Sea Lion Woman
"Sea Lion Woman" (also "Sea-Line Woman", "See [the] Lyin' Woman", "She Lyin' Woman", "See-Line Woman", or "C-Line Woman") is a traditional American folk song originally used as a children's playground song.
The song was first recorded by folklore researcher Herbert Halpert on May 13, 1939. Halpert was compiling a series of field recordings for the Library of Congress in Byhalia, MS, when he ran across Walter Shipp, a minister, and his wife Mary, a choir director of a local church. Halpert recorded Shipp's daughters, Katharine and Christeen, singing a spare version of "Sea Lion Woman" that defined the basic rhymes and rhythm of the song.
The exact origins of the song are unknown but it is believed to have originated in the southern United States. According to Tom Schnabel of KCRW, he was told that Nina Simone’s “See-line Woman” was a 19th-century seaport song about sailors coming into port (e.g. Charleston or New Orleans) and prostitutes waiting for them, lined up along the dock, hence the term 'sea line' (a line of women by the sea) or alternatively, 'see-line' (women standing in a line to be seen). Their dress colors signified the specific delights they offered.
Nina Simone popularized the song as "See-Line Woman". Her original studio recording was first released in 1964 as the single B-side of "Mississippi Goddam", a song that marked her turn to political engagement with Civil Rights protest songs. On the single's label "See-Line Woman" is credited to be written by George Houston Bass and arranged by Simone. The song was then part of her album Broadway-Blues-Ballads of the same year, and it was featured again on single the next year, this time as an A-side coupled with "I Love Your Lovin' Ways". She often performed the song in concert, and, according to Tom Schnabel, Simone occasionally altered her lyrics.
Most versions of the song cover Nina Simone's lyrics and arrangement with syncopated hand-claps (or percussion) and more than one back-up voice for the response.
In 1987 the Irish rock band Hothouse Flowers released a live recording of the song (credited only to G. H. Bass) on a 12" maxi edition of their first single "Love Don't Work This Way", a year before their first album.
Nina Simone's version of the song was prominently covered by Feist for her 2007 album The Reminder. "Sea Lion Woman" is Feist's original title for this song but on the album it was shortened to "Sealion". It charted through digital downloads on the Canadian Hot 100 under the title "Sea Lion Woman" and peaked #94.
The folk-rock group Ollabelle rearranged the song in 2006 as a rock tune for their album Riverside Battle Songs. The song was also covered by singers Katie Melua (featuring Arno) and Brooke Fraser (from New Zealand) among others.
Remixes and sampling
A remix of the seldom used original recording of the traditional song performed by the Shipp sisters was produced by Greg Hale Jones and Russell Ziecker entitled "She Began to Lie"; it became part of the soundtrack for the 1999 feature film The General's Daughter.
Nina Simone's 1964 recording was remixed by Masters at Work for a 12" single release in 2002 (coupled with the original 1964 recording), and was part of the Verve label compilation Verve//Remixed of the same year. Other remixes of the recording were produced by J.Viewz in 2008, and by Ogris Debris in 2012.
(Extra verses I've seen but are not on the historic
by Nina Simone and George Bass
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
- Afro-American Blues and Game Songs - The Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture Retrieved November 8, 2009
- Entry and recording of "Sea Lion Woman" at the American Library of Congress
- The Real Meaning to Nina Simone's Classic Song, “See-Line Woman” by Tom Schnabel, posted July 9, 2013 on KCRW Rhythm Planet website
- Pictures of single labels on Discogs.com
- "Hothouse Flowers - Love Don't Work This Way" at Discogs
- Feist - Sea Lion Woman - Music Charts
- Review of "The General's Daughter" from moviemusicuk.us Retrieved November 8, 2009