Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What's Going On With Allan Sherman's Jewish Parodies of the African American Song Tradition?

I've never seen anyone talk about this: many of the Jewish parodies on Allan Sherman's first album, the 1962 My Son, The Folk Singer, are parodies of African-American songs.

There's the "Jump Down, Spin Around (Pick a Dress O' Cotton)" parody of "Jump Down, Spin Around (Pick a Bale o' Cotton)," "Seltzer Boy" ("Water Boy"), and in Sherman's "Shticks and Stones" medley there are many more (see list below).

Allan Sherman's "Seltzer Boy"

And on My Son, The Celebrity Sherman performed his terrific parody of the "Down By The Riverside" spiritual with "Don't Buy the Liverwurst."

All these parodies poke fun at the originals and also the absurdity of the Jewish versions, implicitly making the point that no matter how much the African-Americans were oppressed, their story was far more integrated into the nation's culture than that of the Jews (and, in fact, the African-American story was more integrated into American culture than African-Americans themselves).

That irony, too, was part of the comedy of Sherman's Jewish parodies. The Jewish situation was the reverse of the African American. The Jews were more integrated into American life than were their stories.

Look forward to discussing this with you.


"Mt. Sinai Hospital" ("St. James Infirmary"), "Mammy's Little Baby Loves Matza" ("Mammy's Little Baby Likes Shortnin' Bread"), "Little David Susskind" ("Little David, Play On Your Harp") and "When the Paintners Go Marching In" ("When the Saints Go Marching In"), "Yasha Got a Bottle of Geritol" ("Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho") not to mention Sherman's "Levittown" parody of Harry Belafonte's Caribbean "Jamaica Farewell," better known as "Kingston Town."