When I was young, I liked to play gossip games like "A sailor went to sea, sea, sea" and "I am a sweet Dutchwoman". Here is a simple version:
A sailor went to sea, sea, sea
To see what I could see, see, see
But all I could see, saw, saw
It was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea.
I didn't think at the time that it was a song about a drowning sailor. I knew it was a play on wordsverjto damage, but mostly it was something to sing while we applauded.
We used the same tune from "Sailor" for "I Am a Pretty Little Dutch Girl":
I'm a cute dutch baby
as pretty as i can be
And all the boys in the neighborhood
You're crazy about me.
My friend's name is Mello
It comes from the land of jelly.
With pickles for the toes and a cherry for the nose
And so my story goes on.
Another version of the second verse was
I have a friend Patty
is from Cincinnati
With 48 fingers and a pickle in the nose...
In another, it's a grain instead of a cucumber.
It was popular in the United States and England. An Australian version uses "Bush Girl" instead of Dutch Girl. In others it is French. In Israel, the groom's name is Chaim, which rhymes with Jerusalem. In some versions, the boyfriend is seen kissing another girl and the narrator ends the story by kicking the boyfriend down the stairs.
In some versions it is paired with "Miss Lucy" (or Suzy or some other variant) set to the same tune:
Miss Lucy had a baby.
His name was Tiny Tim
She put him in the bathtub
To see if he could swim.
He drank all the water
He ate all the soap
He tried to eat the pan.
But it wouldn't go down his throat.
Many also contain almost colorless jokes like this alternate version of "Miss Suzy" (one of many):
Miss Suzy had a speedboat
The speedboat had a bell.
Miss Suzy went to heaven
The speedboat closed
give me number nine
if you separate me
I'll kick you in the
behind the fridge
There was a piece of glass
Miss Suzy sat on it
And he broke his little one
ask me no more questions...etc.
And that's a pretty mild version!
Down, down baby
There was a good segment on Sesame Street that involved teaching another kid how to do the "Down Down Baby" moves, another standard.
In this video you can see a more complex clapping pattern.
Another famous gossip game is “Mary Mack”. The most common version says:
Fräulein Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
Everything for his back, back, back
He asked his mother, mother, mother
For fifty cents, cents, cents
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants
Jump over the fence, fence, fence
They jumped so high, high, high
They reached heaven, heaven, heaven
And he didn't come back, he came back, he came back
Until the Fourth of July, ly, ly.
The origins of this song are unclear and many explanations are hard to believe. One says that Mary Mack was a passenger who went down with the Titanic. Another claims that the name is a shortened version of theMerrimac, the ship the Confederates converted into a battleshipVirginiawho faced itMonitor. Although I see this statement repeated in more than one source, I cannot find any factual support for it.
Another origin story makes the story a slave song with encoded references to freedom, perhaps wanting money to escape slavery. Another says the elephant is a reference to the Republican Party. And another says that "Mack" was slang for flirting or prostitution.
Some newer versions have a very different last verse:
She was so big, big, big
He touched the sky, sky, sky,
And she didn't go down, down, down
Until it almost dies, dies, dies.
The song is often described as a favorite of African American girls in the 1970s, particularly in low-income areas.
When I asked my friends if they grew up listening to these clap songs, most said they know the same songs I mentioned. One grew up in Louisiana, one in Colorado, one in Texas, one in Illinois, one in New York, one in Michigan, one in California. So how did these songs, spanning continents and oceans, become so popular decades before the advent of the internet and YouTube videos? And where did they come from anyway?
These questions are actually more complicated than they seem, as are the answers. We're asking about several stories here: the rhymes, the melodies, and the gossip patterns. And once you pull on one historical thread, you often find it connected to many others. In this case, the story revolves around immigrants in the US, a pope with military ambitions, the West African slave trade, minstrel shows, vaudeville, population changes in the US, and lots of kids sharing and adapting the applause songs they liked.
Share the cake
Nursery rhymes have a long and well-documented history in Europe. "Pat-a Cake" first appeared in a British play calledthe activists, in 1698, although it probably existed in oral tradition much earlier. In the play, a nurse makes reference to the cake and the baker while entertaining the baby. InThe Mother Goose Melody(1765) the complete verse appears:
cake cake, cake cake
I will do that, master.
As fast as I can.
stroke it and poke it,
And mark it with a T
And there will be enough for Tommy and me.
(Bread labeling was a way for sellers and buyers to identify the bread they ordered.)
You may know of a newer version like this:
make me a cake
as fast as you can
Roll it up, pull it up and mark it with a B,
And put it in the oven for the baby and me.
Some of the rhymes in these games originated in England and were brought to the United States by immigrants. Some are combinations of songs from multiple sources. Like all popular songs, they have been modified by their singers and the situation. In some videos on the source list, you can see girls (and sometimes boys) from India, Africa, the Caribbean, and Japan doing clapping games. Many include brand names, such as Disneyland, Dr. Pepper or Coca-Cola, and jokes like "What color was your fart?"
There was no published music to accompany the Pat-a Cake verse until 1796, nearly a hundred years after its appearance. I personally have never heard her sing. It is mostly recited in singsong, with simple applause and gestures accompanied by "Roll it up," "Put it up," and "Mark it with a B." Often the mother or caregiver will hold the baby's hands and help him form the clapping gesture.
Many of the other clap games share similar simple melodies, more like chants. "My Boyfriend Gave Me an Apple", "I Went to a Chinese Restaurant" and "My Mummy" have the same basic melody as "A Sailor Went to Sea".
This is where the story gets more interesting and much harder. There seems to be a clear connection between the gossip games and the Africanisms brought to America and the West Indies with the slave trade.
While slavery of the conquered was not uncommon in Europe and Africa, the West African slave trade, begun by the Portuguese in the 15th century, increased dramatically in the 17th century as the demand for laborers to work on the plantations in America and the Caribbean islands increased.
Historical note: In 1452, Pope Nicholas V asked the Portuguese monarchy for help in fighting the Saracens in Constantinople. As a reward for his help, he issued a papal bull,although different, which reduced non-Catholics to the equivalent of Saracens, who were Muslims. Thus non-Catholics became enemies worthy of a life of eternal bondage. Two years later, the Pope rewarded the Portuguese with a monopoly on the West African slave trade. While other countries soon ignored this decree, it served as a religious seal of approval for the trade in captive humans.
Yet, as Dawn L. Wright points out in her master's thesis, An Examination of African-American Children's English-Speaking Rhythm Games and Plays, many Africanisms survived, even in the face of slavery and acculturation. Two of his examples are call-and-response participation patterns and body percussion. Both, he says, continue African styles of music and movement, but also adopt parts of European customs.
call and answer
Some gossip games involve call and response, but the pattern is most commonly found in work songs, sea shanties, and military marching songs.
This video, filmed at Kenya Connect Schools, features a call and response game, a pair clapping game and a circle elimination game. The last clapper game shown in the video is particularly impressive because of its speed and complexity:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDF7PWPrNHs
Because the masters feared that the slaves might use the drums as a secret communication system, the slaves were forbidden from using them, so the body percussion was completed with complex combinations of stomping, clapping, finger-snapping, and patting thighs or cheeks.
Hambone (Dance of Juba) is a perfect example, brought to South Carolina by slaves from the Congo and then spread through slave communities in the Caribbean islands, Brazil and the southern United States. Hambones were generally male. And the lines "Hambone, Hambone, where have you been? Round the world and back again" is one of many examples of ambiguity in these songs. One explanation is that a ham bone carried from one pot to another in the slaves' quarters added flavor to the soup, but often also had a more sexual interpretation.
Here's a contemporary performance of Derique McGhee's Hambone at Lincoln Centerhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLmySQ5CuY0
Minstrel shows, variety shows featuring song and dance performances that exaggerated and ridiculed African-American music and dance, became popular in the 19th century. Building on a much older custom of presenting "others" as oddities, minstrel shows featured "slave songs" supposedly by African slaves but sung by black-faced white musicians.
Often the shows also included the Juba dance, in which an artist performed an elaborate dance that involved stamping and body percussion. The two parts later split into tap dancing, which merged with the European step into American tap dancing, and hambone (body percussion), now more commonly performed by white performers.
Here's a contemporary body percussion video by the Hambone Brothers:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuB9XFbeix0
But all in all it was a strange affair. By 1900, minstrel shows had morphed into vaudeville acts. While most minstrel-style groups were white men with black faces, there were also black minstrel groups who performed with or without a black face, including Bert Williams, an African-American who was part of the Ziegfeld Follies from 1910, and the Afrikaner-American Top-Paid. -At that time, Americans in show business. However, these shows largely sold a demeaning caricature of African Americans. Thomas D. Rice, a white male who went by the stage name "Daddy Jim Crow" in blackface, performed the song "Jump Jim Crow" accompanied by a dance. She gave her name to the institutionalization of segregation and discrimination that lasted until the civil rights movement. His legacy still lives on today.
However, one of the many odd parts of this story is that the use of African American songs, dances and rhythms, even in the context of minstrel shows, served to perpetuate it. An odd hybrid also emerged, with Nordic white songwriters such as Stephen Foster writing songs about life for slaves in the pre-war South, such as "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Oh, Susanna!" and "Camptown Races", which incorporated African-American rhythms and styles, which were then performed in minstrel shows by blackfaced singers, often using percussion and instruments of African origin.
Here's Al Jolson singing "Mammy" in Black Facethe jazz singer(pictured) and singing in the "Camptown Races" video:
While it's pretty chilling to watch today, it shows the weird cultural mix that was going on at those shows.
Popular entertainment kept clapping and dancing alive in public, but kids must have passed it on from the start simply because it was fun. Many female slaves were assigned white children to look after them. According to first-hand accounts, friendships between slave children and white children were quite common. It's not hard to imagine a bunch of kids killing time with a clapping game that would later spill over.
This spread occurred on a much larger scale with the great migration of peoples. Before 1910, 90% of the African American population in the United States lived in the rural South. But between 1916 and 1970, more than 6 million African Americans moved to urban centers in the Northeast, Midwest, and Far West in search of better jobs and treatment. And they brought their songs with them, which later fueled the spread of gospel, blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll.
And some became gossip games, happily jumping across social boundaries everywhere. And it changed with every environment and group.
The earliest examples of clapping were recorded in the American South in the 1850s. By 1950, "Miss Mary Mack" was the most popular gossip song in the English-speaking world.
the applause song
In 1965 Shirley Ellis recorded The Clapping Song, written by Lincoln Chase, whose parents were from the West Indies. Try teaching the clapping pattern while the song is being sung. It became very popular, reaching #8 on the pop charts, a nice sequel to his previous hit, The Name Game, also written by Lincoln Chase. It borrows from a 1930s song "Little Rubber Dolly". Here's Shirley Ellis' version:
And the letter:
Three six nine, the goose drank wine.
The monkey chews tobacco on the tram line.
The line snapped and the monkey suffocated
And they all went up to heaven in a little rowboat.
Gossip, gossip, gossip, gossip, gossip!
Clap, clap, clap, pat your partner's hand.
Clap, clap, clap, clap your hands. Cross it with your left arm.
Clap your partner's left palm.
Clap, clap, clap in your partner's right palm
Again with the right palm.
Clap, clap, clap, clap your thighs and sing a little song.
My mother told me if I was good.
That he would buy me a rubber doll.
My aunt told her I kissed a soldier
Now don't you buy me a rubber doll.
Three six nine, the goose drank wine.
The monkey chews tobacco on the tram line.
The line snapped and the monkey suffocated
And they all went up to the sky in a little rowboat...
Clapping games are enjoying a renaissance, especially among tween girls who love to learn and perform really complicated versions with lots of different moves. Most of the YouTube videos you see in the sources show girls as young as 8 or 10 making their own videos of the games, which sometimes slows down the explanation for us slower, older folks.
My neighbor who teaches at a local elementary school told me that teachers have started including clapping games to get kids to put down their phones and interact with each other during break time. They teach hand-eye coordination, rhythm and collaboration while training the brain and body. Plus they're fun.
Sources and interesting listening:
„ABC Clap Games, 123 und Peter Pan“, Videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJUzX40zaw8
"Tic Tac Toe and Other Games", video,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhE38V1QbMO
Bishop, Julia, „Clapping Games“, British Library, 26. Oktober 2016www.bl.uk/playtimes/articles/clappinggames
"Black Face", Wikipedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cara negra
Cabrera, Gertrudis, "A Day in the Life of an Enslaved Child," Lesson Plan and Materials, Franklin Elementary School, Houston
„Call and Response (Music) Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_and_response-(Música)
"Applause game", Wikipedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clapping_game
"Doctor Pepper", Video,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Swe99oRW4wY
"Don't Break the Window" clapping game, video also includes Lemonade, Bingo and Double,double, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD42M40KMeQ
"Down, down baby", video clip from Sesame Street,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5K-FpmUUc7Unice group
"Down, down, baby! A Story of Applause, SAHMurai, April 17, 2016https://sahmurai.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/the-truth-behind-3-hand-clapping-games-from-your-childhood/
Ellis, Shirley, "The Gossip Song",https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWuSPPLtkEQ
Gaunt, Kyra D.The Games Black Girls Play: Learn the Ropes from Double Dutch to Hip-Hop. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
Hambone Brothers Video,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuB9XFbeix0
"Iona and Peter Opie"https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iona_and_Peter_Opie
Jenkins, Ella, "A Sailor Put to Sea", Smithsonian Folkways recording, with applause. Jenkins identifies "a sailor" as African American.https://folkways.si.edu/ella-jenkins-a-sailor-went-to-sea/children/music/track/smithsonian
"Juba Dance", Wikipedia, the free encyclopediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juba_dance
"Juba Dance", WikiVisually,https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Juba_dance
„Liberian Clapping Games“, Video des Africa Heartwood Project,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtnTFj9xjKw7t=13s
McGhee, Derique, Hambone Demo at Lincoln Center, New York, August 12, 2010https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLmySQ5CuY0
Mintz, Steven, "Childhood and Transatlantic Slavery," Children and Youth in History, Columbia University,http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/case-studies/57
"Miss Mary Mack," Pop Culture, from Dictionary.comhttps://www.dictionary.com/e/pop-culture/miss-mary-mack/
British Library video clip and explanation of 'My Mummy'https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/my-mummy
Nigerian Gossip Game Videohttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDF79WPrNHscouple clapping, elimination game, boys and girls
„Nursery Rhymes, child folklore and play: The archive of Iona and Peter Opie“, Archives and Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library, un blog de Bodleian Libraries, 7. März 2017,http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.ukarchivesandmanuscripts/2017/03/07/opie-archive/
Opie, Iona and Peter.Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. Oxford und Nueva York: Oxford University Press, 1997
"Pat-a-pie, pat-a-pie, baker." Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat-a-cake/
Photo of children playing clapping games by Jarek Tuszynski, 2011
"Pretty Dutch Girl", Wikipedia,https://wen.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Little_Dutch_Girl
Rosen, Michael, "Introduction to Clapping Games", British Library,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNVjc3c_SSca very good source
Video clip "A sailor went to sea, to sea, to sea",http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28uNq8XQPK8
Wiggins, David K. "The Play of the Slave Children in the Plantation Communities of the Old South, 1820–1860", Journal of Sport History, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Verano de 1980) 21 - 39.
Wright, Dawn L. "An Examination of African-American Children's English-Speaking Rhythm Games and Games", Master's Thesis, Clark Atlanta University, 1. Juli 1996, erhältlich über Digital Commons @Robert W. Woodruff Library vom Atlanta University Center, Atlanta University Center, offener Zugang.