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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW Banjo Picking Girl 1/14/11

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

Mtngoat - Posted - 01/14/2011:  03:34:16

For the TOTW I’ve chosen that all time favorite Banjo Picking Girl.

There are at least a couple of old threads in the Hangout archive devoted to BPG. I’ve cherry picked most of the good stuff for inclusion here but you might find them interesting reading.

A scholarly treatment of BPG can be found in the book “Southern Mountain Folksongs” by folklorist W.K. McNeil who devotes a full chapter to the song with a history of both lyric and tune in standard notation.

The Bluegrass Messengers web site provides good information with sources and guitar tab here:

and WayneErbsen, of Banjo Ignoramus fame, provides a lead sheet and short pedigree of BPG here:

The most famous version of BPG was recorded by Lily May Ledford and the Coon Creek Girls in 1938, but there were/are variants of this song throughout the Kentucky Mountains. It was first recorded separately by Wayne County neighbors Emry Arthur in 1928 and Dick Burnett and Leonard Rutherford in 1929. Burnett claimed authorship of the song. Ms Ledford said she got the chorus from her brother, who learned it while working at a coal mine in Pike County, and she had to make up the rest of the verses for her recording. Since Burnett and Rutherford often played the coal camps of Eastern Kentucky, it is possible that Ms Ledford's version is derived from a live performance by the duo witnessed by her brother.

The popularity of the Ledford version can be attributed to the long reach of the powerful radio stations in Louisville and Cincinnati from which the Coon Creek Girls broadcast their programs. If you hear a performance with verses about North Carolina and China you can bet the singer learned the tune from the Ledford recording.

All of the early recordings have a Kentucky connection. Here are some online sources.

Burnett and Rutherford, from Wayne Co., 1929, as "Going Around the World", can be found on Burnett and Rutherford, Complete Recorded Works, Document Records DOCD-8025. You can download it at this link:

Lily May Ledford and the Coon Creek Girls, from Powell Co., can be heard here in a 1944 performance, possibly from the Renfro Valley Barn Dance near Mount Vernon, Ky:

And here is Ms Ledford’s 1980 Berea College solo recording showing an evolution of the song:

Cari Norris plays a 2010 version here:

Pete Steele, from Laurel Co., recorded it in 1958, as 'Going Around the World' on Banjo Tunes and Songs, for Folkways FS 3828. A snippet is here:

The entire album is posted here:

The Steele version seems to be a hybrid with the lyrics and delivery influenced by Arthur and Burnett and the banjo break, to my ear at least, derived from Ledford’s. On the recording Steele says he has known the song for more than 30 years, which means he learned it before the Arthur and Burnett recordings of 1928. Since he lived in Pittsburg, Kentucky then, which at the time was a thriving coal camp and railroad yard, it’s possible he got it from Burnett. Alternatively, Pittsburg is only 25 miles from Renfro Valley, where the Coon Creek Girls regularly performed in the 30’s and 40’s and he could have learned it there or from their radio program after he moved to Cincinnati. A third alternative is that the song was widely known in southeastern Ky and he picked it up in the folk tradition.

Virgil Anderson, of Wayne Co., Ky, comes from the same area as Burrnett and Arthur and plays one version similar to the original recordings. On other occasions he plays a version more reminiscent of Ledford. He even has a different name for each version so possibly he sees the Burnett and Ledford songs as having separate identities. His verses often don't match the published versions and it's not clear whether he composed them himself or they are part of the local music tradition. He recorded "Going Around the World" in 1986 for Traditional Music From the Cumberland Plateau, County LP787, which can be accessed @ h://

Mr. Anderson also recorded at least two versions for Berea College in 1981 and 1984 which can be accessed here:

and here:

Old Time musician Dirk Powell plays a version from his Kentucky grandfather, James Clarence Hay of Elliott Co. Powell recorded it in 1999, as "Been All Around This World Baby Mine" on the Hand Me Down CD, Rounder 0444 which can be downloaded here:

Traditionally the song was called "Going Around the World" or "Going Around the World Baby Mine", or just “Baby Mine” and often had localized verses. Up until about 1950, the age of consent in Tennessee was 14. So if a young man in Kentucky was in love with an underage girl and he could convince her to take the train across the state line into Tennessee, he could marry her and it would all be legal. During this period, from roughly 1910 until the law was changed, half the people in Laurel County, Kentucky, were married in Jellico, Tennessee. This song records that aspect of local history.

Baby Mine
(Laurel County version)

I'm going around this world, baby mine.
I'm going around this world, baby mine.
I'm going around this world with a banjo picking girl.
I'm going around this world, baby mine.

I'm going to Jellico, baby mine.
I'm going to Jellico, baby mine.
I'm going to Jellico 'cause I love my baby so.
I'm going to Jellico, baby mine.

I'm going through this life, baby mine.
I'm going through this life, baby mine.
I'm going through this life with a banjo picking wife.
I'm going through this life, baby mine.

Hangout member David Brooks was kind enough to provide a tab of BPG which is attached.

Edited by - Mtngoat on 01/14/2011 15:32:44



mojo_monk - Posted - 01/14/2011:  04:46:54

Great tuna the week, Mtngoat!

The Coon Creek Girls completely rock my world and Virgil Anderson is one of my heroes. Thanks for all of the bird doggin' and great links. I'll work up a basic 2-finger tab and post it here in the next day or two.


ramjo - Posted - 01/14/2011:  05:44:53

I really enjoyed your scholarship and engaging writing, Mtngoat. Thanks for explaining the meaning of the "going to Tennessee" reference that shows up in this and various other songs. ("Won't you come to Tennessee and change your name to mine.") Pretty interesting history lesson, there. Great versions you've pointed us to. I'll add Fred Coon's, here, also sung from the woman's perspective (like the Coon Creek Girls' "I'm a banjo pickin' girl," not "with my banjo pickin' girl"). I like Fred's drive and singing on this.

hendrid - Posted - 01/14/2011:  06:48:48

Good Pick Mtn
You might edit your title and add (1/14/11) for old times sake and to keep an idea of when this great one was selected.

Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 01/14/2011:  06:52:51

Great TOTW! Really interesting.

I really like Abigail Washburn's version of this song...but then again, I really like everything Ms Washburn has recorded.

Here's a cute video clip of a baby crawling, with Abigail Washburn's version as a soundtrack:

vrteach - Posted - 01/14/2011:  08:30:09

What fun! I'm glad you mentioned Wayne Erbsen's page with the brief history. I think that Mr Erbsen is correct in identifying the popular song "Baby Mine" with this song, although both the melody and topic of the song were changed (and improved) by the folk process.

You can see sheet music (words by, Charles Mackay, music by Archibald Johnston) by going to the Library of Congress page of Greatest Hits, 1870-85 and then scrolling down to 1878. Here are the lyrics for that original version:

I've a letter from thy sire, Baby mine, Baby mine
I could read and never tire, Baby mine, Baby mine
He is sailing o're the sea, He is coming back to me,
He is coming back to me, Baby mine, Baby mine
He is coming back to me, Baby mine

Oh I long to see his face, Baby mine, Baby mine
In his old accustom'd place, Baby mine, Baby mine
Like the rose of May in bloom, Like a star a-mid the gloom
Like the sunshine in the room, Baby mine, Baby mine
like the sunshine in the room, Baby mine

I'm so glad I cannot sleep, Baby mine Baby mine
I'm so happy I could weep, Baby mine, Baby mine
He is sailing o're the sea, he is coming home to me
He is coming back to thee, Baby mine, Baby mine
He is coming back to thee, Baby mine

As you see this is a sentimental song sung as a Mother to her child. In the "Banjo Picking Girl" the melody is simplified a bit, much more lively, and the number of lines in the verses is reduced by one, I think making it fit into a square-tune format.

Another oddity, in 1925 the Illinois State Legislature adopted the song "Illinois, Illinois" with lyrics by Charles H. Chamberlain set to the melody of "Baby Mine" as the official state song. Here are the lyrics to that:

By thy rivers gently flowing, Illinois, Illinois,
O'er thy prairies verdant growing, Illinois, Illinois,
Comes an echo on the breeze.
Rustling through the leafy trees, and its mellow tones are these, Illinois, Illinois,
And its mellow tones are these, Illinois.

From a wilderness of prairies, Illinois, Illinois,
Straight thy way and never varies, Illinois, Illinois,
Till upon the inland sea,
Stands thy great commerical tree, turning all the world to thee, Illinois, Illinois,
Turning all the world to thee, Illinois.

When you heard your country calling, Illinois, Illinois,
Where the shot and shell were falling, Illinois, Illinois,
When the Southern host withdrew,
Pitting Gray against the Blue, There were none more brave than you, Illinois, Illinois,
There were none more brave than you, Illinois.

Not without thy wondrous story, Illinois, Illinois,
Can be writ the nation's glory, Illinois, Illinois,
On the record of thy years,
Abraham Lincoln's name appears, Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois, Illinois,
Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois.

Here is a youtube with an animated Illinois state flag and a midi version of the melody:

and another with a group called the Illinois Troubadours singing on the steps of the old state capitol in Springfield:

By the time you listen to the Illinois Troubadours singing the state song, the similarity is pretty tenuous. But you actually can fit those lyrics into the "Banjo Picking Girl" tune! The results are odd.

Edited by - vrteach on 01/14/2011 08:42:13

vrteach - Posted - 01/14/2011:  09:19:14

Also, Mtngoat, what can you tell us about the book “Southern Mountain Folksongs” by folklorist W.K. McNeil? Is it a good read?

Kitt - Posted - 01/15/2011:  05:28:57


I wasn't aware of Abigail Washburn before reading your comment.

Here's a great video introduction to her and to her music for anyone else who has been missing out.

From NPR:

strokestyle - Posted - 01/15/2011:  10:38:26

Great tune of the week! I learned this song tune in classic C as "Goin Round This World With My Baby Mine". Some different and some same words as posted already.

Another oddity, in 1925 the Illinois State Legislature adopted the song "Illinois, Illinois" with lyrics by Charles H. Chamberlain set to the melody of "Baby Mine" as the official state song. Here are the lyrics to that: By vrteach

My music Nun in grade school use to have us work on this song - She had the most-est-worst-est-awful-est voice. I still hear her squawking, thanks for putting that back in mind.

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