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Crime and Prison Songs: “Jumpin’ Judy”

In 1933, John and Alan Lomax visited prison farms in the South in the hope of recording African-American songs that dated back to the time of slavery. Their visits were based on the theory that the best places to find songs of slavery preserved in their purest form were in prison camps, with their close resemblance to the conditions of antebellum plantations and their isolation from general society. What they found instead were original songs with themes that directly addressed contemporary prison life.

Here are the lyrics for two versions of the prison song “Jumpin’ Judy.” Both versions have different themes despite their shared name. To learn more about “Jumpin’ Judy,” click on the audio link at the beginning of this post to hear one of the versions of the song performed by the convicts at the Parchman Farm in the Delta region of Mississippi and to listen to me talk more about the song.

From American Ballads and Folk Songs.

This version of “Jumpin’ Judy” was recorded by the Lomaxes in the early 1930’s in Chattanooga, TN and was sung by Allen Prothro. The Lomaxes found similar versions of the song in both Tennessee and Mississippi. Judy or Julie was a common name used in song throughout Southern prisons, and “Jumpin’” refers to how the prisoners respond to an angry prison guard. The song is about the prisoner being continually pushed in his work and ends with his escape.

Jumpin’ Judy, jumpin’ Judy, hanh!
Jumpin’ Judy, jumpin’ Judy, hanh!
Jumpin’ Judy, jumpin’ Judy, hanh!
All over dis worl’, hanh, all over dis worl’, hanh!

Well you kick an’ stomp an’ beat me,
Well you kick an’ stomp an’ beat me,
Well you kick an’ stomp an’ beat me,
Da’s all I know, da’s all I know.

Yonder come my cap’n,
Yonder come my cap’n,
Yonder come my cap’n,
Who has been gone so long, who has been gone so long.

Gonna tell him how you treat me,
Gonna tell him how you treat me,
Gonna tell him how you treat me,
So you better git gone, so you better git gone.

He got a 44,
He got a 44,
He got a 44,
In-a his right han’, in-a his right han’.

Gonna take dis ol’ hammer,
Gonna take dis ol’ hammer,
Give it back to jumpin’ Judy,
An’ tell her I’m gone, suh, an’ tell her I’m gone.

Ef she asks you was I runnin’,
Ef she asks you was I runnin’,
Ef she asks you was I runnin’,
You can tell I’s flyin’, you can tell I’s flyin’.

Tell ‘er I crossed de St. John’s River,
Tell ‘er I crossed de St. John’s River,
Tell ‘er I crossed de St. John’s River,
Wid my head hung down, wid my head hung down.

From Prison Songs: Historical Recordings From Parchman Farm 1947-48.

This version of the song was recorded by Alan Lomax on Parchman Farm in Mississippi in 1947-48 and is sung by Tangle Eye, Fuzzy Red, Hard Hair, and others. The names of these lead singers are nicknames that were given to the singers when they first entered the prison farm.

Parchman Farm - 1911

Here, Jumpin’ Judy has a baby and abandons the prisoner by leaving on the Illinois Central railroad for Kankakee. Rosie then enters the picture. She is a common figure in prison songs and generally lends comfort to the prisoners. In this case, she arrives with a pardon. You can listen to this version of the song in the audio clip.

O well, it’s jumpin’, jumpin’ Judy,
O well, it’s jumpin’, jumpin’ Judy,
O well, it’s jumpin’, jumpin’ Judy,
Boy, she was a mighty fine gal.

O well, she brought that jumpin’,
O well, she brought that jumpin’,
O well, she brought that jumpin’,
Baby, to this whole wide world.

O well, she brought it in the mornin’,
O well, she brought it in the mornin’,
O well, she brought it in the mornin’,
Baby, just a little ‘fore day.

You catch the Illinois Central,
You catch the Illinois Central,
You catch the Illinois Central,
Baby, go to Kankakee.

O Well, and yonder come old Rosie,
O Well, and yonder come old Rosie,
O Well, and yonder come old Rosie,
Baby, how in the world you know?

O well, I knowed her by her apron,
O well, I knowed her by her apron,
O well, I knowed her by her apron,
Baby, red’s the dress that she wore.

O well, she wore a Mother Hubbard,
O well, she wore a Mother Hubbard,
O well, she wore a Mother Hubbard,
Baby, like a morning gown.

O well, I heard her tell the sergeant,
O well, I heard her tell the sergeant,
O well, I heard her tell the sergeant,
“Sir, I’ve come for my man.

“Poor boy, he’s been here a-rollin’,
Poor boy, he’s been here a-rollin’,
Poor boy, he’s been here a-rollin’,
Baby, for the state so long.

“O well, I know he’s done got sorry,
O well, I know he’s done got sorry,
O well, I know he’s done got sorry,
Buddy, that he ever done wrong.”

Sources

2 Comments

  1. Butch in Waukegan wrote:

    O well, she wore a Mother Hubbard,
    Baby, like a morning gown.

    Given the context, could it be “mourning gown”?

    Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 6:18 am | Permalink
  2. It’s possible But Rosie is arriving with a pardon, so the particular situation does not call for mourning, even if the general situation does.

    Sunday, March 20, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

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