"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:
Titled "Shortened Bread", E.C. Perrow published the first folk version of this song in 1915, which he collected from East Tennessee in 1912. 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.
In popular culture
The tune for a significant portion of "The Happy Organ" 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").
On 14 October 1960, Paul Chaplain and his Emeralds' version became the first #1 record on the WLS Silver Dollar Survey.
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."
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)
In 1963 Mississippi John Hurt recorded the song for Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song in Washington D.C.. It is available on the album D.C. Blues: Library of Congress Recordings.
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 verse 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".