Shortnin' Bread

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This article is about the song. For the food, see [[shortbread]].
"Shortnin' Bread"
Published 1915
Writer James Whitcomb Riley

"Shortnin' Bread" (also spelled "Shortenin' Bread," "Short'nin' Bread," or "Sho'tnin' Bread") (Roud 4209) is a song written by James Whitcomb Riley in 1900. A folk version was published by E.C. Perrow in 1915.


"Shortnin' Bread" is often thought of as a traditional plantation song. However the first version was written by white poet James Whitcomb Riley in 1900. His song was named "A Short'nin' Bread Song—Pieced Out", the chorus of which is:

Fotch dat dough fum the kitchin-shed—
Rake de coals out hot an' red—
Putt on de oven an' putt on de led,—
Mammy's gwineter cook som short'nin' bread.[1]


When corn plantin' done come roun' ;
Blackbird own de whole plowed groun';
Corn is de grain as I've hearn said ;
Dat's de blackbird's short'nin' bread;

Folk version[edit]

Titled "Shortened Bread", E.C. Perrow published the first folk version of this song in 1915, which he collected from East Tennessee in 1912.[2] The folk version of the song—as with Riley's— does not have any distinct theme, but consists of various floating lyrics, some relating to "shortnin' bread", some not. The traditional chorus associated with the folk song goes:

Mammy's little baby loves short'nin', short'nin',
Mammy's little baby loves short'nin' bread

Shortening bread is a fried batter bread, the ingredients of which include corn meal, flour, hot water, eggs, baking powder, milk and shortening.[citation needed]

Other versions[edit]

The Beach Boys[edit]

"Shortenin' Bread"
Song by The Beach Boys from the album L.A. (Light Album)
Released March 19, 1979 (1979-03-19)
Recorded 1970s
Length 2:50
Writer trad. arr. Brian Wilson
L.A. (Light Album) track listing
"Ding Dang"
Song by The Beach Boys from the album Love You
Released April 11, 1977 (1977-04-11)
Recorded 1970s
Length 0:58
Writer Brian Wilson, Roger McGuinn
Love You track listing
"Honkin' Down the Highway"
"Ding Dang"
"Solar System"

The song was recorded by the American rock band the Beach Boys numerous times. Only one version has seen official release as a track on their 1979 album L.A. (Light Album).

During the 1970s, their principal songwriter Brian Wilson was reportedly obsessed with the song, recording more than a dozen versions of the tune.[4] Alex Chilton recalls receiving middle-of-the-night phone calls from Wilson asking him to sing on a recording of "Shortenin' Bread". Chilton remembers: "He was telling me I have the perfect voice for it."[5] Micky Dolenz wrote of in his autobiography that while tripping on LSD with Wilson, John Lennon, and Harry Nilsson, he remembers Wilson playing "Shortenin' Bread" on piano "over and over again".[4] Elton John and Iggy Pop were mutually bemused by an extended, contumacious Wilson-led singalong of "Shortenin' Bread", leading Pop to flee the room proclaiming, "I gotta get out of here, man. This guy is nuts!"[6]

Beach Boy Al Jardine speculates that Wilson's obsession with the song may have begun after he had co-written the song "Ding Dang" with Roger McGuinn in the early 1970s.[7] McGuinn explained that Wilson had one day come to his house for amphetamines while escaping from his therapist. After McGuinn spent some time crafting "Ding Dang" with Wilson, he went to bed. The next day, he awoke to Wilson, still awake, and still playing "Ding Dang" on piano. Only one lyric was ever written: "I love a girl and I love her madly / I treat her so fine but she treats me so badly."[8] During sessions for The Beach Boys Love You, engineer Earle Mankey noted that "everybody who showed up got subjected to 'Ding Dang'."[7]

Innumerable permutations of Wilson's "Ding Dang" and "Shortenin' Bread" 1-to-4-up piano riff exist on studio tape, most of them unreleased with titles such as "Clangin'" (recorded with Harry Nilsson), "Brian's Jam",[4] and "Rolling Up to Heaven".[9] A version was completed for the unreleased album Adult/Child in late 1977.[10] This recording was developed from a 1973 session conducted with Wilson's girl group side-project American Spring.[11]

In popular culture[edit]




  • Willie the Whale sings the first verse and the chorus of the song in the animated short "The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At The Met" featured in the Disney film Make Mine Music (1946).
  • Donald Duck sings the song while making pancakes in the animated short Three for Breakfast (1948).
  • In the Season 4 I Love Lucy episode "Ethel's Home Town", Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance) performs the song onstage.
  • There is a scene in Here's Lucy where Uncle Harry (Gale Gordon) puts a tape recorder in front of Lucy's desk and she types his dications whenever he's not at work. But after Lucy (Lucille Ball) leaves, Uncle Harry goes over to her desk and sings the two verses of "Shortnin' Bread".
  • In the Warner Bros. cartoon, Hare Tonic (1945), Elmer and Bugs take turns singing the song, replacing "shortnin' bread" with "wabbit stew".
  • In 1984, the children's music trio Sharon, Lois & Bram performed this song in Season 1 of their hit TV Show Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show.
  • In the 1985 Kidsongs video, "A Day at Old MacDonald's Farm", "Shortnin Bread" is sung in a different way pertaining to eating breakfast.
  • In the Ren & Stimpy episode, "I Love Chicken", Ren Hoek sings the song whilst preparing a meal.
  • At the end of a The Fresh Prince of Bel Air episode, Will is seen singing the song while scrubbing the floor with his cousin as the end credits roll.
  • In the Drawn together episode, "Terms of Endearment", Foxxy Love sings the song while cooking, after a tumor has put pressure on "the part of her brain that controls negative stereotypical behavior".
  • In October 2013, during the Italian version of X Factor, "Shortnin' bread" was sung by Violetta Zironi, a girl who was then chosen to participate in the popular TV program.
  • The most recent Lalaloopsy commercial, advertising the Lalaloopsy Babies, has a jingle that shares this tune.


  • At the end of a trailer titled "Bad World" for the game Battlefield: Bad Company Haggard and Sweetwater sing the song.


  1. ^ Eitel, The Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley, p. 119.
  2. ^ Perrow, "Songs and Rhymes from the South," p. 142: "from Tennessee mountain whites, 1912".
  3. ^ "WLS Silver Dollar Survey, 14 October 1960". Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  4. ^ a b c Chidester, Brian (March 7, 2014). "Busy Doin' Somethin': Uncovering Brian Wilson's Lost Bedroom Tapes". Paste. Retrieved December 11, 2014. 
  5. ^ George-Warren 2014, p. 124.
  6. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 172.
  7. ^ a b Beard, David (Spring 2007). Endless Summer Quarterly.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ Badman 2004, p. 368.
  9. ^ Chidester, Brian (January 30, 2014). "Brian Wilson's Secret Bedroom Tapes". LA Weekly. Retrieved December 11, 2014. 
  10. ^ "The Stylus Magazine Non-Definitive Guide: The Lost Album". Stylus Magazine. September 2, 2003. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  11. ^ Lambert 2007, p. 316.
  12. ^ John Broven (2009). Record makers and breakers: voices of the independent rock 'n' roll pioneers. University of Illinois Press. pp. 363ff. ISBN 0-252-03290-X. 
  13. ^ "Compare Dave 'Baby' Cortez' 'The Happy Organ' with James Whitcomb Riley's 'Shortnin' Bread'". who sampled: Exploring the DNA of music. Retrieved 2014-10-18. 


External links[edit]

  • A traditional version of lyrics and an MP3 clip are here [2].