Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Old Folks at Home

"Old Folks at Home" (also known as "Swanee Ribber" or "Suwannee River") is a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1851.

Written in the first person from the perspective of a black slave (at a time when slavery was legal in half of the states of the US), the song has its narrator "longing for de old plantation,"[4] which has long drawn criticism as romanticizing slavery, although Foster himself supported the North during the American Civil War and supported abolition of slavery.

A word now long reckoned an ethnic slur, "darkies", that is used in the lyrics has become such an embarrassment for singers and audiences alike that at public performances words like "lordy," "mama," "darling," "brothers" or "dear ones" are typically used in place of the offensive word.

The text is written, as is usual in minstrel songs, in a cross between the dialect generally spoken by black American slaves (as well as their descendants) and standard American English — the former being attested to as in use as late as the 1940s in the works of the black Floridian folklorist Zora Neale Hurston,[5] and is an archaic form of contemporary African American Vernacular English — and this is seen by some as racism against black Americans.

In practice, the pronunciation as written in dialect has long been disregarded and the corresponding standard American English usage has been sung, as witnessed by the song's performances at the 1955 Florida Folk Festival.

"Old Folks at Home", by Stephen Foster, 1851
Way down upon de Swanee Ribber,
Far, far away,
Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber,
Dere's wha de old folks stay.
All up and down de whole creation
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation,
And for de old folks at home.

All de world am sad and dreary,
Eb-rywhere I roam;
Oh, darkeys, how my heart grows weary,
Far from de old folks at home!

2nd verse
All round de little farm I wandered
When I was young,
Den many happy days I squandered,
Many de songs I sung.
When I was playing wid my brudder
Happy was I;
Oh, take me to my kind old mudder!
Dere let me live and die.

3rd Verse
One little hut among de bushes,
One dat I love
Still sadly to my memory rushes,
No matter where I rove.
When will I see de bees a-humming
All round de comb?
When will I hear de banjo strumming,
Down in my good old home?

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