Hush, Little Baby
"Hush, Little Baby" is a traditional lullaby, thought to have been written in the Southern United States. The lyrics promise various rewards to the child for remaining quiet. The simple structure allows more verses to be added ad lib. It has a Roud number of 470.
History and traditional versions
Like most folk songs, the author and date of origin are unknown. The English folklorist Cecil Sharp collected and notated a version from Endicott, Franklin County, Virginia in 1918, and another version sung by a Julie Boone of Micaville, North Carolina, with a complete version of the lyrics. A version recorded on a wax cylinder around 1929–35 in Durham, North Carolina by James Madison Carpenter can be heard online via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website. Alan Lomax recorded several varying traditional renditions of the song in the southern United States in the 1930s and 40s, including from the traditional singer Texas Gladden. All of these versions differ melodically and lyrically, to varying degrees, from the now popular version.
One of the versions recorded by Lomax was that of the influential Appalachian musician Jean Ritchie, who performed a version in 1949 that had been passed down in her family. The Ritchie family version is identical to the versions which would later become famous. Due to the melodic and lyrical diversity of other traditional recordings and the fact that Ritchie shared a stage with and directly influenced artists who would later record the song such as The Weavers and Joan Baez, it is likely that the popular version of the song descends from Jean Ritchie's Kentucky family.
The song has been performed and recorded by many artists including Joan Baez, Burl Ives, Regina Spektor, Nina Simone, The Weavers and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Additionally, the song has been adapted into pop songs such as Maurice King's "Hambone", Inez and Charlie Foxx's "Mockingbird" and Bo Diddley's eponymous song "Bo Diddley", as well as Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma's "Hush Little Baby" and Eminem's "Mockingbird".
Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Etta James, Taj Mahal and Dusty Springfield have each recorded "Mockingbird", which is an R&B variant of the song. "Mockingbird" was featured humorously as a car travel song in the films National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) and Dumb & Dumber (1994).
It was also sung in the 1999 made for TV thriller Blind Obsession, and 2001's Murder at My Door.
There are a multitude of different versions of the song. It has a simple structure consisting of a series of rhyming couplets, where a gift is given to the little baby. In the next couplet, the gift is found faulty in some way, and a new gift is presented. The song continues in this pattern as long as the singer likes; and can come up with new gifts that fit the rhyming pattern. An example of some common couplets used in the transcript of the Target commercial "Strawberry Shortcake" (2004):
(Strawberry Shortcake) Hush, Apple Dumpling, don't say a word,
Sister's gonna buy you a Mockingbird.
And if that mockingbird don't sing,
Sister's gonna buy you a diamond ring.
And if that diamond ring turns brass...
- "Hush Little Baby (Roud Folksong Index S300927)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
- "Hush Little Baby (Roud Folksong Index S341770)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
- "The Mocking Bird (Cecil Sharp Manuscript Collection (at Clare College, Cambridge) CJS2/10/4501)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
- "The Mocking Bird (Cecil Sharp Manuscript Collection (at Clare College, Cambridge) CJS2/9/3315)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
- "The Mocking Bird (Nursery Song) (Cecil Sharp Manuscript Collection (at Clare College, Cambridge) CJS2/10/4775)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
- "Mama, Mama, Have You Heard? (VWML Song Index SN18174)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
- "Hush My Baby Don't You Cry (Roud Folksong Index S238332)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
- "Hush Baby Don't You Cry (Roud Folksong Index S238323)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
- "Commentary by Jean Ritchie on Dance To Your Daddy / Hush Little Baby | Lomax Digital Archive". archive.culturalequity.org. Retrieved 2021-10-12.
- Thompson, Richard (2015-07-03). "Jean Ritchie remembered". Bluegrass Today. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
- "Jean Ritchie". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2020-11-22.