which includes the caption, "Original Copy and Only Authorized Edition."[15] Other sources, however, have credited Billy Reeves (lyrics) and Frank Campbell, or Rollin Howard, with the song.[16] The first group to popularize the song was Bryant's Minstrels in 1869-70.[14][17]

Yes, the original lyrics use the N-word, but not in a way that seems obviously derogatory--maybe someone can clarify?

So what's getting pulled here: a song about slaves having a momentary triumph and another about African-American Union soldiers.

This just strikes me as all sorts of confused.


Posted by good grief, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Gee, I always thought Shoo, Fly was about being in the military....
I guess we can't ban nursery rhymes and Irish music because those poems and songs are about evil, oppressive, colonialist white people, who are so dreadful that we must behave towards them in ways we can't towards our brown, yellow, black and red brothers and sisters. Does all this strike anyone else as totally ridiculous?? Tempest in a teapot, anyone???


Posted by mighty Palo Alto, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2012 at 6:21 pm

mighty Palo Alto speaks again!! Throws her weight around.

- I would assume people are smart enough to understand History and be respectful but also learn from it rather than ban it. I don't think political correctness serves anybody well.
This reminds me of how some people hate Gone With the Wind.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2012 at 7:55 pm

I agree with all the posts. I wrote to info@musictogether.com; publicrelations@musictogether.com to tell them they over-reacted and urged them to restore these traditional American favorites to their song list.


Posted by George, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:52 pm

I completely agree with Rita Whitney. If it is determined that children's songs are based in racism, we have absolutely no business perpetuating them in society.


Posted by Grandma, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Well, I learned all those songs referred to in this blog but I never remember my kids, now in their 40s, learning them, they are very very dated. I don't suspect kids today to have ever heard of them let alone understand them so this is a big fuss about nothing.


Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 23, 2012 at 2:33 am

Another resident with too way much time on her hands, and too little common sense.

Maybe she can now start on classic films and literature. The sky's the limit, Ms. Whitney!


Posted by We-Sing-Jimmy-Crack-Corn-In-Our-Home, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2012 at 9:17 am

> If it is determined that children's songs are based in racism,
> we have absolutely no business perpetuating them in society.

And just how does one establish that a children's song, perhaps hundreds of years old, was, in fact, created to established "racism" in children?

And by the way, when a child in 2012 learns "Shoo Fly" and/or "Jimmy Crack Corn", how does a 3/4/5 year old see this as "racist"? Did the instructional materials make that clear?

> The song triggered painful memories for the 50-year-old
> software manager who grew up in a mixed-race household in
> New York City.

Really? What painful memories? Didn't the North go to war with the South to end slavery, and "racism"? And how exactly did these two songs (or others) cause problems for this 50-year old software manager ?

People should email this company and let them know that ultimately someone will find something wrong with every song they publish. If they continue listening to people like this Palo Alto Mother, then they will soon be out-of-business.


Posted by mmmmMom, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2012 at 12:21 pm

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

What a waste of time..... Too PC for common sense.


Posted by seeker, a resident of Southgate
on Feb 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm

more insecure racists, get over it, some people just don't like racism. tha is their right. no amount of stupid racists can change anyones rights to be offended by something. europeans are not fromm this continent. br glad youre alowed to live here. be grateful.. ''buisness'' is not always relevant on planet earth.


Posted by NuancePlease , a resident of Addison School
on Feb 23, 2012 at 1:31 pm

I'm "impressed" by the bogus logic in these comments.

Why is it so hard to sympathize with a mixed-race woman who doesn't want racially humiliating songs in a singalong program that includes 18 month old children?

This is not the right age to teach kids about the complicated history of race in this country, nor is it necessary to implant catchy songs that bring it to mind before the context is there to understand the implications.

There are many aspects of grownup life we.keep from children before it's time.

How about simply waiting until the nuance can be dealt with appropriately in a pedagogical context?


Posted by George, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2012 at 2:04 pm

We recently observed Martin Luther King Day. What would he have said?


Posted by We-Sing-Jimmy-Crack-Corn-In-Our-Home, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm

The link below points to a web-site with children's songs:

Web Link

It might take a long time to try to research the history of each song, but certainly from looking at the titles for just one category (Action), there are very likely a goodly number of these songs that originated in past times from historical origins that might be considered: "racist", "oppressive", "colonial", "non-democratic", "overly-religious", "overly-secular", etc., by someone.

Doubtful that many 18-month old children are going to see the "nuance" in these rhymes and lyrics.




Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 23, 2012 at 2:31 pm

It's becoming humiliating to belong to the human race.


Posted by registered user, Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 23, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Thank you, Nuance, Please, your words were wise & thoughtful.

I'm shocked, but not surprised, at the smug, dismissive tone of so many posts here. I wasn't shocked by Whitney's stance, I was shocked that those songs were still included. They were outdated back in my day & they're outdated & offensive now. When I first learned them, I didn't think much of it, but when I was older & reviewed them, I realized how racist they were. There is a way to respect, study, archive & appreciate songs of historical significance. Passing them on to new generations w/out thought of offense is unacceptable, especially for a course one pays for.

So, my question is: how many people posting here are of African American or African American/mixed race descent?


Posted by registered user, Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2012 at 7:00 am

Next, I am writing to any company that dares to air "I love Lucy". It brings back painful memories of being female and how oppressed we were.
Also, "Father Know Best"..the title is soo sexist and painful! I remember when it was not legally possible to rape your wife, and anything from that time is just too painful to bear ( and I was actually alive during this time..unlike the "painful memories" of this woman, who couldn't possibly have been alive during the era of slavery in the USA, though it is still rampant throughout most of the rest of the world, including Africa)

This was absurd. Totally absurd.


Posted by registered user, Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 25, 2012 at 1:14 am

Hmmm,

I am not African American, but it is not right to censor or erase questionable relics of the past because some find them offensive. I am offended by misogynist lyrics in some music of today, but I just avoid listening to it, though it is rather disturbing that many find it perfectly acceptable.