Billy Boy

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For the professional wrestler, see Billy Boy (wrestler).
Not to be confused with Billy Boys
"Billy Boy"
Roud #326
Written by Traditional
Published c. 1930
Written US
Language English
Form Nursery rhyme

"Billy Boy" is a traditional folk song and nursery rhyme found in the United States. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 326. It is a variant of the traditional English folksong "My Boy Billy," collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams and published by him in 1912 as number 232 in "Novello's School Songs."

Lyrics[edit]

One variant of the lyrics goes:

Oh, where have you been,
Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Oh, where have you been,
Charming Billy?
I have been to seek a wife,
She's the joy of my life,
She's a young thing
And cannot leave her mother.

Did she bid you to come in,
Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Did she bid you to come in,
Charming Billy?
Yes, she bade me to come in,
There's a dimple in her chin.
She's a young thing
And cannot leave her mother.

Can she make a cherry pie,
Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she make a cherry pie,
Charming Billy?
She can make a cherry pie,
Quick as a cat can wink an eye,
She's a young thing
And cannot leave her mother.

Did she set for you a chair,
Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Did she set for you a chair,
Charming Billy?
Yes, she sat for me a chair.
She has ringlets in her hair.
She's a young thing
And cannot leave her mother.

How old is she now,
Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
How old is she now,
Charming Billy?
Three times six and four times seven,
Twenty-eight and eleven,
She's a young thing
And cannot leave her mother.[1]

Further variants have been recorded, that greatly extend the number of verses and tasks she can perform. An extended version of the song in which the lover performs many tasks besides the cherry pie was collected by Alan Lomax and John Avery Lomax: it appears in American Ballads and Folk Songs. The Lomax version names the woman being courted Betsy Jane.[2]

Jerry Lee Lewis released a version of the song on his 1975 album, Rare, Vol. 1.[3]

The folk group, The Almanac Singers, wrote an anti-war version of this song by Millard Lampell.

Origins and interpretations[edit]

The final verse may be intended as a math puzzle, or it may be a humorous indication that the woman is considerably older than the protestation of her youth in the refrain seems to indicate, which is 85 years old (How old is she? = (3*6)+(4*7)+28+11 = 85). While the tone of the nursery rhyme is ironic and teasing, both the question and answer form[4] and the narrative of the song have been related to Lord Randall, a murder ballad from the British Isles. In Lord Randall, the suitor is poisoned by the woman he visits.[5]

By contrast, Robin Fox uses the song to make a point about cooking and courtship, and observes that:

Feeding has always been closely linked with courtship. . . With humans this works two ways since we are the only animals who cook: the bride is usually appraised for her cooking ability. (“Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy boy, Billy boy?”) In some cultures this is far more important than her virginity.[6]

Various versions of the song have been recorded, including one by The Dale Sisters. It was released in August 1960, billed as "Billy Boy, Billy Boy", on the B-side of their single, "The Kiss", on His Master's Voice (POP 781).[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences - Kids Pages - Billy Boy". Kids.niehs.nih.gov. 2010-12-15. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  2. ^ "American ballads & Folk Songs - Page 0420". Traditionalmusic.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  3. ^ "Rare, Vol. 1 - Jerry Lee Lewis | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  4. ^ More type 43f43f: see Bruce P. Hayes, Margaret MacEachern, Quatrain Form in English Folk Verse
  5. ^ Dan Fox, a treasury of children's songs (Macmillan, 2003: ISBN 0-8050-7445-7, ISBN 978-0-8050-7445-1), "Billy Boy".
  6. ^ Robin Fox, Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective, p. 11; see also her The Challenge of Anthropology, (Transaction, 1996; ISBN 1-56000-827-X, 9781560008279)
  7. ^ "The Dale Sisters Discography - UK". 45cat. Retrieved 2014-01-30.