Bonus Factoid: “The Blue-Tail Fly”

–By David Horiuchi

At first glance, “The Blue-Tail Fly” seems like an unusual choice for a concert featuring spirituals and gospel music, especially considering how frequently it’s performed as a children’s song retitled after the recurring phrase in its chorus, “Jimmy Crack Corn.” But the first clue comes in that chorus, in which the narrator says “Jimmy crack corn, and I don’t care, my master’s gone away.”

The narrative of the song establishes that the narrator is a house slave whose duties include keeping the blue-tail fly away from his master. As it turns out, the fly bites the horse the master is riding on, and [spoiler alert!] the master is thrown from the horse and dies. Fortunately for the slave, the jury finds that the guilty party is the fly.

The key question is what the narrator thinks of this. An exhaustive Wikipedia article explains that the matter has long been debated, but modern interpretations tend to favor the idea that the slave is celebrating, and doesn’t mind the menial task of preparing liquor (“cracking corn”) because his master is gone.

What do you think?

When I was young I used to wait
On my master, and give him his plate,
And pass the bottle when he got dry,
And brush away the blue-tail fly.
CHORUS: Jimmy crack corn, and I don’t care,
Jimmy crack corn, and I don’t care,
Jimmy crack corn, and I don’t care,
My master’s gone away.
And when he rode in the afternoon,
I’d follow ‘long behind him with a hickory broom.
The pony being rather shy,
When bitten by the blue-tail fly.
One day when riding ’round the farm,
The flies so numerous they did swarm,
One chanced to bite him on the thigh,
The Devil take the blue-tail fly!
The pony jump, he run, he pitch,
He threw my master in the ditch,
He died and the jury wondered why,
The verdict was the blue-tail fly.
They laid him under a ‘simmon tree,
His epitaph is there to see:
“Beneath this tree I’m forced to lie,
A victim of the blue-tail fly.”