Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me

Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me or Shew! fly, don't bother me is a minstrel show song from the 1860s that has remained popular since that time. It was sung by soldiers during the Spanish–American War of 1898, when flies and the yellow fever mosquito were a serious enemy. Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album Join Bing and Sing Along (1959). Today, it is commonly sung by children, and has been recorded on many children's records, including Disney Children's Favorite Songs 3, performed by Larry Groce and the Disneyland Children's Sing-Along Chorus.

"Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me"
Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me
GenreChildren's music, blackface minstrel
Songwriter(s)Thomas Bishop
Composer(s)Larry Groce
Lyricist(s)Billy Reeves

Composition edit

The song became popular on the minstrel stage in 1869, and several claims have been made for its composition. An anonymously written 1895 New York Herald article on the history of minstrel show dancing gave this history:

'Shoo-Fly' is said to have come originally from the Isthmus of Panama, where the black people sang 'Shoo Fly' and 'Don't Bodder Me' antiphonally while at their work. A black person from there, Helen Johnson, took it first to California and taught the song to 'Billy' Birch [a performer with the San Francisco Minstrels troupe]. ‘Dick’ Carroll and others also had versions of it which they performed. Delehanty and Hengler had theirs, too, and used to sing it as an encore with Bryant’s Minstrels, slipping on old dresses over their heads in the interim of the score. It was from hearing them that ‘Dave’ [Reed] and ‘Dan’ [Bryant] fancied the song. ‘Dave’ fixed it up with a dance, and original version thereof. It was rehearsed secretly, and when the time came they ‘sprang it’ on ‘the boys’ of the company one evening in public, with ‘Come and Kiss Me’ as an encore. It was a howling success from the start, and ‘Dan’ Bryant had printed the next day at the Herald office twenty thousand notices, which he gave to the company and others to scatter about the town wherever they went. Horse shoes with a fly on them were put in odd and conspicuous places, even on the telegraph wires, and in no time the public was crazy over the act and 'business was great.' E.M. Hall has a version with a more elaborate and an excellent chorus, ending 'Shoo Fly, &c., "Go 'way, fly, I'll cut your wing.”'.[1]

Theater historian Eugene Cropsey also credited Dan Bryant with introducing the song to the public in October, 1869.[2] The version sung by Bryant's Minstrels served, in 1869, as the title number in Dan Bryant’s Shoo Fly Songster.[3]

"Shoo Fly" is among the songs ("John Brown's Body" is another) claimed as compositions by T. Brigham Bishop.[4] According to Bishop's account, he wrote "Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me" during the Civil War while assigned to command a company of black soldiers. One of the soldiers, dismissing some remarks of his fellow soldiers, exclaimed "Shoo fly, don't bother me," which inspired Bishop to write the song, including in the lyrics the unit's designation, "Company G". Bishop claimed that the song was "pirated" from him, and that he made little money from it.[5] Bishop published a sheet music version of the song in 1869 (White, Smith & Perry). That version includes the caption, "Original Copy and Only Authorized Edition."[6]

Other sources have credited Billy Reeves (lyrics) and Frank Campbell, or Rollin Howard, with the song.[7] An early publication appeared as "Shew! Fly, Don't Bother Me. Comic Song and Dance or Walk Round. Sung by Cool Burgess and Rollin Howard, melody by Frank Campbell, words by Billy Reeves, arr. by Rollin Howard."[8][9]

Lyrics edit

One version of the song, recorded in 1889, runs:

I feel, I feel, I feel,
I feel like a morning star.
I feel, I feel, I feel,
I feel like a morning star.
Shoo fly, don't bother me,
Shoo fly, don't bother me,
Shoo fly, don't bother me,
I belong to the Company G.
There's music in the air,
My mother said to me;
There's music in the air,
My mother said to me.
Shoo fly, don't bother me,
Shoo fly, don't bother me,
Shoo fly, don't bother me,
I belong to the Company G.[10]

Other versions include verses such as:

I think I hear the angels sing,
I think I hear the angels sing,
I think I hear the angels sing,
The angels now are on the wing.
I feel, I feel, I feel,
That's what my mother said.
The angels pouring 'lasses down,
Upon this nigger's head.[11]

Today, it is often only the chorus that is sung.[11]

In popular culture edit

During a dinner table scene in the 1992 teen comedy Encino Man, Stoney Brown (Pauly Shore) quietly sings "Shoo Fly" while Link (Brendan Fraser) tracks a fly around the room.

It has been used in Tuneland with a flying shoe.

It is featured in the 1935 Betty Boop cartoon Swat the Fly.

It was frequently employed as background music in classic Looney Tunes, as well as modern-day Warner Bros. series such as Animaniacs, Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, and Pinky, Elmyra and The Brain.

In the 1994 movie "Maverick", starring Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster the song is being played by the brass band on the Lauren Belle riverboat prior to the big card game. (1hr 19mins into the movie).

In the 1998 Disney/Pixar film A Bug's Life, Francis the Ladybug references the song's title.

The Australian children's show Play School recorded a version for the albums There's A Bear In There, sung by Noni Hazlehurst, and In The Car, sung by John Hamblin.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ New York Herald, August 11, 1895, Section Four, p. 2.
  2. ^ Cropsey, Eugene H. Crosby's Opera House: symbol of Chicago's cultural awakening, p. 270 (1999)
  3. ^ Dan Bryant's Shoo Fly Songster, New York: Robert M. DeWitt, 1869. Available online via Google Books.
  4. ^ "Music: Hymn from Maine". Time. 1935-07-01. Archived from the original on December 22, 2011. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  5. ^ (8 November 1905). The Author of "Shoo Fly", Reading Eagle (stating that T. Allston Brown, had vouched for this account)
  6. ^ Shoo Fly, Duke University library collection
  7. ^ The blue book of Tin Pan Alley, p. 9 (1965)
  8. ^ "Shew! Fly, Don't Bother Me" Words and music: T. Brigham Bishop (?); pub.:White, Smith & Perry, Boston, 1869.
  9. ^ Eric Partridge and Paul Beale, A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day, pp. 408–409. Published by Routledge, 1986, SBN 041505916X, 9780415059169.
  10. ^ Buckley, Michael Bernard (1889). Diary of a Tour in America. Sealy, Bryers & Walker. p. 224.
  11. ^ a b McCavour, Thomas (14 February 2020). Verses Old and New. FriesenPress. ISBN 978-1-5255-6660-8.

External links edit