“My Pretty Quadroon”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1930 (recording, "Beverly Hill Billies")
Keywords: hardheartedness sex separation slavery lover Civilwar jealousy
Found in: US

Description

Singer, a slave, mourns for his lost Cora, "my pretty quadroon." His master had been kind, but coveted Cora, and when the slave grieves, the master sells the singer down the river. He contemplates suicide until he hears the trumpets of the Union army

Long description

Singer, a slave, mourns for his lost Cora, "my pretty quadroon". His master used to be kind, so much so that the singer "had not...a wish to be free" The master covets Cora, and when the slave tears his hair in grief, the master turns hard, and sells the singer down the river. He contemplates suicide, but hears the trumpets of the Union army and regains hope.

Notes

In the tortured stratification of racism, a "quadroon" was someone whose ancestry was one-fourth Negro -- hence, someone with fairly light skin, and therefore of high status in the African-American community. This song was enormously popular in minstrel shows and vaudeville, well into the twentieth century. But I can't for the life of me remember the author. - PJS

The description here seems to be that of the original poem, or perhaps a Civil War adaption. As it circulates in oral tradition, however, the details can be lost and it may become a lament simply for a girl lost (perhaps by death). - RBW

Recordings

References

  1. Beck 79, "My Pretty Quadroon" (1 text)
  2. Roud #4965
  3. BI, Be079