Ching a Ring Chaw
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As might be expected the precise lyrics vary, but they are generally approximately as follows:
- Ching-a-ring-a ring ching ching,
- Ho a ding-a-ding kum larkee,
- Ching-a-ring-a ring ching ching,
- Ho a ding kum larkee.
- Brothers gather round,
- Listen to this story,
- 'Bout the promised land,
- An' the promised glory.
- You don't need to fear,
- If you have no money,
- You don't need none there,
- To buy you milk and honey.
- There you'll ride in style,
- Coach with four white horses,
- There the evenin' meal,
- Has one two three four courses.
- Nights we all will dance
- To the harp and fiddle,
- Waltz and jig and prance,
- "And Cast off down the middle!"
- When the mornin' come,
- All in grand and splendour,
- Stand out in the sun,
- And hear the holy thunder!
- Brothers hear me out,
- The promised land's a-comin'
- Dance and sing and shout,
- I hear them harps a strummin'.
- Ching-a-ring-a ching
- ching ching, ching a ring ching
- Ching-a-ring-a ching ching,
- Ching a Ching a Ching chning
- ring, ching ching ching CHAW!
This song imitates the Banjo. Most likely it was sung by black and white minstrels throughout black-face and non-black-face minstrelsy periods—1840’s-1890’s+ -- a span of some 50+ years. Its origin seems clearly to be African American. We know this from the Biblical code words used and the basic imitation of the banjo, an African instrument. The song was used, perhaps with jig movements (a popular African dance) and mimicry by white minstrels and even black black-faced minstrels in the early days, who performed separately and did so to capitalize on the minstrelsy craze that swept the world. So, if the song originated the 1890s, it's popularity might have been created by non-black-faced black minstrels. However, it is the type of piece that was most likely sung by everyone and drug thought minstrelsy into the 20th century via Vaudeville because of its popularity. In the 1890s black minstrel troupes toured the world—Black Patti's Minstrels, Isham's Minstrels, etc., and when they did they carried the most popular songs with them. A date on this might illumine the era in which it first appeared, but would have value for this reason alone.
This song, set by Aaron Copland in the 20th century, is not in itself negative in any way, although it has sometimes been maligned and used for negative depictions of black people or analyzed without knowledge of black code language to contain negative meanings. One must always test written interpretations of such music to determine whether they contain sufficient proof of their analyses. It might have a sullied history, but the lyrics of music itself talk of "crossing over to the Land of milk and honey" and bring in "the coach with four white horses"—all symbolic language used repeatedly by African Americans in Spirituals and storytelling to represent going to a place of safety or in this case, most clearly to heaven, since the symbols are consistent with Bible-based story-telling depictions of heaven found in African American lore.
What people do with a song should be kept separate from the song itself. A final note is that the language should properly represent the originators, as one would do with rap or rock or any other colloquial music. This should not be considered "making fun," but rather as respecting the tone and originators of the song as one would do with music of any musical genre.
- Eileen Southern. The Music of Black Americans. Ed. 2. NY: W.W. Norton Co. 1983.
- Lynn Abbott, Doug Seroff. Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895. pp. 93–96
- William A. Everett, Paul R. Laird. The Cambridge Companion to the Musical.
- Erroll G. Hill and James Hatch. A History of African-American Theater. Cambridge University Press 2003.
- -Hill, The American Stage: Social and Economic Issues from the Colonial Period to the Present, ed. Engle and Miller, Cambridge University Press. 1993
- Thomas L. Riis. "Musical Theater." The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. 614– 623.
- Riis. “Minstrelsy and Theatrical Miscegenation.” The Oxford Handbook of the American Musical. ed. Raymond Knapp, et al. Oxford University Press 2011. 66, 67, 72, 76.
- -Riis. Interview by the author. August 2015, University of Colorado, Boulder.
- -Riis. More than Just Minstrel Shows: The Rise of Black Musical Theatre at the Turn of the Century. (I.S.A.M. Monographs: Number 33.) Brooklyn: Institute for Studies in American Music, 1992.
- See also Susheel Bibbs, Voices for Freedom—Booklet: A New Look at the Hyers Sisters' Dream, Change, and Legacy. Amazon.com