The folk songs of Gadsden’s Miss Callie Craven


The Vagabond recently came across the notes and work of Bryon Arnold, who gathered a collection of folk songs. He writes:

Gadsden Miss Callie Craven was the first singer I visited in making this collection during the 1940’s. My original appointment with her had to be postponed a day, for she had one of her heart attacks on account of her frail health. She could sing for only a short time without tiring. I consequently made several enjoyable visits to hear her.

She was very proud to know that her songs would be in a book. When we were talking about pu-blishing the songs, she asked that hers be kept in a group and called “Callie’s Songs.”

When I went back to Gadsden in the summer of 1946 on my second folksong trip, I found that Miss Callie had passed away on July 1 at the age of 75.

The following information about her was given me by Mrs. C.H. Ham, who was Verna Duke, one of Miss Callie’s girls.

“Callie Craven was born near Blue Mountain, outside of Anniston, Alabama. She learned these songs from her mother, who came from Charleston South Carolina. Her father was killed when she was quite young, leaving her mother with four little girls.

“These children had to go to work at an early age. In 1889 at grandmother Easterwood’s funeral, my father, Mr. B.W. Duke, heard of this destitute family needing a home. 

“Papa and Mama went by Wilkersons and moved the whole family to a house on our farm. 

“One sister helped with the chores another did the washing, and Papa paid them. 

“When the girls grew up, three of them left, but Callie stayed on and became just like a member of our family. 

She helped raise the six of us Duke children. My father kept up the old home in the country for a long time after our family moved to town. When my mother had a stroke, Callie came in to take care of her and stayed with us for the rest of her life.

“Callie was a tiny little lady, weighing only 96 pounds. She had a manner about her that was at once sweet, charming and always happy. Her life was a life of doing things for other people. Her singing was the joy of her life. 

“Miss Callie loved to sing the old songs she knew for company, to rock the children to sleep by, and at entertainments. We Duke children (and later when we were grown and married, our children, too) were always begging Callie to sing for us, which always made her happy.”

Some of Miss Craven songs were The Soldiers Fare, Pretty Mollie, Oh Johnny, Hicks Farewell, Barb’ry Allen, Put My Little Shoes Away, Jubilo, Winter’s Night, Fair Lady Bright, The Orphan Girl, The old Bachelor, Romish Lady, That Black Mustache, Old Shilboots and Leggins and Frog Went A Courtin’.

Frog Went A-Courtin’ is probably the most widely known folks song in Alabama, It also was Miss Craven favorite song and in her own words.

1. Frog Went A-Courtin’ and he did ride hmm, hmm

Frog Went A-Courtin’ and he did ridemm, hmm

A sword and a pistol by his side hmm, hmm

2. Took Miss Mousy on his knee hmm, hmm

Pray Miss Mousy will you marry me? Hmm, hmm.

3 No, kind sir, I can’t do that hmm, hmm

Unconsent of old Uncle Rat hmm, hmm

4. Uncle Rat laughed on sugarfat sides hmm, hmm

To think his niece would be a bride hmm, hmm

5. Uncle Rat he rode to town hmm, hmm

To get the wedding gown hmm, hmm

6. Who do you reckon will make the wedding gown, hmm, hmm

A very fine lady that lives in town hmm, hmm.

7. Where do you reckon the supper will be hmm, hmm?

Away down yonder in the holler tree, hmm, hmm.

8. What do you reckon they’ll have for supper hmm, hmm?

Two black beans and not a speck of butter hmm, hmm.

9. First came in was a bumblebee hmm, hmm

10. Next came in was two black bugs hmm, hmm,

Cat came in and made a big spludge hmm, hmm

11. Bride: went tearing up the wall hmm, hmm

Her foot slipped and she got a fall hmm, hmm

12. Groom went swimming over the lake hmm, hmm.

He got swallered by a big black snake hmm, hmm.

13. This is the end of one two three hmm, hmm.

A cat, rat, mouse and a bumble bee hmm, hmm.

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