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"Jelly Jelly Jellyroll": Lesbian Sexuality and Identity in Women's Blues

Johnson, Maria V . Women & Music ; Lincoln Tomo 7, (Dec 31, 2003): 31.

RESUMEN (ABSTRACT)

"Prove It on Me" was not the only song dealing explicitly with lesbian identity to be recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. Bessie Jackson (a.k.a. Lucille Bogan) recorded a song about working-class black lesbians in 1935 entitled "B.D. Woman's Blues" in which "B.D." stood for "bull dykers/dikers" or "bulldaggers." Jackson recorded many strong-women songs such as "Struttin' My Stuff," as well as songs dealing with the experience of marginalized women, for example, prostitutes in "They Ain't Walkin' No More" (1930). While evoking stereotypes of black lesbians as hard drinking, rough acting, and physically tough, "B.D. Woman's Blues" expresses a clear admiration for and envy of their strength and independence. Lesbians are enviable because of their independence from mistreating men. They work hard, make money, and know how to spend it. They are smart, smooth talking, desired by women, and confident in pursuing their needs and desires. In the words of the song, "they lay their jive" and "strut their stuff." At the same time that she evokes lesbian stereotypes and the homophobic responses of a straight world that "just can't understand gays," the shifts of and ambiguities in address in Jackson's lyrics suggest a critique of these constricting images:

A presumably related song, "Boy in the Boat (B.D.'s Dream)," was recorded by the vocalist and boogie-woogie

pianist Georgia White in 1936 but was never issued. According to the biographers of the stride pianist [Thomas

Dorsey] "Fats" Waller, "Boy in the Boat" was "one of the most frequently heard songs in the rent party repertoire"

and "a broadly sexual song with many verses composed over the years by many singers

its melody as a specialty" (quoted in Oliver 1970, 203). According to another stride pianist, Willie "The Lion" Smith, "The Bull Diker's Dream," also known as "The Dream," was "a tune dedicated to lesbians" written by the pianist Jess Pickett and adopted by other pianists such as John "Jack the Bear" Wilson ([Bessie Smith] 1964, 56). It was variously known as "The Bowdiger's Dream," "Ladies' Dream," and "Digah's Dream," and Fats Waller recorded an instrumental version under the title "Digah's Stomp" (Smith 1964, 56; [Paul Oliver] 1970, 204).

Tom Waller came to use

One of Gaye Adegbalola's boldest and most uppity original songs, "Silver Beaver" was written for a lesbian electric band called the Sisterhood. In an interview she explained: "I really wanted the lesbian women to be empowered by the blues and the message that the blues brings. I wanted to bring some humor to that community" (2001b). When

the Sisterhood disbanded after losing their lead guitar player, [Gaye] brought the song to Saffire. "Silver Beaver" appropriates the boasting stance, sexual animal imagery, and driving beat of men's urban blues songs, responding

in particular to Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster," John Lee Hooker's "Crawlin' King Snake," and Big Joe Turner's

"Flip, Flop, and Fly," among others. In "Silver Beaver" Adegbalola introduces a new image that celebrates female, and in particular older women's sexuality while talking back to men's blues.(5) In her introduction to the song on Saffire's Live and Uppity album, Gaye says: "We thought it was time for the blues world to have a new animal in its menagerie" (Saffire 1998). When asked about the song in an interview, she cites Howlin' Wolf's "Little Red Rooster" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Fattening Frogs for Snakes," explaining: "The blues has this double and triple entendre a lot of the time [and] I was just extending that play" (2001b).

PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COMand triple entendre a lot of the time [and] I was just extending that play" (2001b).

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TEXTO COMPLETO

Mama she told me, my jellyroll wasn't right

Well I can jelly'n'jelly jelly, jelly makes my life

Well upside down, right side up,

Give it to me baby till I've had enough

jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly, jelly jelly jellyroll

-- Faith Nolan "Jellyroll" (1989)

FROM THE 1920S, WHEN VAUDEVILLE BLUES women stood in the public limelight en masse for the first time, the blues has been a vehicle for African American women to articulate their experiences and express their feelings. Through their powerful voices, engaging delivery, and bold self-presentation, vaudeville blues women empowered themselves and their audiences. "Telling it like it is," they challenged the status quo -- talking back to stereotypes, commanding sexual respect, and demanding an end to mistreatment -- while giving voice to the diversity of their experiences. Drawing upon the aesthetics of black performance style, blues women affirmed their humanity as their ancestors had done, through total involvement (giving 100 percent, engaging their audience), signifying (talking back, repeating with a difference), and personalization (remaking the tradition in their own image) (Burnim 1985; Gates 1988; Murray 1976).

Blues women today continue to utilize and creatively remake traditional means and materials to resonate their experiences and those of their audiences. Like their blues foremothers, contemporary blues women assert their identity by personalizing traditional material, giving, in Sherley Anne Williams's words, "a traditional statement about a traditional situation a new response" (1975, 37). Borrowing from Henry Louis Gates Jr., they signify on or "repeat with a difference" traditional material (1988, xxvii, xxii-xxiii). In using the traditional signifying processes of the blues to repeat and revise the tradition, contemporary African American women musicians create continuity and continuance in the tradition. The work of blues women past and present is a critical piece in the dialogue and process of reclaiming and affirming black female sexuality. As vaudeville blues singers before them, contemporary African American women musicians use the blues -- its processes, language and structures, along with the image the female blues singer projects -- to affirm their identity and reclaim their sexuality. Like the vaudeville blues singers, contemporary African American women musicians reclaim their sexuality both by speaking out about and against a history of sexual abuse and stereotyping, and by presenting self-defined images of themselves.

This article explores continuities and changes in women's expressions of lesbian sexuality and identity in the blues by examining relationships between performers and performances past and present. While the work of contemporary female hip-hop artists, including Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa, and many other contemporary African American pop artists, such as Erykah Badu and Macy Gray, also demonstrate important continuities with women's blues traditions, the examples here are drawn from the blues repertoire of women who identify themselves as blues artists. By looking at how contemporary blues women are personalizing, talking back to, and remaking traditional materials, I attempt to illuminate one piece of a "conversation" in process, a tapestry of "call and response," a community among women in the blues. I am especially interested how the blues has been and continues to be a vehicle for African American women's self-expression and empowerment, and more specifically, how the blues has provided a space for articulations of female pleasure and lesbian sexuality.

for articulations of female pleasure and lesbian sexuality. PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a g e

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After briefly establishing a context for understanding sexuality, identity, and empowerment in vaudeville blues, I will discuss examples of lesbian blues from the 1920S and 1930s, along with contemporary renditions of these tunes. I will then compare new lesbian revisions of "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl" with classic recordings by Bessie Smith and Nina Simone, and examine three original blues by contemporary black lesbian performer- songwriters. My contemporary examples are drawn from the recorded work of Gaye Adegbalola, Gwen Avery, and Faith Nolan, with whom I have been in e-mail contact. I have also talked at length with Gaye Adegbalola in person and over the phone about her songs and her interpretations of older blues songs.(1)

Background

The blues has been an important vehicle for African American women to affirm their existence and assert their humanity in a society that has used and abused them for its own purposes while erasing them from its history. It is in the context of this history of invisibility and distorted imaging that the contributions of blues women must be understood. The 1920s and 1930s saw the emergence of a tradition -- a tradition that continues today -- of African American blues women who, through their visual imaging, their songs, and their musical performances, challenged the prevailing stereotypes at the same time that they presented new self-defined images of black female sexuality (Carby 1986; Davis 1998; Harrison 1988; Lieb 1981). While their entrée to the stage came via the minstrel tradition, one of the most notorious perpetuators of mammy and "loose" black women stereotypes, blues women were seminal in transforming minstrel images of black women. As Hazel Carby has noted, blues women reclaimed black women's bodies from male objectification and celebrated black women's sexuality through song (1986, 20).

Through the presentation of self-defined images, blues women transformed the black woman from sexual object to sexual subject. Unlike the one-dimensional mammy and "loose" woman stereotypes, these new and more complex images combined maternal compassion with sexual desirability, as can be seen in the name Ma Rainey, where "Ma" stood for both mother and lover. And unlike the stereotypes, these images reflected a broad spectrum of African American female conceptions of beauty. Dubbed queens and empresses, vaudeville blues women were extravagant, outrageous, wild, and highly imaginative in both dress and demeanor. As blues royalty, these women wielded authority and asserted command. While Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and others dazzled with furs, sequined gowns, beads and rhinestones, others such as Gladys Bentley and Jackie "Moms" Mabley handsomely sported suits and ties.

Although they presented themselves as royalty, vaudeville blues women spoke to and for working-class African American women. At the same time that they were the heroines of many everyday black folk, blues women were shunned by many churchgoing middle-class blacks. In Angela Davis's words: "Women's blues provided a cultural space for community building among working-class black women, as well as a space devoid of bourgeois notions of sexual purity and `true womanhood'" (1998, 140d).

In contrast to the stereotypes that preceded them, the images blues women presented humanized black women, revealing their contradictions and vulnerabilities, triumphs and tribulations. Blues women sang with directness and honesty about their own experiences and those of their audience members. Many blues are about women suffering the pain of mistreatment (infidelity, abuse) because the pleasures of the relationship (usually good lovemaking) call them back again and again. And yet, while they articulate an array of contradictory love-hate feelings and responses to abusive relationships, blues women rarely play the victim and almost always retain or regain the upper hand one way or another. In Angela Davis's words:

Even in their most despairing moods, the female characters memorialized in women's blues songs do not fit the

memorialized in women's blues songs do not fit the PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a g

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mold of the typical victim of abuse

hands of their male lovers, they do not perceive or define themselves as powerless in the face of such violence. Indeed, they fight back passionately. (1998, 34)

While acknowledging the physical mistreatment they have received at the

Even when blues women sing about staying with or coming back to men who beat them, they take responsibility for their actions.(2)

In the 1920s the blues became the first really public forum for African American female self-expression, and it remains a foundation that continues to inform and inspire African American women's creative expression today. Blues women gave black women back their own voices and reclaimed what the black lesbian writer-warrior Audre

Lorde called their erotic power: "When I speak of the erotic, I speak of it as an assertion of the life force of women;

of creative energy empowered

plane" (1984, 53, 55). For Lorde, the erotic is the power that comes from women expressing themselves fully -- feeling deeply, sharing with others the depth of their feelings, and not suppressing their desires. At their most empowering, the blues women were assertive, independent, commanding, and demanding. As sexual subjects, they named their abuse and demanded just treatment and respect; using the blues mode, they critiqued and challenged sexual stereotypes, articulated their own desires, needs, and limits, and demanded sexual satisfaction in no uncertain terms; in addition, they exposed the reality behind male sexual boasting while doing a good deal of sexual boasting themselves.

the

erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual

Even though many aspects of the recording of blues were controlled by men, most of them white, blues women operated within the African American tradition to make the songs they sang and the images they projected their own in performance. Even when they did not write the songs they sang, they personalized them, using traditional African American techniques to assert their identity. Given that so many vaudeville blues women, including Alberta Hunter, Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Ethel Waters, Gladys Bentley, and Bessie Smith, were known to have had sexual relationships with women, it is not surprising that occasionally these identifications made it onto recordings.

"Prove It on Me Blues"

The boldest declaration of lesbian identity was Ma Rainey's 1928 recording "Prove It on Me Blues," in which the female speaker directly expresses her preference for and involvement with women ("Went out last night with a crowd of my friends; they must've been women `cause I don't like no men"). In the face of community disapproval ("folks said I'm crooked"), she declares her intent to "say it loud and say it proud" ("I want the whole world to know"), and provocatively dares the listener to try and prove that she's a lesbian ("They said I do it, ain't nobody caught me, sure got to prove it on me"). The song invokes playfully, it seems to me, the stereotype of a man-hating, "butch" woman who acts like a man ("Wear my clothes just like a fan, talk to the gals like any old man"). There's a braggadocio and hyperbole here common in the blues. Rainey is playing a part, is putting on a show. Surely, neither she nor her "fellow" blues women hated men. Many of them were involved with men. The song uses exaggeration and bragging to celebrate women loving women, and women's potential independence from men.

In this song, the female speaker asserts control over her private sphere. The song seems to point cleverly to the invisibility of black women and gays, which virtually guarantees that the black working-class lesbian will not be seen nor her sexuality imaged. In "Prove It on Me" the persona reclaims her personal power by turning the fact of her own powerlessness in the society on its head. Reframing her invisibility as an asset, the song suggests a certain safety and boasts a certain freedom that the black lesbian's triple marginalization affords. (She who is not seen cannot be caught.) Musically, the playful braggadocio of the lyrics is underscored by the slapstick jug band accompaniment, while the multiplicity of the lyrics is dramatized in the wonderful double-time section in the

is dramatized in the wonderful double-time section in the PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a g

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instrumental solo.

It is not surprising that this bold song would be taken up by "out" lesbians of subsequent generations. The San Francisco Bay Area musicians Teresa Trull and Mary Watkins recorded it on Lesbian Concentrate (1977), Olivia Records' outspoken response to the homophobic rhetoric of Anita Bryant. The African-Canadian artist Faith Nolan recorded it along with other classic protest songs, including "Strange Fruit" and "Black, Brown, White Blues," and forthright originals such as "I Black Woman" and "Freedom to Love" on her Redwood debut album, Freedom to Love (1989). And most recently, Gaye Adegbalola (of Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women) included the song on her 1999 solo debut, Bittersweet Blues, on which she "came out" as a lesbian and also as an incest survivor. In the Trull/Walkins and Nolan versions, the line Rainey sings "Watch the wind blow all the while" becomes "I like to watch the women pass me by," which is the lyric given on the original lead sheet (Lieb 1981, 124, 207). In these versions, the idea that the speaker knows people are talking about her but doesn't care is replaced with a more direct statement of lesbian desire and desirability. Adegbalola changes the line "They musta been women `cause I don't like no men" to "They musta been women `cause there sure were no men" because she does like men and wouldn't be comfortable singing the original line (Adegbalola 2001a).

"B.D. Woman's Blues"

"Prove It on Me" was not the only song dealing explicitly with lesbian identity to be recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. Bessie Jackson (a.k.a. Lucille Bogan) recorded a song about working-class black lesbians in 1935 entitled "B.D. Woman's Blues" in which "B.D." stood for "bull dykers/dikers" or "bulldaggers." Jackson recorded many strong-women songs such as "Struttin' My Stuff," as well as songs dealing with the experience of marginalized women, for example, prostitutes in "They Ain't Walkin' No More" (1930). While evoking stereotypes of black lesbians as hard drinking, rough acting, and physically tough, "B.D. Woman's Blues" expresses a clear admiration for and envy of their strength and independence. Lesbians are enviable because of their independence from mistreating men. They work hard, make money, and know how to spend it. They are smart, smooth talking, desired by women, and confident in pursuing their needs and desires. In the words of the song, "they lay their jive" and "strut their stuff." At the same time that she evokes lesbian stereotypes and the homophobic responses of a straight world that "just can't understand gays," the shifts of and ambiguities in address in Jackson's lyrics suggest a critique of these constricting images:

A: Comin' a time, BD women they going (to) need no men [2x]

B: Ah the way they treat us, it's a low-down and dirty sin

In the first verse, for example, while the pronoun "they" in the A line clearly refers to BD women, in the B line, "they" could refer to either BD women or men. The first time I heard the song, I thought it was echoing the sentiments of the religious right in saying that the behavior of lesbians is a low-down and dirty sin. On closer examination, I realized that, in keeping with one of the most pervasive themes in women's blues, it is the mistreatment of women by men that the song suggests is low-down and sinful. While men are mistreatin', low-down, and sinful, BD women are enviable because of their independence from men. The ambiguity (or shift) in the use of the pronoun "they" in the first verse effectively challenges the homophobic belief that lesbians are low-down and sinful. In addition, in its juxtaposition with the first line, the persona's use of "us" in the second line suggests an identification with lesbians as women.

A: BD women you sure can't understand [2x]

as women. A: BD women you sure can't understand [2x] PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a

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B: They got a head like a Swiss engine and they walk just like a nat'chal man

In the second stanza, the disapproval and lack of comprehension expressed in the A line -- "BD women, you sure can't understand" -- stands in direct opposition to the "understanding" of and identification with BD women expressed in the first verse. The lack of comprehension of the "you" voice in the A line of the second verse, which clearly embodies the community's disapproval of lesbians, also contrasts with the persona's obvious envy of the astuteness and assuredness of BD women (the "they" voice) in the B line: "They got a head like a Swiss engine and they walk just like a nat'chal man." Significantly, the speaker uses the impersonal "you" pronoun instead of "I" in line 1, as if to suggest that "you may not understand BD women, but I sure can." In contrast to the triflin' mistreatin' no-good men described in many women's blues, in this song BD women protect and provide for their women: "they lay their jive" (v. 3), "strut their stuff" (v. 4), and "work and make their dough" (v. 5).

Faith Nolan included a version of "B.D. Women" on her recent album Faith Nolan Live (2002), in which she varies and recombines lines from the Jackson original while borrowing and substituting images from other vaudeville blues songs. Nolan extends the original song's ambiguities in address through her A line variations, and she fortifies the speaker's identification with lesbians by shifting from third-person to first-person address in the middle of the song. Nolan also underscores the multiple voices of the original with dramatic shifts in her vocal timbre.

BD women, BD women sure is rough [2x]

She can lay that jive just like a nat'chal man

Nolan sings this first verse in a low register with an exaggeratedly rough, growling timbre, in contrast to the second verse, which she gives an exaggeratedly high, light, and airy delivery:

A: BD women sure can understand

A': Oh, BD women sure you understand

B: When she gets ready to spend it, she gives ya everything she can

In verse 2 Nolan's variations in the A line play upon the ambiguity of address found in Jackson's second stanza, augmenting the original message: "BD women are smart -- they understand, and if you're smart you can understand what they have to offer." Nolan saves the B line of Jackson's second stanza for her third verse, introducing a new A line, which celebrates the BD woman's good looks:

A: BD women sure can look so fine, yeah!

A': BD women sure we look so fine

B: We got a head like a sweet angel, yet we walk like a natural man

In verse 3 Nolan's variation on the A line also introduces a direct identification of the speaker with BD women ("we") that plays upon the indirect identification of the speaker with lesbians found in Bogan's first verse. Borrowed from Bessie Jackson's "Black Angel Blues" (1930), Nolan's substitution of "sweet angel" for "Swiss engine" underscores the BD woman's sex appeal, while her return to the rough, growling timbre of the first verse on the last

to the rough, growling timbre of the first verse on the last PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM

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phrase highlights the multiplicity of that appeal. She is good looking and strong, and in charge of her own image -- in Carby's terms, a sexual subject rather than object.

Borrowing from the third verse of Bessie Smith's "Empty Bed Blues, Part 1" (lyrics by J. C. Johnson; see Davis 1998, 277), in her final verse Nolan moves the speaker into a lesbian subject position:

I want a deep sea diving woman that got a

stroke that can't go wrong, woo!!

I want a deep sea diving woman got a stroke

that can't go wrong

Yeah, touch that bottom, gal, hold it all night

long

In this verse Nolan celebrates lesbian desire and sexual prowess through a lesbian speaker who names her desire and encourages her lesbian lover to "strut her stuff."

Other Lesbian Blues of the 1920s and '30s

Monette Moore recorded a song in 1936 called "Two Old Maids in a Folding Bed," which, while playfully poking fun at the idea of women together, also seems to me to convey some of that sense of envy and admiration for lesbians found in "B.D. Woman's Blues," especially in the first and last verses:

Two old maids sweet and tender

Two old maids go on a bender

Two old maids and a solid sender

Talkin' `bout the maids in the bed

Two old maids over forty

Two old maids hot and sporty

They got the nerve to be hinkty and haughty

Talkin' `bout the maids in the bed

When women let loose together ("go on a bender"), they can be counted on to deliver the goods ("solid senders"). Even in middle age, these women dress like they are desirable and special, and they go out together proud and confident.

and special, and they go out together proud and confident. PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a

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Other songs recorded in the 1920s and 1930s also dealt explicitly with lesbian themes. Bessie Smith recorded "Foolish Man Blues" (1927), a song about deceitful and foolish men in which she feigns a lack of understanding of "a mannish actin' woman and a skippin', twistin', woman actin' man" (quoted in Davis 1998, 180). Far more interesting from the standpoint of her own experience was Bessie Smith's "Jailhouse Blues" (1923), written with Clarence Williams, which opens with the spoken line: "Lord, this house is gonna get raided, yes sir!" followed by the stanza:

Thirty days in jail with my back turned to the

wall, turned to the wall

Look here, Mr. Jail Keeper, put another gal in

my stall

(quoted in Davis 1998, 302)

With its reference to an illicit party and a woman in jail calling for another woman to share her bed, the song evokes the milieu in which musicians such as Smith lived and worked. Bessie Smith was known to attend parties with the women from her show at buffet flats that catered to gay people. Smith's niece, Ruby, described to the biographer Chris Albertson one such occasion:

In Detroit

faggots used to dress like women and it wasn't against the law

in that town

there

He'd give him a tongue bath and by the time he got to the front of that guy he was shakin' like a leaf

get in with that cat but he said it wasn't fish day, so I was out

Bessie

had a party up there at this woman's house

It was right near the jailhouse

house

That's where the

That was a real open house for everybody there

open

Buffet means everything goes on

A buffet flat nothing but faggots and bulldaggers

They had a faggot there was so great that people used to come to watch him make love to another man

(R. Smith 1996)

I wanted to

Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey were also known for their slumber parties with the girls from their show that often got intimate and sometimes wild. Chris Albertson describes one such party thrown by Ma Rainey where they were making so much noise that the police were called and arrived to find Ma and her girls naked. Rainey got thrown in jail for running an indecent party, but Smith bailed her out the next morning (Albertson 1972, 104).

Bessie Smith's "Jailhouse Blues" "triggered some other images" for a contemporary blues woman, Gaye Adegbalola, "after visiting a woman's prison," and she "[attempted] to restate Bessie's `commanding plea' in a contemporary setting" on her solo album, Bittersweet Blues (1999, liner notes). In addition to reinforcing the song's lesbian theme by repeating the opening stanza at the end of the piece, Adegbalola revises the song to include a critique of racism and sexism in the prison system:

So many mothers in this jail now for to fight

[2x]

Somebody on the outside got to keep the kids

alive

[2x] Somebody on the outside got to keep the kids alive PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P

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Too many black sisters all doin' time [zx]

Color of your skin just makes it a double crime

Adegbalola's raw and intense a cappella work song -- style group vocal delivery, punctuated with the sounds of work (pounding on the downbeats), dramatically underscores her new message.

Faith Nolan also incorporates variations on lines from the first two stanzas of Jailhouse Blues" in the final stanzas of her revision of Ma Rainey's "Cell Bound Blues" (1924) included on Faith Nolan Live CD (2002).

[v. 4] The judge said listen Faith, see what you

done done

The judge said listen, see what you done done

You done had to kill that woman's son

Mmmmmm

Mmmmmm

I said listen here jail keeper, put some

good-looking woman in my stall

I don't mind being in jail but every woman I

had has gone

"Cell Bound Blues" is about a woman who killed a man in self-defense. In Rainey's original, he is her lover; in Nolan's revision ("Cellbound Blues"), he is an intruder in her home. Like Adegbalola's revision of "Jailhouse Blues," Nolan's revision of "Cell Bound Blues" protests an unjust and oppressive penal system that condones violence against women.

One of the most provocative odes to lesbian sexuality in the recorded blues from the 1920s and 1930s is "Boy in the Boat" (1931), a song written and performed by the gay male singer George Hannah. The central image -- the boy in the boat -- is a euphemism for and personification of the clitoris (Faderman 1991, 64).(3) In the first verse, the image is extended to conjure oral sex, as the boy "loved to dive and also to fish" and "went roaming in that shallow boat with his head hardly risin'." The second verse speaks of "women walkin' hand in hand" and going to "those parties where [only] women can go," and identifies a lesbian by name -- Tack Ann, who "took many a broad from many a man." Moreover, in the last verse, the speaker suggests that while men were off fighting in World War I, the women were home experimenting with cunnilingus (ibid).

Lot of these dames had nothin' to do

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Uncle Sam thought he'd give 'em a fightin'

chance

Packed up all the men and sent 'em on to

France

Sent 'em over there the Germans to hunt

Left the women at home to try out all their

new stunts

His face is all wrinkled and his breath smells

like soap

I'm talkin' `bout that boy in the boat

A presumably related song, "Boy in the Boat (B.D.'s Dream)," was recorded by the vocalist and boogie-woogie pianist Georgia White in 1936 but was never issued. According to the biographers of the stride pianist Thomas

"Fats" Waller, "Boy in the Boat" was "one of the most frequently heard songs in the rent party repertoire" and "a

broadly sexual song with many verses composed over the years by many singers

melody as a specialty" (quoted in Oliver 1970, 203). According to another stride pianist, Willie "The Lion" Smith, "The Bull Diker's Dream," also known as "The Dream," was "a tune dedicated to lesbians" written by the pianist Jess Pickett and adopted by other pianists such as John "Jack the Bear" Wilson (Smith 1964, 56). It was variously known as "The Bowdiger's Dream," "Ladies' Dream," and "Digah's Dream," and Fats Waller recorded an instrumental version under the title "Digah's Stomp" (Smith 1964, 56; Oliver 1970, 204).

Tom Waller came to use its

Given that so many vaudeville blues women had sexual and emotional involvements with women, it seems likely that there were other songs sung that did not make it onto records, and that traditional material would have been adapted and given additional nuances depending on the performance context. Gladys Bentley, for example, an "out" black lesbian who sported a tuxedo, top hat, and slicked-back hair and publicly married a woman in Harlem in the 1920s, was known for her scandalous revisions of classic blues, ballads, and show tunes in which her audiences would be encouraged to participate (Garber 1988, 55). In Bentley's hands, for example, "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Alice Blue Gown" were turned into "odes to the joy of anal intercourse":

And he said, "Dearie, please turn around"

And he shoved that big thing up my brown.

He tore it. I bored it. Lord, how I adored it.

My sweet little Alice Blue Gown.

(quoted in Chauncey 1994, 252)

sweet little Alice Blue Gown. (quoted in Chauncey 1994, 252) PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a

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In the 1920s Bentley not only publicly cultivated the male command of wine, women, song, and pants but also managed often to eclipse the need for sidemen and accompanists altogether by playing her own foot-stomping piano and by providing her own scatlike trumpet fills. Unfortunately, she made but a handful of records, none of which included any of her notorious parodies nor any songs with explicit lesbian content (Garber 1988, 58-59). Nevertheless, her recordings "How Much Can I Stand?" and "Worried Blues" are strong statements against male mistreatment and abuse, and "Worried Blues" (1928) has always struck me as provocatively suggestive in its shifts and ambiguities in address, especially coming from an "out" black lesbian.

Worried Blues

"Worried Blues" can be divided into two basic parts, with the middle (fourth) stanza swinging both ways. The last verse can also be seen as returning to the theme of the first verse, which is to say, it too swings both ways. The first three stanzas tell of the mistreatment of women by men, and of a woman's holding her own and demanding respect in response. In the first verse the female persona confronts men as a group directly for their mistreatment of women and declares her distaste for men who are financially dependent on women ("I don't want no man that I got to give my money to"). In the second verse she confronts a mistreatin' man and demands respect ("man I ain't no billy goat"). In this context, the term billy goat has multiple implications. Literally a male goat, billy goats are known to eat just about anything (Adegbalola 2002b). Goat is a slang term for a scapegoat -- one who takes the blame for others, while billy goat is also a slang term for a lecherous man (Lighter 1994, 158). The female persona seems to be declaring that she will not be used or disrespected, nor will she take the blame for this man's behavior or for what happened between them.(4) While continuing the theme introduced in verse 1 about a woman's supporting her man financially, the third verse voices the woman's frustration with his continually taking and her continually giving ("Next thing I'm gonna give him is six feet in the cold cold ground").

In verse 4, while continuing the theme of deceitful men, the female persona shifts to address women explicitly ("Keep your eyes open girls `cause he'll put that thing on you"). The female address continues throughout the remainder of the song (explicitly in verse 6 and implicitly in verses 5 and 7).

`Cause you haven't got a papa ain't no signal

you can't be had [2x]

If I put this thing on you baby, gonna be just

too doggone bad

Plenty hard for you women to keep a real good

man nowadays [2x]

These little young chippy gals got so many

doggone different ways

[I know I] Did more for you than the good

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Lord ever done [2x]

Put clothes on your back, you know darn well

you wasn't born with none

While there is definite ambiguity in terms of who is talking to whom in the last three stanzas, a careful examination of these verses in the context of the whole suggests to me a clear lesbian interpretation of verse 5, and the provocative potential for a lesbian interpretation of verses 6 and 7. In verse 5 the speaker brags to women about her prowess as a lover of women -- she can get a woman that no man can (presumably because the woman is a lesbian, and also because the speaker is irresistible).

In another context, verse 6 would probably be interpreted as saying that it's hard for a woman (married/committed, mature) to keep a good man because young "things" ("chippy gals") are luring the men away. But in the context of the lesbian braggadocio of verse 5, might not it be young skillful lesbian women who are making it hard for women to keep a good man? That is, because of their ability to provide for a woman and their irresistible range of skills ("so many doggone different ways"), these lesbians have taken many a woman from "a real good man." Or perhaps the speaker is warning the listener to watch out for the "old old men" (verse 4), the "little young chippy gals," and "the real good men," since you'll lose them to the chippy gals; you might as well give yourself over to the bulldagger, who will provide for you and whom you can't resist anyway. In this context, the title also seems provocative, begging the question -- who is worried and what is he or she worried about? The speaker certainly does not seem worried!

In this context, the last verse can be taken to continue the lesbian speaker's assertion of her ability to provide for a woman. At the same time, the last verse can be viewed as a return to the opening theme. If the last verse followed verse 3, it would be seen to continue the theme of the speaker providing for her male lover (the "you" would be assumed to be male). The last verse is the only verse without any gender specificity. All the other verses have an explicit male reference, and also a female reference (implicit in verses 2, 3, and 5), which helps to keep the gender/sexual ambiguity in the foreground.

Although vaudeville blues lyrics tended to be more thematic than early country blues lyrics, blues lyrics in general are non-narrative in character, creating much ambiguity and allowing for multiple interpretations. Rather than arguing a definitive interpretation for any given stanza or song, then, it is important to consider alternative interpretations and to celebrate the provocative possibilities blues performance provided for affirming a range of gender and sexual identities.

I am convinced that other songs and versions of songs in the 1920s and 1930s affirmed lesbian sexuality. Unfortunately, we may never know about some of them. Written accounts and film footage of performances of blues women in the 1920s and 1930s are extremely limited. Watching with my students the wonderful performance footage of Alberta Hunter in her late eighties in Jazz at the Smithsonian (1982), I have often contemplated how a woman like Alberta Hunter, who spent much of her life in a committed relationship with a woman (and her entire life in the closet), affirmed herself while singing songs about relationships with men. When blues women such as Alberta Hunter sing of men they don't desire, their performance carries an aspect of disempowerment; but at the same time, their singing about female independence possesses a certain privilege that comes precisely because they are not sexually, emotionally, or financially dependent on men. It is this privilege that the female persona in "B.D. Woman's Blues" recognizes and covets.

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To gain insight into how blues women of the past might have personalized popular songs in performance to reflect their own experiences, I will now examine remakes by contemporary blues women of the blues-jazz classic "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl."

"Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl"

"Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl" was written by Clarence Williams, D. Small, and T. Brymn and first recorded by Bessie Smith in 1931. It became a signature song for Nina Simone in the 1960s and since then has become a kind of "classic." I had never been very interested in the song because of images such as "I need a little hot dog between my roll," which I felt lacked the rich multiplicity of the best sexual blues. The blatant heterosexual thrust, so to speak, no doubt also turned me off. However, when two of my "sheroes," both "out" black lesbians -- Gaye Adegbalola and Gwen Avery -- recorded the song in 1999 and 2000 respectively, I decided it was time to take a closer look.

Musically, it is not difficult to understand the song's appeal. It makes use of a smooth-moving, jazzy chord progression that alternates chromatic with falling-fifth motion. The melody is also attractive as it alternates disjunct and chromatic motion, ascending and descending movement, and expressively employs the "blue" or variable third and seventh degrees. In addition, the song's structure, with its repetition and variation of melodic and lyric motives both within the verse and from verse to verse, is conducive to a dramatic rendering. The song consists of an introduction followed by two verses that share several lines. (Lines 1, 2, 5, and 6 are similar in both verses, while lines 3, 4, 7, and 8 are different.)

Upon closer listening I also began to appreciate the range of feelings suggested in the lyrics and embodied in the original Bessie Smith performance. The song opens with the speaker sick of being miserable, as she has been since her lover left (ex. 1a). Longing for love, affection, and sex, she decides to see if she can remedy the situation. Ultimately, she commands a potential lover to please her, and directs him in making love to her. Smith underscores the song's sentiments by delaying and then provocatively drawing out key words with extended slides. The intensity of her need to be made love to is evoked in her moaning embellishments on "sugar" and "bowl" (ex. 1b), on the command "move your finger," which is set into relief by a break in the piano accompaniment (ex. 1c), on "steam" in both verses (ex. 1d), and on "between my rolls" in the second verse (ex. 1e). Smith's performance reaches a peak with the spontaneous-sounding command, "Get off your knees, I can't see what you're driving at! It's dark down there, looks like a snake," which is spoken over variations of a two-bar chord sequence. Filling in the musical space, this spoken ad lib "ups the expressive ante," leading into the final sung phrases: "in my bowl, stop your foolin' and drop something in my bowl."

A Nina Simone recording of this song led Gaye Adegbalola to Bessie Smith. Adegbalola's recording is modeled

after Smith's original, which for her has a commanding feel, in contrast to Simone's intensely pleading quality (Adegbalola 2001a). Remaking the song musically and sexually in her own image, Adegbalola replaces the male lover identifiers -- "man," "daddy," and "hot dog" -- with the gender-neutral "somebody," "baby," and "jelly." I consider "jelly" to be gender-neutral because it is used in the blues by both women and men to connote lovemaking and sexual prowess.

The scholar Paul Oliver suggests that the term jellyroll arises "simply from the motions of sexual intercourse" (1970, 109). However, many examples, including those cited by Oliver himself, suggest that the image can evoke

other sexual activities as well. Like other sexual food metaphors in the blues, the image can easily conjure oral sex.

In "New Jelly Roll Blues" (1927), for example, Peg Leg Howell sings:

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Jellyroll jellyroll ain't so hard to find

Ain't a baker shop in town bake 'em brown

like mine

I got a sweet jelly, a lovin' jellyroll

If you taste my jelly it'll satisfy your worried

soul

(quoted in Oliver 1990, 109).

As a noun, however, "jellyroll" is most often associated with the female sexual anatomy. In "Feather Bed" (1935), for example, Bumble Bee Slim distinguishes between "rollin jelly" (stimulating a woman's outer genital area) and "grindin' deep" (penetration): "And they call me `jelly' `cause I rolls all in my sleep / I will roll your jelly and also grind you deep" (quoted in Oliver 1990, 116). "Jelly(roll)" is also used in describing gay male sexuality in the blues. In "Sissy Blues" (1926), written by Thomas Dorsey and recorded by Ma Rainey, for example, "sissies got good jelly roll," and a drag queen named "Miss Kate shook that thing like jelly on a plate" (quoted in Davis 1998, 243). There are many examples in women's blues of the use of jelly(roll) imagery to boast the desirability of a woman and her lovemaking abilities (Edwards 1927; Pierce 1959; Smith 1923).

In Adegbalola's version of "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl" the "jelly" image is suggestive, if not specifically of lesbian sexual activities, at least of sexual activities that don't involve the penis. This is reinforced by Adegbalola's remaking of the climactic finish in which Smith's half-spoken command "Get off your knees, I can't see what you're drivin' at. It's dark down there, looks like a snake" is replaced with "I want you to get down on your knees. It's dark down there; I want you to see what you're driving at!" Also, in Adegbalola's version the a cappella line, "Move your finger, drop something in my bowl" becomes "Move your finger drop it in my bowl." While the female persona in Bessie Smith's recording has little patience, it seems, with the "different" activities her male lover attempts with his finger and on his knees, in Adegbalola's revision, these body parts (not to mention those involved in extracting sugar from a bowl) have everything to do with the kind of loving she has in mind. In Gaye's hands, so to speak, "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl" becomes a celebration of lesbian lovemaking.

While her melody is for the most part similar to Smith's, though less embellished and syncopated, Adegbalola's pitch changes and slightly faster tempo (from 76 to 84beats per minute), along with her judiciously placed embellishments and growls and extended preaching-style ad lib, give her version a more intensely dramatic build. On the line "I'm feeling so funny, I'm feeling so sad," Adegbalola introduces an arching low-to-high melodic contour with a disjunct downward turn on "funny" that, with its eerie timbre, relaxed and almost slurred articulation, and pause after "funny," evokes both the female persona's mounting desire along with her gay ("funny" meaning "queer") orientation (Adegbalola 2001) On the dramatic "move your finger" line, Adegbalola introduces a new melody with minimal embellishment, which stands out for the contrast between its opening upward leap and disjunct motion and its closing chromatic descent (compare ex. 2b with ex. 1c). Adegbalola also builds her performance by varying and intensifying her timbres as the piece progresses, by jumping up to a higher register sooner than Smith in the cadence at the ends of verses, and through the use of a dynamic crescendo from the beginning of the second verse to the end of the piece (ex. 2c). In addition, Gaye adds eight bars to Smith's version, finishing out the second verse (cadence and tag) before starting the spoken ad lib, and extending her ad lib using

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text repetition and hyperbole, ("I don't want one lump; I don't want two lumps; I don't want three lumps; I want a five-pound bag of sugar"). These elements combine to give her performance a powerful dramatic shape and climax.

Gwen Avery's version of "Sugar in My Bowl," in contrast, is modeled on a Nina Simone recording (Simone 1967) that does not include either the introductory verse or the hot dog image from the original Bessie Smith recording. Like Simone, Avery also adds a saxophone solo between verses and updates the "steam heat on my floor" image to become "steam on my clothes." Simone's and Avery's versions are more syncopated and embellished, using many melismas as well as numerous slides, along with more variations in timbre and contrasts in register.

Like Simone, Avery has her own brand of embellishments, the most striking of which is an abrupt leap to a low note followed by a quick jump to a high note and a new timbre intensified with her unique style of vibrato. A good example of the way Avery intensifies emotion using dramatic shifts in register and timbre coupled with "slippery" embellishments occurs near the end of the first verse. On "so they'll go" Avery leaps down a major sixth to the lowest note of the piece and back up, finishing the line with a descending slide. At the beginning of the next line, she leaps up a minor seventh to the highest note of the piece on "what's," which is accented by an almost hornlike squawk. This is contrasted later in the line with a descending melismatic spiral on "come on save my soul," also underscored by an expressive, almost yodel-like timbre (ex. 3a).

While taking the song at a much faster tempo (92 bpm) than Simone's (66 bpm), Avery swings intensely, "working" the hot and steamy element from Simone's performance. Avery changes "daddy" to the gender-neutral "baby," like Adegbalola, and provocatively varies the phrase "I want that steam on my clothes" in the second verse to become "I want that steam under my clothes." In addition, in Avery's version the sax solo is expanded and the ending prolonged with ad-lib variations of the title line that personalize her request from a commanding "drop that sugar all over my bowl" to a pleading "I want the sugar all night long" to a scared "don't you dare do me wrong." Avery's delivery is sex-filled and intoxicating, loaded with syncopations, breathy vibrations, slippery slides, and melismas.

As these distinctive and personalized versions suggest, "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl" has been and continues to be a potent vehicle for celebrating female sexualities and expressing the range of women's sexual desires. The song also provides an inspiring medium for showing off the wonderfully diverse voices and personalities of these singers. Moreover, for Simone and especially for Adegbalola and Avery, performing and recording the song is a means for connecting with and paying homage to their musical "sheroes."

In addition to revising classics, contemporary blues women celebrate their sexuality by creating original songs that respond to the tradition, revising old themes and using traditional imagery in new ways. While many artists and examples illustrate this (Nedra Johnson 1998; Toshi Reagon 1997; Washington Sisters 1991), I will focus the remainder of this essay on three original songs -- Faith Nolan's "Jellyroll" (1989), Gwen Avery's "Sugar Mama" (1994), and Gaye Adegbalola's "Silver Beaver" (1998).

"Jellyroll"

As we have seen, the term jellyroll is a common blues image that has been used by both women and men to connote sex and boast about one's sexual abilities. Gaye Adegbalola is not the only contemporary blues woman to use it in celebrating lesbian sex. Faith Nolan's "Jellyroll," from her 1989 album Freedom to Love, celebrates female sexuality in general and lesbian sexuality in particular, in the face of family and community prohibitions against women enjoying sex and women loving women:

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Well if the world's all right, must be wrong

Well if the world's all right I know I got it

wrong

Cause I could jelly'n'jelly jelly, jellyroll all day

long

(Well) mama she told me, my jelly(roll) wasn't

right [2x]

Well I can jelly'n'jelly jelly, jelly makes my life

[harmonica] Jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly,

jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly

jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly, jelly'n'jelly jelly

jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly, jelly jelly jellyroll

well'n jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly, jelly has suit my

soul

Well upside down, right side up,

give it to me baby till I've had enough

jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly, jelly jelly jellyroll

Well if it feels good do it, do it all the way

home

[Well] mornin', evenin', afternoon delight [2x]

Well jelly'n'jelly jelly, jelly has made my life

Well jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly [harmonica],

Jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly [harmonica]

Jelly jelly jelly [harmonica], jelly jelly jelly

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[harmonica]

Jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly, jelly has suit my life

Mornin' [harmonica], evenin' [harmonica], oh

afternoon delight [harmonica]

Jelly'n'jelly jelly, jellyroll my life

In the first stanza, the speaker looks out at the world around her and discovers that she is different, and that who she is goes against the grain (she recognizes her marginalized status as a black lesbian). In the second stanza, she tells us that her sense of difference was reinforced in her family by her mother, who told her that her "jelly wasn't right." On the one hand, Nolan's song acknowledges that the repression of black women's sexuality has been part of a long history of sexual abuse and distorted imaging. On the other hand, "Jellyroll" also speaks to the society's and family members' disapproval of lesbian sexuality. In the fourth verse, the speaker affirms her sexuality and celebrates her sexual pleasure in the face of parental and community prescriptions and disapproval. She commands her lover to please her, take her time, and use a variety of techniques and positions until she is thoroughly satisfied. In "Jellyroll" Nolan celebrates a woman's desire and appetite for sex while affirming her own lesbian sexual identity.

Moreover, Faith Nolan performs the song with a celebratory glee and abandon. Like Gladys Bentley on "Worried Blues," Nolan is the band. Doing away with the need for accompanists altogether, she plays her own guitar, harmonica (in a holder), and tambourine (with her foot). Her walking guitar lines and repeated rhythms give the song a driving energy and momentum, while the repeated vocal riff, "jelly'n'jelly'n'jelly'n," provides a propelling triplet rhythm.

Sugar Mama

First released on the Olivia Records compilation Lesbian Concentrate (1977), Gwen Avery's "Sugar Mama" next appeared on her live solo cassette, Live at IMA (1993), and then again as "Sugar Mama 2K" on her studio debut CD, Sugar Mama (2000). My analysis is based on the live version, a great demonstration of how Avery works in performance to empower her largely female and lesbian audience. Avery's theme song, "Sugar Mama" uses imagery and musical techniques drawn from the blues to express her desire for women, to assert her prowess as a lover of women, and to celebrate the sexual connections between women. Whereas "Jellyroll" focuses on how the speaker wants to be loved, "Sugar Mama" concentrates on what the speaker is going to do for her lover: "Gonna fix you chocolate cookies, bring `era to your bed," "Gonna love you up and down and all over," "Gonna rock you left and right," "Gonna do it do it do it do it." The producer June Millington describes Gwen singing "Sugar Mama": "like slow molasses, clinging like good love, salty like the sea, [filled with] languid sassiness" (Avery 1993, liner notes).

Performed by Gwen Avery on vocals and piano, the song consists of three sections: a slow introduction, followed by the main body of the song, which is uptempo, and ending with an ad-lib call-and-response section between Avery and the audience. In the third section, the rhythmic refrain ("sugar sugar, be your sugar mama") is passed to the audience, becoming a repeated response over which Avery improvises new "calls," drawing textual material from the main body of the song. This is a powerful example of how Avery works to stimulate an erotic connection with her audience as a means of building the musical expressiveness of a performance. By working to fully engage

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and involve the audience, she empowers them as sexual subjects. We see this most clearly in the a cappella reprise of the third section, which follows the original ending of the song. After the song ends, Avery gently criticizes her audience for being self-conscious and for holding back, and tries again to get them to sing:

Now tell me somethin', was it harder to say "sugar sugar, be your sugar mama" than "Sail away"? "Sail away" had a lot more gusto -- did you notice? And it seemed like you were a lot more comfortable saying "Sail away" than [sings] "

"Sugar sugar, be your (oh yeah yeah), sugar sugar, be your (who's lookin' at me?), sugar sugar

She starts singing again and tries to get the audience to sing and be the part of the sugar mama. She coaches them to get strong in this role and to stimulate her like she did them, so that she can, in turn, respond to and "jam" more intensely with and against them. As she coaches them to sing her song, to be her sugar mama, to love her, to seduce her, her stance shifts to that of "Jellyroll." Avery is working to stimulate an erotic connection with her audience that is both musical and sexual, and that teaches and models the power of both. She stimulates her audience to feel their erotic power by getting them involved -- getting them to move their bodies, to clap their hands, to stomp their feet, to dance, as part of their singing of the song. Her vocal solo models the process of letting go and being oneself fully. It peaks with a nontexted, timbrally and rhythmically intense sequence -- an unmistakable musical orgasm:

Put your hands together

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Tell me how you gon' be

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Be that sugar mama

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Love me up and down

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Shake it all around

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Let your thang go

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Love your body so

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Sugar in the mornin'

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(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Sugar in the evenin'

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Pat your feet

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Clap your hands

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Tell me you wanta

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

really understand

(sugar sugar, be your sugar mama)

Ah ahah ah uhoo ee ow, ut ut ae ut

(sugar sugar

)

a-ut hut ut but ut aeor er, ut ut aeout

(sugar sugar

)

ut ut ut ut ut ut aeor aeow, ut ut aeow uh

(sugar sugar

)

oo ah oo ah; a-ow, a-ow, a-ow

(sugar, sugar

)

woo----- oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Silver Beaver

One of Gaye Adegbalola's boldest and most uppity original songs, "Silver Beaver" was written for a lesbian electric band called the Sisterhood. In an interview she explained: "I really wanted the lesbian women to be empowered by the blues and the message that the blues brings. I wanted to bring some humor to that community" (2001b). When the Sisterhood disbanded after losing their lead guitar player, Gaye brought the song to Saffire. "Silver Beaver"

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appropriates the boasting stance, sexual animal imagery, and driving beat of men's urban blues songs, responding in particular to Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster," John Lee Hooker's "Crawlin' King Snake," and Big Joe Turner's "Flip, Flop, and Fly," among others. In "Silver Beaver" Adegbalola introduces a new image that celebrates female, and in particular older women's sexuality while talking back to men's blues.(5) In her introduction to the song on Saffire's Live and Uppity album, Gaye says: "We thought it was time for the blues world to have a new animal in its menagerie" (Saffire 1998). When asked about the song in an interview, she cites Howlin' Wolf's "Little Red Rooster" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Fattening Frogs for Snakes," explaining: "The blues has this double and triple entendre a lot of the time [and] I was just extending that play" (2001b).

I don't want a little red rooster, tryin' to crow

'fore day

Don't want no great big king snake tryin' to

crawl his life away

I got a silver beaver, oh Lord you know it's

true

It's a pretty little silver beaver and it's lookin'

right at you

Oh it's an eager beaver, it don't beat around

the bush

It's a pretty little silver beaver, yeah, grant your

every wish

I don't want no black rat, come eatin' up all

my bread

Don't need a widow spider leavin' cobwebs

'round my bed

I got a silver beaver, yeah, you know it's true

It's a pretty little silver beaver and it's grinnin'

right at you

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Oh it's an eager beaver it don't beat around

the bush

It's a pretty little silver beaver, grant your every

wish

[Bridge:]

My beaver don't play possum, my beaver don't

play shrew

My beaver don't really give a damn if you

don't or do

My beaver gonna be your gopher, my beaver

gonna be your pet

My beaver gonna thump her great big tail and

get you good and wet!

Don't need a Mississippi bullfrog sittin' on a

hollow stump

Don't [want/need] no funky monkey don't

know which way to jump

I got a silver beaver, yeah, Lord you know it's

true

It's a pretty little silver beaver and it's smilin'

right at you

Oh it's an eager beaver it don't beat around

the bush

It's a pretty little silver beaver, grant your every

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wish

("Silver Beaver," Saffire 1998)

"Silver Beaver" is structured such that each verse begins with two images conjuring all that the speaker does not want or need in a sexual relationship (primarily a rejection of the sexual images offered in men's blues). This is followed and countered by a direct statement of what the speaker has to offer. While the opening images vary from verse to verse, the bold counterstatement is a repeated refrain that affirms the potency of older women's sexuality.

Adegbalola playfully speaks from the perspective of an older woman eager for sex and eager to please. Her message is a humorous counter to the way older women tend to be desexualized in the society. The rich double entendre imagery celebrates as it personifies the potential power of an older woman in touch with her sexual desires and uninhibited in expressing them.(6) Gaye says: "It's just another play of the lyrics to say there's this little silver beaver over here. It's making something good and something fun out of old age. It's just truly extending the blues metaphor" (2001b).

"Silver Beaver" opens with an evocation of Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster." Dixon's song begins "I have a little red rooster, too lazy to crow for day / Keep everything in the barnyard upset in every way." As Adegbalola notes, "That song is really about impotence" (2001b). So when Gaye sings: "I don't want a little red rooster tryin' to crow `fore day," blues lovers know that she is playfully talking back to Dixon (what Henry Louis Gates Jr. has termed signifyin(g)), personalizing and enriching the image, and expanding its meaning. Her message -- "I don't want a man that can't satisfy me" -- continues a common theme of vaudeville blues.

Adegbalola's first verse continues with a nod to John Lee Hooker's "Crawlin' King Snake." Hooker's song begins with the refrain: "You know I'm a crawlin' king snake babe, and I rules my den / Don't you hang around my mate, wanna use her for myself." Hooker's verses describe the constant stalker-like crawling of the king snake around his lover's window, door, and floor, in his words, "until the day I die." When Gaye sings, "Don't want no great big king snake tryin' to crawl his life away," she evokes Hooker's image of a dominating, predatory man and rejects involvement with men who use and control women.

The second verse begins with a reference to "Black Rat Swing," an influential song written by Memphis Minnie's husband and musical partner, Little Son Joe (Ernest Lawlars), that was subsequently recorded by many male and female blues singers including Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Mama Thornton (Garon 1992, 48), and most recently, Precious Bryant (2002). In the original recording, sung by Son Joe, the address shifts from a direct first-person address in the opening chorus, "You is one black rat, some day I'll find your trail," to a third-person address in the second verse, "He sneak in my kitchen, eat up all my bread / Soon as I left home he start cuttin' up in my bed." The implication in the original lyric is that the black rat is a male rival stealing the male persona's food and sleeping with his woman when he is away. In Thornton's version, which uses only the lyrics of the chorus and first verse and maintains a first-person address throughout, the black rat becomes a no-good lover. Combining images from the Lawlars original, Adegbalola sings: "I don't want no black rat, come eatin' up all my bread"; the image suggests a rejection of men who use women for sex, food, or money. "Silver Beaver" goes on to reject celibacy and sexless relationships, using an image that conjures the empty bed blues in the nest building of a potentially deadly insect:

"Don't need a widow spider, leavin' cobwebs `round my bed."(7)

Adegbalola's third verse opens with a clever revision of Big Joe Turner's "Flip, Flop, and Fly." Turner sings: "Like a Mississippi bullfrog sittin' on a hollow stump / I got so many women I don't know which way to jump." Gaye sings:

women I don't know which way to jump." Gaye sings: PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a

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"Don't need a Mississippi bullfrog sittin' on a hollow stump / Don't want no funky monkey don't know which way to jump." In black English usage, funky means worthless, rotten, stinky, objectionable. Monkey in slang usage can refer to either male or female genitalia, or disparagingly to a shady male or female character (Lighter 1994, 576-78, 847; Adegbalola 2003a). In Gaye's hands, then, a man bragging about how many women he's got is transformed into a woman rejecting two-timing and incompetent lovers, both male and female.(8)

In the bridge Adegbalola employs a similarly balanced structure as in the verses, continuing to articulate a new female sexuality, first by evoking and rejecting male-defined images and then by extending her new image. The speaker refuses to stifle her desires and refuses to play the traditional role of submissive woman ("My beaver don't play possum"). At the same time, she rejects the stereotype of the nagging, scolding, manipulating woman ("my beaver don't play shrew"). Mining the English language for "beaverisms" and double entendres involving animal imagery, Gaye creates a new self-defined image that personifies female sexual pleasure ("My beaver don't really give a [dam/n] if you don't or do / My beaver gonna be your [gopher/go for], my beaver gonna be your pet [as noun/as verb] / My beaver gonna thump her great big tail and get you good and wet!"). In "Silver Beaver" Adegbalola unabashedly celebrates female pleasures and sexual desires not dependent on men or on male pleasure/desire. "Silver Beaver" is a bold declaration of female sexual independence and self-sufficiency.

Underscoring the lyric progression, the song builds musically, starting in the first verse with the vocal melody in low register and volume and moving progressively higher and louder. The addition of an intensified growled vocal timbre on "It's a pretty little silver beaver," vocal harmony on "It's an eager beaver, it don't beat around the bush," and the insistent instrumental accents on "grant your ev'ry wish" also up the expressive ante. Musical energy continues to build through the second verse, with the melody staying in the upper register and maintaining an intensified dynamic level throughout. An expressive climax occurs on the punch line at the end of the bridge: "my beaver gonna thump her great big tail and get you good and wet," which is set into relief by the sparse stoptime accompaniment.

The song ends with an interactive vamp in which Adegbalola gets her bandmates and the audience to repeat a riff borrowed from the popular I95OS television show (originally a radio show) The Lone Ranger, by way of Big Joe Turner's "Honey Hush" ("Hi yo, hi yo silver"). Layered over this riff, in a call-and-response texture, Gaye improvises encouragements that direct the silver beaver to strut her stuff. Through this humorous ad lib, Adegbalola empowers women in her audience to come out into the open with their sexuality and express themselves:

Ah take it on down the road little beaver

naw

"thump thump, thumpity thump" now, "thump thumpity thump" yeah yeah yeah, "thump thumpity thump" yeah yeah

yeah, "thump thumpity thump" beaver yeah!"

Oh

work your magic now little beaver

Aw,

Aw

you ain't gonna give a damn,

Aw,

big ol' tail just goin'

Aw

take it down around the corner beaver

Aw

wag that great big silver tail, yeah

yeah

take it down around the corner beaver

yeah, Just leave it to

With a final ironic allusion to the television show that probably best exemplifies conventional white middle-class family values of the 1950s (Leave It to Beaver), Adegbalola leaves us with the Cleaver family image on its head and her little beaver thumping off into the sunset.

I have tried to show how the blues has been and continues to be a powerful vehicle for women to express their identity and sexuality, and have attempted to illuminate, in particular, black lesbian expressions of sexuality and identity. I have also worked to shed some light on one piece of the creative conversation or call and response of women's blues, and to exemplify the potentially empowering process of the blues. I am certainly not trying to suggest that all women's blues is or has been sexually empowering or that this is the only important theme of

empowering or that this is the only important theme of PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a

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women's blues. Blues tells it like it is, often focusing on love and relationships, and blues women have been susceptible to destructive and dysfunctional relationships probably no more or less than other women. And they've sung about them too. Nevertheless, the fact remains that through their communal performances, blues women have and continue to reclaim and celebrate women's erotic power, including erotic connections between women. Music and sex are two manifestations of humankind's passionate engagement with self, other, and the world. Giving your all, being yourself fully, opening to life -- these are at once the aesthetic requirements of traditional black performance style and the defining characteristics of the erotic power that writers such as Audre Lorde and musicians from Ma Rainey and Gladys Bentley to Faith Nolan, Gaye Adegbalola, and Gwen Avery inspire us to reclaim.

Works Cited

Print and Interview Sources

Adegbalola, Gaye. 2001a. Telephone interview with the author, 12 September.

-----. 2001b. "Wild Women Don't Get the Blues: An Interview by Nicole Blizzard." Techno-Dyke Headquarters. <http://www.technodyke.com/ features/061101_gaye.asp?>.

-----. 2002a. Telephone interview with the author, January 23.

-----. 2002b. Telephone interview with the author, January 28.

-----. 2002c. E-mail correspondence with the author, December 23.

-----. 2003a. E-mail correspondence with the author, January 2.

-----. 2003b. E-mail corresondence with the author, February 18.

Albertson, Chris. 1972. Bessie. New York: Stein &Day.

Burnim, Mellonee V. 1985. "The Black Gospel Music Tradition: A Complex of Ideology, Aesthetic, and Behavior." In More Than Dancing, edited by Irene Jackson, 147-67. Westport CT: Greenwood Press.

Carby, Hazel V. 186. "`It Jus Be's Dat Way Sometime': The Sexual Politics of Women's Blues." Radical America 20, no. 4: 9-22.

Chauncey, George. 1994. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books.

Davis, Angela Y. 1998. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. New York: Pantheon.

Faderman, Lillian. 1991. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Penguin.

Garber, Eric. 1988. "Gladys Bentley: The Bulldagger Who Sang the Blues." Out/Look (spring): 52-61.

Who Sang the Blues." Out/Look (spring): 52-61. PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a g e 2

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Garon, Paul, and Beth Garon. 1992. Woman with Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues. New York: Da Capo Press.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. 1988. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harrison, Daphne Duval. 1988. Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s. Rutgers University Press.

Lieb, Sandra. 1981. Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Lighter, J. E., ed. 1994. Historical Dictionary of American Slang. Vol. 1. New York: Random House.

Lorde, Audre. 1984. "Uses Of The Erotic: The Erotic as Power." In Sister Outsider, 53-59. Trumansburg NV: Crossing Press.

Murray, Albert. 1976. Stomping the Blues. New York: Vintage Books.

Oliver, Paul. 1970. Aspects of the Blues Tradition. New York: Oak.

-----. 1990. Blues Fell This Morning: Meaning in the Blues. 2d ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, Willie the Lion. 1964. Music on My Mind. New York: Doubleday.

Turner, Big Joe. 1992. "Cherry Red." In The Definitive Blues Collection. New York: MCA Music/Hal Leonard, 48-49.

Williams, Sherley Anne. 1975. The Peacock Poems. Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Recordings

Adegbalola, Gaye. 1999. Bittersweet Blues. Alligator ALCD 4870.

Avery, Gwen. 1977. "Sugar Mama." Lesbian Concentrate: A Lesbianthology of Songs and Poems. Olivia LF 915.

-----. 1993. Live at IMA. Fabulous Records.

-----. 2000. Sugar Mama. Sugar Mama Music ATGASMI.

Bentley, Gladys. 1995. Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, 1928/1929. Document DOCD-5349.

Bryant, Precious. 2002. "Black Rat Swing." Fool Me Good. Terminus 0201-2.

Edwards, Susie. 1927. "Jelly Roll Queen." Super Sisters: Independent Women's Blues, vol. 3. Rosetta Records RR 1308, 1982.

Hannah, George. 1931. "The Boy in the Boat." Sissy Man Blues. Mojo CD-MOJO-304, 1996.

Hooker, John Lee. 1959. "Crawlin' King Snake." Blues All Ways. Drive Archive DE2-41045, 1994. [Orig. recorded in

1949.]

Drive Archive DE2-41045, 1994. [Orig. recorded in 1949.] PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a g e

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Hunter, Alberta. 1982. Jazz at the Smithsonian. Videocassette. Kultur/Adler Enterprises 1270.

Jackson, Bessie (a.k.a. Lucille Bogan). 1930. "Black Angel Blues." Lucille Bogan: Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, vol. 2. Document Records BDCD-6037.

-----. 1935. "BD Woman's Blues." AC-DC Blues/Gay Jazz Reissues. Stash ST-106, 1977. [Also on Sissy Man Blues. Mojo CD-MOJO-304, 1996.]

Johnson, Nedra. 1998. "Primary Lover Blues." Testify. Big Mouth/GoldenRod G7270.

Memphis Minnie and Little Son Joe Lawlar. 1939. "Black Widow Stinger." Memphis Minnie: Complete Recorded Works, 1935-1941, vol. 4. RST Records BDCD-6011.

-----. 1941. "Black Rat Swing." Memphis Minnie: Complete Recorded Works, 1935-1941, vol. 5. RST Records BDCD-

6012.

Moore, Monette. 1936. "Two Old Maids in a Folding Bed." Sissy Man Blues. Mojo CD-MOJO-304, 1996.

Nolan, Faith. 1989. Freedom to Love. Redwood Records RR 8903.

-----. 2002. Faith Nolan Live. Faith n Faith.

Pierce, Billie. 1959. "Jelly Roll." Piano Singer's Blues. Rosetta RR 1303, 1982.

Rainey, Gertrude "Ma." 1924. "Cell Bound Blues." Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, vol. 2. Document DOCD-5582, 1997.

-----. 1929. "Prove It on Me Blues." AC-DCBlues/Gay Jazz Reissues. Stash ST-106. 1977.

Reagon, Toshi. 1997. "Mr. Conductor Man." Kindness. Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40095.

Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women. 1994. Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue. Alligator ALCD 4826.

-----. 1998. Live and Uppity. Alligator ALCD 4856.

-----. 2001. Ain't Gonna Hush! Alligator ALCD 4880.

Simone, Nina. 1967. "I Want A Little Sugar in My Bowl." The Blues. BMG 3101--2-N, 1991.

Smith, Bessie. 1923. "Jailhouse Blues." The Complete Recordings, vol. 1. Columbia/Legacy C2K 47091, 1991.

-----. 1923. "Nobody in Town Can Bake a Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine." The Complete Recordings, vol. 1. Columbia/Legacy C2K 47091, 1991.

-----. 1927. "Foolish Man Blues." The Complete Recordings, vol. 3. Columbia/Legacy C2K 47474, 1992.

Recordings, vol. 3. Columbia/Legacy C2K 47474, 1992. PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a g e 2

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-----. 1928. "Empty Bed Blues (Part 1)." The Complete Recordings, vol. 4. Columbia/Legacy C2K 52838, 1993.

-----. 1931. "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl." The Complete Recordings, vol. 5. Columbia/Legacy C2K 57546, 1996.

Smith, Ruby. 1996. "Ruby Smith Dialogue/An Interview with Chris Albertson." Bessie Smith: The Complete Recordings, vol. 5, The Final Chapter. Columbia/Legacy C2K 47474.

Thornton, Willie Mae "Big Mama." 1966. "Black Rat." Ball n' Chain. Arhoolie CD-305.

Trull, Teresa, and Mary Watkins. 1977. "Prove It on Me." Lesbian Concentrate. Olivia LF915.

-----. 1997. "Honey Hush" and "Flip Flop and Fly." Shake, Rattle, and Roll and Other Hits. Flashback R2 72707. [Originally recorded in the 1950s.]

Washington Sisters. 1991. Take Two. SHSAWA Music. SHSA 222cS.

Wolf, Howlin'. 1961. "Little Red Rooster." Living the Blues: Blues Classics, 1960-1964. Time-Life, 1996.

(1). I met Gaye Adegbalola in the summer of 2001 at Bluesweek in Elkins, West Virginia, which I attended to study blues piano with Ann Rabson. After this, Gaye and I corresponded via e-mail and exchanged materials on women's blues. I interviewed her informally for this project on the phone once in the fall of 2001 and a couple of times in January 2002. E-mail exchanges continued in the spring of 2002, after I began in earnest a book project on Saffire:

The Uppity Blues Women. In summer 2001 I studied blues vocals with Gaye during Bluesweek at Elkins, at which time I also interviewed her for the book project.

(2). This is not to suggest that these (or all) blues are empowering. Ma Rainey's "Sweet Rough Man" (lyrics by J. Sammy Randall), for example, juxtaposes graphic and disturbing images of violence with sexual desire. "He keeps my lips split, my eyes as black as jet / But the way he love me, makes me soon forget" (Lieb 1981, 119). Bessie Smith's "Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I do" (written by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins) also ends with a

swear I won't call no copper

disturbing verse: "I'd rather my man would hit me than to jump right up and quit me

if I'm beat up by my papa" (Davis 1998, 343). And yet contemporary blues women such as Jeannie Cheatham and Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women continue to perform and record "Taint Nobody's Bizness," omitting the problematic verses and sometimes adding their own verses, because the song empowers women to be themselves in the face of community disapproval and criticism.

I

(3). Gaye Adegbalola told me that the "little boy in the boat" is a euphemism among black folks that goes way back. The clitoris is called a "little boy" for its likeness to the penis, and "the boat" refers to the labia that surrounds the "little boy" (Adegbalola 2003b).

(4). In the context of this song and singer, the use of the term billy goat might also be seen as a subtle commentary on the positioning of black lesbians as the society's scapegoats.

(5). The beaver is a furry animal with a big wide tail that it slaps on the water when a potential threat approaches. It is also a common euphemism for a woman's outer genital area, in which the animal's fur coat is likened to a woman's pubic hair.

(6). Like "beaver," "bush" is another euphemism for a woman's pubic hair. One who "beats around the bush"

pubic hair. One who "beats around the bush" PDF GENERADO POR SEARCH.PROQUEST.COM P a g e

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communicates indirectly, unlike the woman in the song, who boldly and directly expresses her sexual desires.

(7). The black widow spider image figures differently in an earlier blues by Memphis Minnie called "Black Widow

Stinger" (1939). In Minnie's recording, the spider won't stop crawling in her door, stinging her so many times with

"so much poison in his tail" that she "got lookin' thin and frail."

(8). Gaye Adegbalola has written a song called "I Got Your Monkey" ("it was running all over town

monkey, now it settled down"), which was inspired by another song, "Monkey Man Blues" (Adegbalola 2002c).

I petted that lil'

Article copyright the International Alliance for Women in Music

Illustration (Musical transcription of "Sugar")

DETALLES

Materia:

Blues music; Gays &lesbians; Human relations; Interpersonal communication; Music; Personal relationships

Título:

"Jelly Jelly Jellyroll": Lesbian Sexuality and Identity in Women's Blues

Autor:

Johnson, Maria V

Título de publicación:

Women &Music; Lincoln

Tomo:

7

Páginas:

31

Número de páginas:

0

Año de publicación:

2003

Fecha de publicación:

Dec 31, 2003

Editorial:

University of Nebraska Press

Lugar de publicación:

Lincoln

País de publicación:

United States, Lincoln

Materia de publicación:

Music

ISSN:

10907505

Tipo de fuente:

Scholar ly Journals

Idioma de la publicación:

de fuente: Scholar ly Journals Idioma de la publicación: E n g l i s h

English

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Tipo de documento:

Feature

Características del

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documento:

Número de acceso:

SFLNSWMMC1203WMSB679000003

ID del documento de ProQuest:

223656756

Copyright:

Copyright University of Nebraska Press Dec 31, 2003

Última actualización:

2017-11-09

Base de datos:

GenderWatch

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