"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 folk song "My Boy Billy," collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams and published by him in 1912 as number 232 in Novello's School Songs. The song is very popular with the Orange Order.
One variant of the lyrics goes:
Oh, where have you been,
Did she bid you to come in,
Can she make a cherry pie,
Did she set for you a chair,
How old is she now,
Origins and interpretations
While the tone of the nursery rhyme is ironic and teasing, both the question and answer form and the narrative of the song have been related to "Lord Randall", a murder ballad from the British Isles, in which the suitor is poisoned by the woman he visits.
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.
- Further variants have been recorded, that greatly extend the number of verses and tasks that the wife 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.
- A version by the Dale Sisters 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).
- A version of the song by Jerry Lee Lewis was released on the 1975 album, Rare, Vol. 1.
- Millard Lampell of the folk group the Almanac Singers wrote an anti-war version of "Billy Boy".
- The song was performed by Burl Ives and Beulah Bondi in the 1949 Disney film So Dear to My Heart.
- Embedded in one of his "Schticks and Stones" medleys, Allan Sherman included a short segment about a then-current political scandal concerning Billie Sol Estes: "Oh, what have you done, Billie Sol, Billie Sol? ..."
- Red Garland, Pianist of the Miles Davis Quintet, recorded a trio version of the song for the 1958 Miles Davis album Milestones.
- "National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences - Kids Pages - Billy Boy". Kids.niehs.nih.gov. 2010-12-15. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
- More type 43f43f: see Bruce P. Hayes, Margaret MacEachern, Quatrain Form in English Folk Verse
- Fox, Dan (2003) "Billy Boy" in A Treasury of Children's Songs New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0-8050-7445-7, ISBN 978-0-8050-7445-1
- Fox, Robin: Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective. Social Issues Research Centre. p.11; see also Fox, Robin (1994): The Challenge of Anthropology: Old Encounters and New Excursions. Transaction Publishers, ISBN 156000827X
- "American ballads & Folk Songs - Page 0420". Traditionalmusic.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
- "The Dale Sisters Discography - UK". 45cat. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
- "Rare, Vol. 1 - Jerry Lee Lewis | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-01-30.