Sunday, August 14, 2016

Crackin' Corn

I ran across an unexpected question last week.  Younger generations don't know what is meant by "Jimmy Crack Corn," and there has been plenty of speculation about it on the internet.  I also ran across some interesting cultural sensitivity that was much earlier than you would expect.  The answer to cracking corn is obvious to historically minded rural folks, and to those who are well read.  Corn was, and is a staple item that is used for animal feed, human food, and for making whiskey.  Pigs, horses, and cows can eat shelled corn, but chickens need cracked corn, and humans need corn ground into meal.  Corn was also used to make whiskey for income, trade, and personal consumption, and malted corn had to be cracked in order to make mash for whiskey production.  Here is  a brief passage from Fred Gipson's book, Old Yeller, which was published in 1959, and is about Texas in the post-Civil War era.
"we had plenty of grass, wood, and water. We had wild game for the
killing, fertile ground for growing bread corn"  That's from page 1, and bread in most of the South still means cornbread.  

So, what does Jimmy Crack Corn really mean?  The person telling the story is a house slave, tending to Master's needs.  Master dies, and now the story teller is cracking corn; so that tells me he is no longer in the big house, but is out on the farm doing other work, including cracking corn for the household, the chickens, and maybe for a distilling operation.  It was probably better work than being in the house where a slave was under constant scrutiny.  Anyhow, here is Burl Ives performing this song in 1964.

Now, what is interesting about this live performance is that he refers to the master as Master. In vinyl recordings from the 1950's Mr. Ives uses the word Boss throughout,and in the 1946 movie, Smoky, he also sings Boss instead of Master. It's all very interesting, and I wish we could hear the conversations about how this song was to be recorded for posterity in 1946. This was before Truman integrated the armed forces, but the process had been started, with recruits being introduced to the idea in 1945.  "Getting Along" started way before Rodney King made his famous plea for everyone to behave as ladies and gentlemen, and it seems in the last few years the entire process has just gone completely to pieces.

Please pass the cornbread, and get Back To The Old Grind!


Merle Morrison said...

Cornbread & whiskey - what more does anybody need?


David aka True Blue Sam said...

Beans, squirrel, fried okra.

Merle Morrison said...

Yeah, a little variety is a good thing! :)