Shortnin' Bread

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"Shortnin' Bread"
Songwriter(s)James Whitcomb Riley

"Shortnin' Bread" (also spelled "Shortenin' Bread", "Short'nin' Bread", or "Sho'tnin' Bread") is a plantation song with African-American folk roots that date back at least to the 1890s.[1] James Whitcomb Riley published a poem building on older lyrics in 1900. A folk version was published by E. C. Perrow in 1915. It is song number 4209 in the Roud Folk Song Index. Shortening bread refers to a bread, made of corn meal and/or flour and lard shortening. It should not be confused with shortbread.


"Shortnin' Bread" is a plantation song. Its first written version was captured by poet James Whitcomb Riley in 1900. He titled the song "A Short'nin' Bread Song—Pieced Out", and wrote the chorus as:

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 gwiner cook som short'nin' bread[2]

The dialect rendered into common English would be:

Fetch that dough from the kitchen shed
Rake the coals out hot and red
Put on the oven and put on lid
Mommy's going to cook some shortning bread

The verse includes:

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

Another verse was added on years later (and was the version sung in Disney's Make Mine Music).

Two little children, lying in bed
One of them was sick and the other bumped his head
Mother called for the doctor and the doctor said
"feed them children on 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.[3] 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

The Beach Boys version[edit]

"Shortenin' Bread"
Song by The Beach Boys
from the album L.A. (Light Album)
ReleasedMarch 19, 1979 (1979-03-19)
Recordedc.  1979
Songwriter(s)Traditional, arranged by Brian Wilson
L.A. (Light Album) track listing
10 tracks
Side one
  1. "Good Timin'"
  2. "Lady Lynda"
  3. "Full Sail"
  4. "Angel Come Home"
  5. "Love Surrounds Me"
  6. "Sumahama"
Side two
  1. "Here Comes the Night"
  2. "Baby Blue"
  3. "Goin' South"
  4. "Shortenin' Bread"

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

During the 1970s, principal songwriter Brian Wilson was reportedly obsessed with the song, recording more than a dozen versions of the tune.[4] Alex Chilton recalled receiving middle-of-the-night phone calls from Wilson asking him to sing on a recording of "Shortenin' Bread"' ("He was telling me I have the perfect voice for it").[5] The Monkees' Micky Dolenz wrote 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 also 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] Alice Cooper recalled that Wilson considered "Shortnin' Bread" to be the greatest song ever written, as he quotes Wilson for an explanation: "I don't know, it's just the best song ever written."[7]

Beach Boy Al Jardine speculated that Wilson's obsession with the song may have begun after co-writing the song "Ding Dang" with the Byrds' Roger McGuinn in the 1970s.[8] 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".[9] During sessions for The Beach Boys Love You, engineer Earle Mankey commented that "everybody who showed up got subjected to 'Ding Dang'."[8]

A significant number of "Ding Dang" and "Shortenin' Bread" permutations exist in the Beach Boys' tape vaults. Most of them are unreleased, with titles such as "Clangin'" (recorded with Nilsson), "Brian's Jam",[4] and "Rolling Up to Heaven".[10] A version was completed for the unreleased album Adult/Child in late 1977.[11] This recording was developed from a 1973 session conducted with Wilson's girl group side-project American Spring.[12]

Other renditions[edit]

In popular culture[edit]


  • The tune for a significant portion of "The Happy Organ" (1959) bears a strong resemblance to the "Shortnin' Bread" tune (the portion under "put on the skillet, slip on the lid, mammy's gonna make us some shortnin' bread").[13][14]
  • In the Elvis Presley song "Clambake", "Shortnin' Bread" is paraphrased as "Mama's little baby loves clambake clambake, mama's little baby loves clambake too."
  • Paul Chaplain and his Emralds took a rock version of the song to No. 82 in the Hot 100 in August, 1962.[15]
  • Allan Sherman did a parody of the song as "Mammy's Little Baby loves Matzoh Balls", as part of the medley of songs entitled "Schticks and Stones" taken from the album, My Son, the Folk Singer (1962)
  • The 28-minute title track to Charles Mingus's Cumbia & Jazz Fusion album, merges a theme played on reeds and Latin percussion, full-on big-band passages, and a burlesque of "Shortnin' Bread" that climaxes in cries of "Freedom! Freedom!"
  • The chorus to the song is used as a medley in the song "Pachuco Cadaver" on Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
  • A version of this song referring to rhubarb pie is used as the jingle of a fictional bakery in A Prairie Home Companion.
  • The 1994 song "Deuces Are Wild" by Aerosmith features the line "Mama’s little baby loves shortnin' bread" in the lyrics.
  • The Ready Men recorded a garage rock cover of this song, which was featured on the Pebbles, Volume 4 compilation.
  • Hap Palmer wrote a song "Sittin' in a High Chair" for his album BabySong while using the music to adapt it. A video for his song shows a mama orangutan feeding her baby.
  • Johnny Cash mentioned the line "Mama's little baby loves shortnin' bread" in the Mark O'Connor song "The Devil Comes Back to Georgia", a continuation of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" and a collaboration with Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt, and Charlie Daniels.
  • Jaromír Nohavica, the Czech singer, has a version of the song entitled "Píjte vodu" (Drink Water), the chorus of which is "Drink water, drink water, drink water and don't drink rum."



  • 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" (1955), 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. The rendition's instrumental track is played in several episodes of The Kidsongs Television Show, as well as the 1986 video: I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing as opening background music.
  • 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.
  • In The Loud House episode, "Linc or Swim", Lincoln and Lana sing the first verse of the song.In the same serie,in the episode, "Lincoln Loud:Girl Guru",when Lincoln and Clyde prepare pies
  • In the Tom & Jerry cartoon, The Milky Waif (1946), the tune of Shortnin' Bread is played when Jerry and Nibbles daub themselves with shoe polish and appear in blackface to confuse Tom.

Video games[edit]


  1. ^ Wade, Stephen. The Beautiful Music all Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012. p. 93.
  2. ^ Eitel, The Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley, p. 119.
  3. ^ Perrow, "Songs and Rhymes from the South," p. 142: "from Tennessee mountain whites, 1912".
  4. ^ a b c Chidester, Brian (7 March 2014). "Busy Doin' Somethin': Uncovering Brian Wilson's Lost Bedroom Tapes". Paste. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  5. ^ George-Warren 2014, p. 124.
  6. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 172.
  7. ^ Newsdesk (5 July 2011). "Alice Cooper was too afraid to argue with Brian Wilson". MusicNewsWeb.
  8. ^ a b Beard, David (Spring 2007). "Ding Dang". Endless Summer Quarterly.
  9. ^ Badman 2004, p. 368.
  10. ^ Chidester, Brian (30 January 2014). "Brian Wilson's Secret Bedroom Tapes". LA Weekly. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  11. ^ "The Stylus Magazine Non-Definitive Guide: The Lost Album". Stylus Magazine. 2 September 2003. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  12. ^ Lambert 2007, p. 316.
  13. ^ Broven, John (2009). Record makers and breakers: voices of the independent rock 'n' roll pioneers. University of Illinois Press. pp. 363ff. ISBN 0-252-03290-X.
  14. ^ "Compare Dave 'Baby' Cortez' 'The Happy Organ' with James Whitcomb Riley's 'Shortnin' Bread'". who sampled: Exploring the DNA of music. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Bettencourt, Scott. "THE YEAR IN FILM MUSIC: 1989". Film Score Monthly. Retrieved 29 June 2014.


External links[edit]

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