On "De Blue-Tail Fly"
Herbert Harrington, professor of music at Wesleyan College when my wife
attended and organist in churches and synagogues in Macon, Georgia, had
observed, "The congregation just doesn't know what the Blue-Tail Fly sounds
like when you slow it down and decorate it enough."
The back story was that
the wedding announced for a certain hour was very late in starting, because
according to the priest, "having some trouble with her dress." What was
later learned was the antique veil long in that family had been left in
Valdosta about 140 miles distant from Macon, and someone in the wedding
party had to fetch it. Harrington improvised and improvised. This parallels other
similar anecdotes in which others had turned
to a popular and folk themes for inspiration when improvisation was
For these anecdotes, this bit of
musical Americana inspired a setting of the tune. As found in "On the Trail
of Negro Folk-Songs," Dorothy Scarborough, Oxford University Press, 1925:
Known by two titles, one reads: "Jimmy Crack Corn" or 'Blue Tail Fly'
is an American song which first became popular during the rise of blackface
minstrelsy in the 1840s when performed by the Virginia Minstrels, and
regained currency as a folk song in the 1940s at the beginning of the
American folk music revival, and has since become a popular children's song.
Over the years, several variants have appeared. Most versions include some
idiomatic African English, although sanitized General American versions now
predominate. The basic narrative remains intact. On the surface, the song is
a black slave's lament over his white master's death in a riding accident.
The song, however, can be—and is—interpreted as having a subtext of
celebration about that death and of the slave's having contributed to it
through deliberate negligence or even deniable action. " Jimmy Crack Corn,"
Wikipedia, n. d.
the anecdotes above, these little variations open with a long-lined "verse"
hushed and blurred with the sostenuto pedal.
Thereafter a romp begins, with the "chorus" of this well known tune stated
in canon with itself, decorated by diatonic runs, followed by other
treatments with syncopation and some quasi-modulation.
pages, circa 4' 40" - an MP3 demo is here:
The score is available as a free PDF download, though any major
commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior
arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano
"De Blue-Tail Fly"