When I was young I us'd to wait On Massa and hand him de plate; Pass down de bottle when he git dry, And bresh away de blue tail fly. Jim crack corn I don't care, Jim crack corn I don't care, Jim crack corn I don't care, Ole Massa gone away.
Den arter dinner massa sleep, He bid dis niggar vigil keep; An' when he gwine to shut his eye, He tell me watch de blue tail fly. Jim crack corn &c.
An' when he ride in de arternoon, I foller wid a hickory broom; De poney being berry shy When bitten by de blue tail fly. Jim crack corn &c.
One day he rode aroun' de farm, De flies so numerous dey did swarm; One chance to bite 'im on the thigh, De debble take dat blu tail fly. Jim crack corn &c.
De poney run, he jump an' pitch, An' tumble massa in de ditch; He died, an' de jury wonder'd why De verdic was de blue tail fly. Jim crack corn &c.
Dey laid 'im under a 'simmon tree, His epitaph am dar to see: 'Beneath this stone I'm forced to lie, All by de means ob de blue tail fly. Jim crack corn &c.
Ole massa gone, now let 'im rest, Dey say all tings am for de best; I nebber forget till de day I die, Ole massa an' dat blue tail fly. Jim crack corn &c.
De hornet gets in your eyes an nose, De skeeter bites y'e through your close, De gallinipper sweeten high, But wusser yet de blue tail fly. Jim crack corn &c.
I SING about de long-tail blue, So often you want someting new; Wid your desire I'll now comply, An' sing about de blue-tail fly. Jim Crack com', I don't care, Jim Crack com', I don't care, Jim Crack com', I don't care. Ole Massa well a-day.
When I was home, I used to wait On Massa—han' him roun' de plate; I pass'd de bottle when he was dry, An' brush'd away de blue-tail fly. Jim Crack com', &c
Ole Massa ride in de arternoon, I follows him wid a kickeribroom; De pony rear'd when he was dry, An' bitten by de blue-tail fly. Jim Crack com', &c.
De pony jump'd, he rear'd, he pitch'd, He tumbled Massa in a ditch; De wonder was he didn't die, When bitten by de blue-tail fly. Jim Crack com', &c.
Dey buried him 'neath a simmon tree; His paragraph is dere, you'll see; Beneath de shade he's forced to lie, All by de means ob de blue-tail fly. Jim Crack com', &c.
Ole Massa's dead, so let him res'; Dey say all tings is for de bes'. I shall neber forget to de day I die, Ole Massa an' de blue-tail fly. Jim Crack com', &c.
If you should go in summer time, To Souf Carolina sultra clime, And in de shade you chance to lie, You'll soon find but dat blue tail fly. Jim crack corn I don't care! Jim crack corn! I don't care. For massa me gave away.
When I was young I used to wait, On massa's table and hand de plate, I'd pass the bottle when he dry, An brush away de blue tail fly. Jim crack, &c.
When ole massa take his sleep, He bid dis nigga sight to keep, And when he gows to shut his eye, He tell me watch dat blue tail fly. Jim crack, &c.
Ole massa ride in arternoon, I follow arter wid a hickory broom, De pony he is bery shy, Kase he bitten by de blue tail fly. Jim crack, &c.
De pony run dar jump an pitch, He trowed ole massa in the ditch, He died an de Jury all did cry, Dat de verdict was de blue tail fly. Jim crack, &c.
Ole massa's dead now let him rest, Dey say all tings am for de best, I nebber shall forget till the day I die, Ole massa and de blue tail fly. Jim crack, &c.
When I was young I used to wait On Massa and hand him de plate; Pass down de bottle when he get dry, And brush away de blue-tail fly. Jim crack corn I don't care, Jim crack corn I don't care, Jim crack corn I don't care, Ole Massa gone away.
Den arter dinner massa sleep, He bid dis niggar vigil keep; An' when he gwine to shut his eye, He tell me watch de blue-tail fly. Jim crack corn, &c.
An' when he ride in de arternoon, I foller wid a hickory broom; De poney being berry shy, When bitten by de blue-tail fly. Jim crack corn, &c.
One day he rode around de farm, De flies so numerous dey did swarm; One chance to bite him on the thigh De debble take dat blue-tail fly. Jim crack corn, &c.
De poney run, he jump an' pitch, An tumble massa in de ditc' He died, an' de jury wonder'd why De verdic was de blue-tail fly Jim crack corn, &c.
Dey laid 'im under a 'simmon tree, His epitaph am dar to see: 'Beneath dis stone I'm forced to lie, All by de means ob de blue-tail fly.' Jim crack corn, &c.
Ole massa gone, now let 'im rest, Dey say all tings am for de best; I neber forget till de day I die, Ole massa an' dat blue-tail fly Jim crack corn, &c.
When I was young, I useter to wait Behine ole marster, han' he plate, An' pass de bottle when he dry, An' bresh away dat blue-tail fly. Jim, crack corn, I doan' keer, Jim, crack corn, I doan' keer, Jim, crack corn, I doan' keer, Ole—marster's—gone—away! ...
The melody is similar to "Miss Lucy Long" and was originally set for piano accompaniment, although "De Blue Tail Fly" was marketed in Boston as one of "Emmett's Banjo Melodies". The four-part chorus favors a single bass and three tenors: the first and third tenors harmonize in thirds with the second completes the triads or doubles the root, sometimes crossing the melody line. The versions published in 1846 differed rather markedly: "De Blue Tail Fly" is modal (although Lhamar emends its B♭ notation to C minor) and hexatonic; "Jim Crack Corn", meanwhile, is in G major and more easily singable. Its simplicity has made it a common beginner's tune for acoustic guitar. The melody is a chain of thirds (G-B, F♯-A, G-B, [A]-C, B-D, C-E) harmonized a third above and below in the manner of the choruses in Italian opera.
The first verses usually establish that the singer was initially a house slave. He is then charged with protecting the master out of doors—and his horse as well—from the "blue-tailed fly". This is possibly the blue-bottle fly (Calliphora vomitoria or Protophormia terraenovae), but probably the mourning horsefly (Tabanus atratus), a bloodsuckingpest with a blue-black abdomen found throughout the American South. The horse goes wild and the master is thrown and killed. A coroner's jury is convened (or the singer is criminally charged) but the slave escapes culpability. The chorus can be mystifying to modern listeners, but its straight-forward meaning is that someone is roughly milling ("cracking") the old master's corn in preparation for turning it into hominy or liquor. There has been much debate, however, over the subtext. In the 19th century, the singer was often considered mournful and despondent at his master's death; in the 20th, celebratory: "Jimmy Crack Corn" has been called "the baldest, most loving account of the master's demise" in American song.
The debate has been further muddled by changes to the refrain over time. Throughout the 19th century, the lines referred to "Jim", "Jim Crack", or "Jim Crack Corn" and lacked any conjunction across the line's caesura; following the rise of highly-syncopatedmusical genres such as ragtime and jazz, anaptyxis converted the name to "Jimmy" or "Jimmie" and the "and" appeared, both putting more stress on their measures' backbeat. This has obscured some of the possible original meanings: some have argued that—as "Jim" was a generic name for slaves in minstrel songs—the song's "Jim" was the same person as its blackface narrator: Speaking about himself in the 3rd person or repeating his new masters' commands in apostrophe, he has no concern with his demotion to a field hand now that his old master is dead. Another now-obscured possible meaning derives from jim crack being eye dialect for gimcrack ("worthless"): The narrator is so overcome with emotion (be it pleasure or sorrow) that he has no concern at all about his gimcrack cracked corn, his substandard rations. Since "corn" was also a common rural Americanellipsis and euphemism for "cornwhiskey", it could also refer to the slave being so overcome that he has no concern about his rotgut alcohol.
Other suppositions include that "cracking" or "cracking corn" referred to the now-obsolete English and Appalachian slang meaning "to gossip" or "to sit around chitchatting"; that the singer is resting from his oversight duties and allowing Jim to steal corn or corn liquor; that "Jim Crack" is simply a synonym for "Jim Crow" by means of the dialectical "crack" to reference the crake; or that it is all code for the old master "Jim" cracking his "corn" (skull) open during his fall. The 1847 version of the song published in London singularly has the lyrics "Jim Crack com’", which could refer to a poor Southern cracker (presumably an overseer or new owner) or a minced oath for Jesus Christ (thus referencing indifference at the Judgment Day); the same version explicitly makes the fly's name a wordplay on the earlier minstrel hit "Long Tail Blue", about a horse. A number of racehorses have been named "Jim Crack" or "Blue Tail Fly" and, in at least one early-20th century variant of the song, it's given as the name of the horse that killed the master, but that is not a common element of the song. (Another uncommon variant appeared in the 1847 Songs of Ireland published in New York: it has the slave being given away by the master.)
Explanations of the song based upon "jimmy" or "jimmie" being slaves' slang for crows or mules (here being allowed into the old master's corn fields instead of being chased away) or deriving "jimmy" from "gimme" are unsupported by the existing records. Pete Seeger, for instance, is said to have maintained that the original lyrics were "gimme cracked corn" and referred to a punishment in which a slave's bacon rations were curtailed, leaving him chickenfeed; the same lines could also just be asking for the whiskey jug to be passed around. The idea that Jim or Jimmy is "cracking open" a jug of whiskey is similarly unsupported: that phrasal verb is attested at least as early as 1803 but initially applied to literal ruptures; its application to opening the cap or cork of a bottle of alcohol was a later development.
The present song is generally credited to Dan Emmett's Virginia Minstrels, whose shows in New York City in the mid-1840s helped raise minstrelsy to national attention. Along with "Old Dan Tucker", the tune was one of the breakout hits of the genre and continued to headline Emmett's acts with Bryant's Minstrels into the 1860s. It was also a common song of Tom Rice's. The song was first published (with two distinct sets of lyrics) in Baltimore and Boston in 1846, although it is sometimes mistakenly dated to 1844. However, as with later rockabilly hits, it is quite possible Emmett simply received credit for arranging and publishing an existing African-American song. The song was certainly picked up by slaves and became widely popular among them. The chorus of the song not uncommonly appeared in the middle of other African-American folk songs, one of which may have been its original source. The song differed from other minstrel tunes in long remaining popular among African Americans: it was recorded by both Big Bill Broonzy and Lead Belly after World War II.
Seeger maintained that the song's subtext gave it a social justice element but began (with 1953's American Folksongs for Children) to perform and market the work as a children's sing-along. Usually under the name "Jimmy Crack Corn", it remains common at campfires and summer camps. It is also sampled in a number of rap songs—including Tuff Crew and Eminem's compositions (both titled "Jimmy Crack Corn")—playing on the present usage of "crack".
In popular culture
1930s: "Blue Tail Fly" on Pinto Pete in Arizona
Bizarro (comic strip): A police officer presents Jimmy to a banjo-strumming farmer with the words "I caught this little rascal crackin' your corn again" only to be reminded "How many times I gotta tell you, sheriff? I DON'T CARE!"
Children of Destiny (1893) by Molly Seawell: black laborers on a Virginian plantation sing and dance to the song as they harvest.
E and J Gallo Winery: A commercial jingle in the 1960s replaced the chorus with "Gallo makes wine with loving care, especially for you"
Cingular Wireless: A commercial in December, 2006, raised some controversy when a character having a conversation with "Jim" begins referring to him by every nickname he can think of ("Jimbo... Jimmy boy... Jimmy crack corn..."). Following "a half dozen complaints", Cingular edited out the sequence.
^ abcd"De Blue Tail Fly" was published by both Keith's Music House and Oliver Ditson in Boston in 1846, but Eric Lott (citing Hans Nathan) gives the version a date of 1844. This probably refers to Christy's Minstrels' Ethiopian Glee Book, which has sometimes been mistakenly attributed to 1844; in fact, that series did not begin publishing until 1847 and did not include Christy's version of this song until its 1848 edition.
^With some minor change of punctuation, this is the version that was republished by Oliver Ditson in subsequent song books.
^"Blue Tailed Fly." in Christy's Nigga Songster, Containing Songs As Are Sung by Christy's, Pierce's, White's Sable Brothers, & Dumbleton's Band of Minstrels, pp. 45–47. T.W. Strong (New York), c. 1850. Hosted in Pre-1852 Minstrel Songs at Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture at the University of Virginia. Accessed 1 July 2014.
^As early as the next year (1847), a minstrel song devoted to the travails of Jim Crack Corn's wedding day appeared in the same London songbook as the first British version of "Jimmy Crack Corn", which is given as "Jim Crack com'". Susan Eppes's diary of her Civil War years reports he also appeared as a figure in Southernnursery rhymes: "This dress, you must know, is 'made of Mammy's old one' like Jim Crack Corn's coat—Little Diary, I am afraid you do not know very much of Mother Goose."
^ abOxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. "gimcrack, n. and adj." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1899.
^In its noun sense of "trinket" or "bauble", it appears in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn: "There was an old hair trunk in one corner, and a guitar-box in another, and all sorts of little knickknacks and jimcracks around, like girls brisken up a room with.
^Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. "corn, n.¹ Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1893.
Lyr Add: (De) Blue Tail Fly discussion on Mudcat.org gives several variants of title and lyrics, early publication information; its links include numerous other discussions of the song. Accessed 10 Sept 2005.