Down in the Valley – Whooping Cough & American Music

What diseases show up in contemporary music? Cancer? AIDS? I’ve never really looked, but I suspect there are pretty few songs referencing Whooping Cough or Polio playing on the radio these days.

But if you dive into the American folk tradition, there’s plenty to be found. Take this old camp song:

Way down yonder not far off
A bluejay died of the whooping cough
Well he whooped and he whooped and he whooped so hard
He whooped his head and his tail right off

This is a long post with lots of music, because I like music, but I want to put my point right here: we’ve rendered a common terror irrelevant thanks to vaccines. Kids flap their arms and whoop, laughing about the jaybird dying of whooping cough, where once this disease permeated our culture. Let’s not go back.

Enjoy the music.

Here’s a video with a little dance (skip to the middle to see the kids sing and flap their arms). And here’s another set of lyrics with some actual other verses.

Kind of grim, I think, though no worse than Ring Around the Rosie (all fall down)

And then there’s the bluegrass tune, “Jaybird died of the Whooping Cough.”

Here’s a long discussion (my favorite folk music discussion site) on a related song, Buckeye Jim:

Way up yonder above the moon,
A Jaybird lived in a silver spoon.
Chorus: Go limber, Jim: you can’t go.
Go weave and spin, you can’t go, Buckeye Jim.
Way up yonder above the sky,
a Jaybird built in a blue-bird’s eye.
Way down yonder in a sycamore through(sic)
an old lady died with the whoopin’-cough.
Wake up snakes and come to taw, we won’t have any more your link and law.

 Here’s Burl Ives.

There’s another fine old bluegrassy tune, “Cat’s got the Measles and the Dog’s got the Whooping Cough.” (Here’s one of many videos).

Oh, the cat’s got the measles,
And the dog got the whoopin’ cough, doggone.
Oh, the cat’s got the measles,
And the dog got the whoopin’ cough.
Doggone a man
Who’d let a woman be his boss,
Doggone my time.

 Procul Harum’s “Simple Sister” has the lyrics:

Simple sister 
Got whooping cough 
Have to burn her toys 
Take her treats 
Eat her sweets 
Scare off all the boys 
And finally, my favorite:
Measles make you bumpy
And mumps’ll make you lumpy
And chicken pox’ll make you jump and twitch
A common cold’ll fool ya
And whooping cough’ll cool ya
But poison ivy, Lord’ll make you itch!!
There’s lots more. I leave you with a link to medical students rapping about Pertussis. It’s … well .. it’s different.


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